вторник, 8 мая 2018 г.

Fatty Foetus While it may seem obvious to place the blame for…

Fatty Foetus

While it may seem obvious to place the blame for the growing obesity epidemic on poor diets or lack of physical activity, there’s still a lot we don’t know about why an individual person does or doesn’t put on weight. To find out, scientists are going back to the start of life. They’re investigating whether a mother being overweight in pregnancy influences whether her child is likely to grow up to be overweight too. Studying pregnant monkeys as a model for humans, they’ve found that fat droplets (red spots) build up in the livers of foetuses from obese mothers (right) but not in the offspring of females at a healthy weight (left), which might contribute to health problems and obesity later on. More than 50 per cent of women of childbearing age are overweight or obese worldwide, so it’s vital to understand how a mother’s weight affects their child’s health.

Written by Kat Arney

You can also follow BPoD on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook

Archive link


Wildlife snaring crisis in Asian forests

Due to unsustainable levels of hunting, wildlife in Southeast Asia is facing an extinction crisis, a group of scientists, including WCS’s Tony Lynam, writes in Science Magazine.

Wildlife-snaring crisis in Asian forests
An elephant lays snared [Credit: WCS Cambodia]

Homemade snares, constructed from wire or cable, are the predominant method used in this killing. Snares are cheap and they kill indiscriminately, “killing or maiming any individual that encounters them.”

Though law enforcement removes hundreds of thousands of the devices from protected areas each year, the authorities have struggled to keep up. Snares are so cheap to produce, they’re easily replaced.

The authors urge legislative action to penalize the possession of these snares and the materials used to create them within protected areas. “Without such reforms and their enforcement,” they write, “the specter of ’empty forests’ will become even more likely.”

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society [January 23, 2017]

Source TheArchaeologyNewsNetwork

Researcher examines plants encased in tar pits to reconstruct Ice Age ecosystem

For tens of thousands of years, the warm, sticky natural asphalt that occasionally bubbled to the Earth’s surface in the area now called Los Angeles was a death sentence for some ice age animals.

Researcher examines plants encased in tar pits to reconstruct Ice Age ecosystem
Tar pit fossils [Credit: University of Maine]

Woolly mammoths, camels, rabbits, horses, bison, sloths, rodents, snails, turtles, birds and saber-toothed cats perished after becoming mired in the liquid asphalt—sometimes referred to as tar pits.

For Jacquelyn Gill, the fossils, twigs and plants encased in this sticky petroleum at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in downtown Los Angeles provide opportunities to examine the climate and flora and fauna of the past and observe evolutionary changes.

The University of Maine paleoecologist’s findings will be added to the broader mosaic of what’s already known about the very large animals of that era.

Gill and other scientists involved with Project 23, as it’s called, intend to reconstruct the food web—from mastodons and bison to rodents and plants—during 2,000- to 5,000-year snapshots across an approximate 50,000-year period.

“Most of these are ice age survivors,” Gill says of the animals and plants trapped in the oil seeps. “What made them so resilient to climate change and extinction?”

By reconstructing the food web, Gill and the team of researchers will learn how various species were connected for extended periods of time when they were not under climate stress.

Researcher examines plants encased in tar pits to reconstruct Ice Age ecosystem
Jacquelyn Gill [Credit: University of Maine]

Understanding those connections could help protect today’s biodiversity in a changing climate, she says.

“We can see how species relied on each other, and use those relationships to predict extinction risk based on food web connections,” says Gill. “It’s a useful model to apply to our modern ecosystems.”

Fossils in the tar pit tombs were unearthed recently when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is adjacent to La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, excavated a site to build an underground parking garage.

Salt Lake Oil Field, a large petroleum reservoir below the Earth’s surface, is nearby. For tens of thousands of years, oil—formed from marine plankton deposited in an ocean basin 5–25 million years ago—has seeped to the surface.

The National Science Foundation funds Gill’s nearly $300,000 portion of the $1.2 million three-year project.

Gill conceived of the project when she delivered a lecture about ice age ecosystems and extinction at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, which manages the Tar Pits.

“For the first time, we can look at the entire ice age ecosystem of Rancho La Brea, instead of just the largest herbivores and predators,” Gill says.

Thus far, Gill says the plants that have been identified in asphalt chunks from Los Angeles now grow in Oregon and at higher elevations in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains.

This indicates the late Pleistocene climate at La Brea Tar Pits was cooler and wetter than it is now, she says.

Author: Beth Staples | Source: University of Maine [January 23, 2017]

Source TheArchaeologyNewsNetwork

Fossilised tree and ice cores help date huge volcanic eruption 1,000 years ago to within...

An international team of researchers has managed to pinpoint, to within three months, a medieval volcanic eruption in east Asia the precise date of which has puzzled historians for decades. They have also shown that the so-called “Millennium eruption” of Changbaishan volcano, one of the largest in history, cannot have brought about the downfall of an important 10th century kingdom, as was previously thought.

Fossilised tree and ice cores help date huge volcanic eruption 1,000 years ago to within 3 months
Changbaishan volcanic crater [Credit: Clive Oppenheimer]

Writing in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews the team describes how new analysis of the partly fossilised remains of a tree killed by the eruption, and ice cores drilled in Greenland, lead them to conclude the eruption occurred in the final months of 946 AD.

The volcano, also known as Mount Paektu, is located on the border between China and North Korea. The team of researchers, led by Dr. Clive Oppenheimer from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Geography, set out to establish an accurate date for the event by making new radiocarbon measurements on a fossilised larch trunk recovered from the Chinese side of the volcano. The tree was 264 years old when it was killed and buried by a flow of larva, hot ashand pumice.

Armed with new information, the modern-day time detectives set about ascertaining when this could have happened. They reckoned the tree would have been standing in 775, a year that was marked by a burst of cosmic rays reaching the Earth. Evidence of this event, in the shape of radiocarbon, was found in one of the tree’s rings and by counting to the outer ring, the team was able to work out when the tree must have perished. Further analysis indicates it had stopped its seasonal growth suggesting Autumn or Winter as the likely time of its demise.

By cross-referencing with ash deposits found in ice cores drilled in northern Greenland, the team could narrow down the calculation to the last 2 or 3 months of 946 AD.

Fossilised tree and ice cores help date huge volcanic eruption 1,000 years ago to within 3 months
The fossilised tree trunk recovered from the side of the volcano [Credit: Clive Oppenheimer]

Lead author, Dr Oppenheimer says: “The Millennium eruption has fascinated scientists and historians for decades because of its size, potential worldwide impacts, and the mystery surrounding when it actually happened. Lacking a clear historical record of the event, there have been dozens of attempts to date the eruption using conventional tree ring techniques. We got lucky thanks to the burst of cosmic radiation that bathed the Earth in the year 775. It was only recently recognised that this left a worldwide signature in trees alive at the time. Now we have a secure date for the eruption at last, we can be more confident in investigating the effects it has on the climate, environment and society.”

Previous attempts to date the eruption had led historians to scan medieval texts for clues. Some argued the event led to the collapse of the Bohai kingdom (698-925 AD), however the findings now prove this predated the eruption. The kingdom spanned a vast area of what was then eastern Manchuria and northern Korea. The new date focuses attention instead on a chronicle from a temple in Japan that reports “white ash falling like snow” on the 3rd November 946 AD. This site is not near any of Japan’s active volcanoes, and is close to where ash from the Millennium eruption has recently been identified in lake sediments. It may well pinpoint the actual date of the eruption since it would only have taken the ash clouds a day or so to reach Japan.

Changbaishan is a site revered by the Koreans. It is steeped in folklore and Koreans see it as their spiritual and ancestral home. Its eruption in 946 was one of the most violent of the last two thousand years and is thought to have discharged around 100 cubic kilometres of ash and pumice into the atmosphere – enough to bury the entire UK knee deep.

Source: University of Cambridge [January 24, 2017]

Source TheArchaeologyNewsNetwork

What gorilla poop tells us about evolution and human health

A study of the microbiomes of wild gorillas and chimpanzees offers insights into the evolution of the human microbiome and might even have implications for human health. The research project was led by scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Findings appear in the journal Nature Communications.

What gorilla poop tells us about evolution and human health
Credit: Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University

The researchers used genetic sequencing to analyze fecal samples collected by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) from wild African great apes living the Sangha region of the Republic of Congo over the course of three years. Their goal was to understand the mix of gut microbes living in gorillas and chimpanzees and compare them to those already documented in other non-human primates and human populations. They found that gorilla and chimpanzee microbiomes fluctuate with seasonal rainfall patterns and diet, switching markedly during the summer dry period when succulent fruits abound in their environment and make up a larger proportion of their diet, as opposed to their usual, more fiber-rich diet of leaves and bark.

These seasonal shifts in the microbiomes of gorillas and chimpanzees are similar to seasonal microbiome changes observed in the human Hadza hunter-gatherers from Tanzania, who also rely heavily on the seasonal availability of foods in their environment. Seasonal shifts in the microbiomes of human industrialized cultures, such as the United States, are likely less prevalent owing to reduced reliance on seasonally available foods and globalization of the food supply, as evident in any grocery store.

“While our human genomes share a great deal of similarity with those of our closest living relatives, our second genome (the microbiome) has some important distinctions, including reduced diversity and the absence of bacteria and archaea that appear to be important for fiber fermentation,” says first author Allison L. Hicks, MS, a researcher at CII. “Understanding how these lost microbes influence health and disease will be an important area for future studies.”

“We observed dramatic changes in the gorilla and chimpanzee microbiomes depending on seasons and what they are eating,” says senior author Brent L. Williams, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at CII. “Bacteria that help gorillas break down fibrous plants are replaced once a year by another group of bacteria that feed on the mucous layer in their gut during the months they are eating fruits.

“The fact that our microbiomes are so different from our nearest living evolutionary relatives says something about how much we’ve changed our diets, consuming more protein and animal fat at the expense of fiber,” says Williams. “Many humans may be living in a constant state of fiber deficiency. Such a state may be promoting the growth of bacteria that degrade our protective mucous layer, which may have implications for intestinal inflammation, even colon cancer.”

All great apes are endangered or critically endangered. Down to fewer than 500,000, their numbers have been reduced through deforestation-which destroys their habitat-and through hunting, including for meat. Even infectious disease is a major factor-as many as one-quarter of the world’s gorilla population has died because of Ebola.

“We are losing biodiversity on a global scale,” cautions co-author Sarah Olson, PhD, associate director of wildlife health at WCS. “In fact, our own human microbiome is not immune to this phenomenon. There is an ever growing need for conservation efforts to preserve environments that are vital to the health of animal populations.”

“This study underscores the importance of a One Health framework in focusing not only on diseases but also on understanding more about normal physiology,” said co-author W. Ian Lipkin, MD, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and director of CII. “It also provides evidence to support the adage that you are what you eat.”

Source: Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health [May 03, 3018]




World’s rarest ape on the edge of extinction

In a new research article, a team of international researchers argue that the Tapanuli Orangutan—a species discovered last year in Sumatra, Indonesia, and one of the rarest animals on the planet—could lose its battle for survival, unless decisive steps are taken to rescue it.

World's rarest ape on the edge of extinction
A Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) in northern Sumatra, Indonesia
[Credit: Maxime Aliaga]

“In forty years of research, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything this dramatic,” said Professor William Laurance from James Cook University in Australia, leader of the research team.

“This is just the seventh species of Great Ape ever discovered, and it could go extinct right before our eyes,” said Professor Jatna Supriatna from the University of Indonesia, a co-author of the study.

“Fewer than 800 of the apes survive, and they’re under assault from mega-projects, deforestation, road building, and poaching,” said Dr Sean Sloan, lead author of the article in Current Biology.

World's rarest ape on the edge of extinction
A Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) in northern Sumatra, Indonesia
[Credit: Maxime Aliaga]

“Their entire remaining habitat is unbelievably small—less than a tenth the size of Sydney, Australia,” said Sloan.

The authors say the most imminent threat is a planned U.S.$1.6 billion mega-dam—the Batang Toru project—that would be constructed by a Chinese state-owned corporation, Sinohydro, and funded by Chinese financiers.

“If it proceeds, the dam will flood crucial parts of the ape’s habitat, while chopping up its remaining habitat with new roads and powerlines,” said Supriatna.

World's rarest ape on the edge of extinction
A Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) in northern Sumatra, Indonesia
[Credit: Maxime Aliaga]

The team discovered the ape survives only in areas with virtually no roads, which promote illegal logging, clearing, and poaching.

“This is a critical test for China and Indonesia. They say they want sustainable development—but words are cheap,” said Laurance.

“Without urgent action, this could be ecological Armageddon for one of our closest living relatives.”

Source: James Cook University [May 03, 2018]




Scientists hark back to Pleistocene to trace prioritary areas for conservation

Identifying priority areas for action is a major challenge in biodiversity conservation projects. A group of researchers have chosen an approach based on past scenarios to try to understand the history of climate conditions in the regions analyzed.

Scientists hark back to Pleistocene to trace prioritary areas for conservation
Atlantic Forest Fragmentation [Credit: Cnes – Spot Satellite Image via Wikimedia]

“The regions that have suffered least from climate change in the last 21,000 years are those in which the fewest local extinctions have occurred. These regions stand out for their higher species richness ratios, genetic diversity among species and gene variability within the same population,” said Thadeu Sobral-Souza, a biologist at the Rio Claro campus of São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Brazil.

The greater a population’s genetic diversity, the higher its chances of surviving environmental change. Sobral-Souza is one of the authors of a paper that describes a methodology to identify climatically stable Amazon and Atlantic Rainforest areas that can be prioritized in conservation strategies. The study also determined which protected areas are already located in climatically stable areas.

Some of the group’s findings have been published in the journal Acta Oecologica. The research was supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP via a project in which Milton Cezar Ribeiro, a professor in UNESP Ecology Department, was principal investigator.

To determine which areas are climatically stable, the researchers first had to estimate the distributions of both biomes in the past, especially before most of the Atlantic Rainforest was destroyed. They used ecological niche modeling to simulate the distribution of these forests both now and in previous eras.

New technologies have facilitated the development of techniques to generate useful information from incomplete data. Species ecological niche modeling is one example. All species of animals and plants obey ecological rules that determine their geographical distribution. Even partial knowledge of the geographical distribution of a species in the present and the levels of environmental variation it tolerates (temperature highs and lows, rainfall, and so on) can be fed into computer algorithms and geoprocessing tools to obtain a quantitative representation of its ecological distribution.

Incomplete data for the geographical location of a species can be used to discover its current (or potential) distribution in the environment. Similarly, estimates of past climate conditions can be used to simulate the spatial distribution of species in previous periods.

“Although ecological niche modeling is normally used to infer species distribution, the technique is also deployed to predict biome delimitation by modeling the biome,” Sobral-Souza said.

To predict variations in biome distribution over time, the researchers selected occurrence points using a geographical filter based on the current delimitations of the Amazon and Atlantic Rainforest biomes. Several atmosphere-ocean global circulation models that infer past global climate currently exist. “We used five of these models as data sources for simulations of the Amazon and Atlantic Rainforest climate in the past,” Sobral-Souza said.

The researchers estimated the distributions of the two biomes using data such as annual mean temperature and annual precipitation as variables. The models were constructed on the basis of the current climate scenario and simulated past scenarios for the peak of the last ice age in the Late Pleistocene, 21,000 years ago, and the middle of the Holocene, 6,000 years ago.

Scientists hark back to Pleistocene to trace prioritary areas for conservation
Map of the Atlantic Forest ecoregions as delineated by the WWF. The yellow line approximately
 encloses the forest’s distribution [Credit: NASA 
via Wikimedia]

The simulations showed that the potential area of the Amazon biome 21,000 years ago was 3.28 million km², compared with a current potential area of 4.46M km², while the corresponding numbers for the Atlantic Rainforest were 3.85M km² and only 770,000 km², an 80% decrease.

To calculate climatically stable areas in the two biomes, the researchers superimposed the two paleomaps showing the biomes’ distributions 21,000 and 6,000 years ago onto the map of their current distribution, thereby selecting the areas predicted to be suitable for biome occurrence in the three scenarios.

“Once we’d identified the overlaps showing climatically stable areas in all the scenarios, we analyzed the efficiency of currently protected areas,” Ribeiro said.

They did this by mapping all protected areas and superimposing this map on the previous ones to show which protected areas were inside climatically stable areas and which were not.

To propose priority conservation areas, they mapped unprotected climatically stable areas and used the Intact Forest Landscapes database to infer which of these unprotected areas contain intact remnants of primary forest without anthropogenic modification, considering only large connected patches and excluding small or unconnected remnants.

Climate stability

Next, the researchers assigned each of these patches to one of three conservation priority categories. Very high priority areas were climatically stable, unprotected, and with large intact forest remnants.

High priority areas, the second category, were climatically stable, unprotected, and with fragmented forest remnants. The third category comprised medium priority areas, with more recent climate stability (in the last 6,000 years) and unprotected intact forest remnants.

“The results revealed three unconnected blocks of climatically stable areas in the Atlantic Rainforest biome, all near the coast,” Ribeiro said. “The northernmost block comprises Paraíba and Pernambuco States all the way along the Zona da Mata region. The second coincides with the Serra do Mar and Serra da Mantiqueira ranges in São Paulo State, Serra dos Órgãos in Rio de Janeiro State, and Zona da Mata in Minas Gerais.

“In the Amazon, the climatically stable areas are broad and continuous, covering most of the currently existing biome. Most of them occur in eastern Amazonia, although smaller remnants were identified along the western and southern boundaries of the forest.”

The researchers created an efficiency index, defined as the percentage of protected areas that encompass climatically stable areas. They inferred higher efficiency for protected areas in the Amazon than for those in the Atlantic Rainforest, finding that 40.1% of climatically stable areas in the Amazon are protected, compared with only 7.1% of climatically stable areas in the Atlantic Rainforest.

“The Amazon is more stable climatically than the Atlantic Rainforest, and protected areas in the latter are less efficient than protected areas in the former,” Ribeiro said.

Scientists hark back to Pleistocene to trace prioritary areas for conservation
Amazon raiforest, Brazil [Credit: Lunae Parracho/AFP/Getty Images]

In the Amazon, the study identified climatically stable areas in all three conservation priority categories – very high priority, high priority and medium priority. The areas of very high conservation priority in the Amazon biome are primary forest areas of western Amazonas State in the region bordering Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.

“Its geographical proximity to protected areas suggests that the creation of new protected areas or the enlargement of existing areas to include these high-priority areas could be an effective conservation strategy,” Sobral-Souza said.

The high-priority areas in the Amazon are fragmented forests in climatically stable areas and are therefore in need of restoration. The high priority areas in western Amazonia are located near existing protected areas or intact fragments. In eastern Amazonia, they are forest patches surrounded by croplands and pasture, distant from intact forest areas.

“In these cases, reforestation is necessary to increase the efficiency of the protected areas in the region. The Amazon still has a major opportunity to expand conservation areas,” Ribeiro said.

Sobral-Souza stressed that the situation is catastrophic in the Atlantic Rainforest biome. “No high-priority areas for conservation were identified because no more forest areas exist there. No intact forest or even fragments are left. Everything has been cleared in the last 500 years,” he said.

The main climatically stable Atlantic Rainforest areas are small. They are relicts classified as high priority conservation areas. Only a few remnants exceed 10,000 hectares, and many occur in areas with low climate stability. The most important are in Pernambuco’s Zona da Mata or the Serra do Mar State Park, “the largest Atlantic Rainforest remnant in Brazil,” Sobral-Souza noted.

Source: São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP [May 04, 2018]




Scientists call for ‘open-skies’ imagery policy over Israel and Palestine

New Oxford University research has called for an ‘open-skies policy’ around the availability of high resolution satellite imagery of Israel and Palestine.

Scientists call for 'open-skies' imagery policy over Israel and Palestine
A 2013 CNES/Airbus satellite image of a new site that could be identified because looting pits over the site
are visible on high-resolution satellite imagery [Credit: Map data ©2018 Google]

Since 1997, the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA) to the 1997 U.S. National Defense Authorization Act, has limited the availability of high-resolution satellite imagery of these countries. Although this law only applies to the United States of America, as a global super power, with dominance over the commercial satellite imagery market, its international impact has been significant. However, new Oxford University research has called for these restrictions to be lifted immediately and set in line with the international standard.

Satellite imagery has transformed the way that scientists can investigate, map and monitor the changing human and physical landscape of the earth. The current KBA Amendment limits the resolution of U.S – produced imagery for Israel to c.2m, which is relatively blurry and means that features smaller than this are not detectable from aerial footage. As a result, the satellite images available on platforms such as Google Earth, of both Israel and Palestine, are of poor quality, significantly restricting the scientific research opportunities in these areas.

In an attempt to overcome these limitations, researchers from the Endangered Archaeology Project at the Oxford School of Archaeology, which relies on satellite imagery to identify and monitor heritage sites across the Middle East and North Africa, investigated the justification for the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment, and reviewed how the regulations works in practice.

Published in Space Policy, the research conducted by Dr Andrea Zerbini and Dr Michael Fradley of Oxford’s School of Archaeology, finds that while this regulation was broadly assumed to be a static censorship, the limitations were intended to mirror the standard of satellite imagery available outside the United States. However, much stronger high-resolution images have in fact been available from companies such as Airbus in France from as long ago as 2012.

The paper also reveals that there has been some quiet resistance to the US regulation, particularly from Google Earth, where high-resolution images covering areas of the West Bank, Golan Heights and the border areas of Israel, provided by Airbus, are already available on the platform.

The findings demonstrate that these regulations need urgent review, and recommends that US imagery should meet what has become the international standard of 0.5m.

Dr Michael Fradley said: ‘Our research demonstrates not only how the current restrictions have hampered scientific research in this area, but also importantly highlights a clear rationale for moving on from the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment. The reduction or removal of these restrictions would open up access to modern satellite imagery, as well as historical images captured by spy satellite that remain classified due to the legal reach of the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment, which could allow researchers to record longer-term landscape change.’

The minutes of the latest meetings of the U.S. regulatory body for commercial satellite imagery suggest that restrictions may indeed be lifted, potentially ushering in a new phase of remote-sensing research by archaeologists, geographers and earth scientists across this area of the Levant.

Staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who regulate the implementation of the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment, have acknowledged the important role of this new research by the EAMENA team in their ongoing evaluation of regulations. The Endangered Archaeology project has already begun to identify new archaeological sites using higher-resolution satellite in the region, and its work has set a precedent for future scientific research in this area.

Commenting on the potential impact of lifting these sanctions, Dr. Brian Boyd, Program Director, Center for Archaeology, Columbia University, said: ‘Zerbini and Fradley’s call for an “open-skies policy” with regard to the availability of high resolution satellite imagery of archaeological sites and landscapes in Israel/Palestine has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the human occupation of this region from the earliest prehistoric times to the present day. Their research will also be invaluable in highlighting contemporary endeavors to record and hopefully preserve sites, monuments and landscapes that are under threat from political and military actions not only in Israel/Palestine but in the wider Middle East’.

Source: Oxford University [May 04, 2018]




US returns 3,800 ancient artefacts to Iraq

On May 2, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and clay bullae, to the Republic of Iraq. The artifacts were smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer.

US returns 3,800 ancient artefacts to Iraq
Ancient cuneiform tablets from Iraq that are being returned by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are seen, 
during a ceremony at the Residence of the Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, in Washington, 
Wednesday, May 2, 2018 [Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP]

“On behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and thanks to the hard work of the Office of the Special Agent in Charge in New York, it is a great honor for me to return so many priceless cultural artifacts to the people of Iraq,” said ICE Acting Director Thomas D. Homan. “I would like to thank my colleagues at U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York for making this repatriation possible,” Homan added. “We will continue to work together to prevent the looting of antiquities and ensure that those who would attempt to profit from this crime are held accountable. This ceremony should serve as a powerful reminder that nobody is above the law.”

Many of the tablets can be shown to come from the ancient city of Irisagrig. The tablets, primarily from the Ur III and Old Babylonian period (2100-1600 BCE), are mostly legal and administrative documents, but also include an important collection of Early Dynastic incantations and a bilingual religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period. Two clay cones are inscribed with royal inscriptions from the Early Dynastic Lagash II periods (mid-third millennium BCE). The clay bullae include artifacts believed to be of Parthian or Sasanian date (late 2nd cent. BCE – early 7th cent. AD).

“These pieces are very important to us and they should be returned home to Iraq, to the rightful owner of these pieces,” said Ambassador of Iraq to the United States Fareed Yasseen.

The artifacts returned were initially intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The shipping labels on these packages falsely described the cuneiform tablets as tile samples.

US returns 3,800 ancient artefacts to Iraq
Ancient cuneiform tablets from Iraq are among the objects being returned by Immigration 
and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to Iraq [Credit: ICE]

“CBP is honored to have played a role, together with ICE, in the return of these national treasures to their rightful owner, the Republic of Iraq.  In doing so, we ensure the protection of this priceless cultural heritage and secure a precious, tangible link to the past for future generations,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Assistant Commissioner Ian Saunders.

After a review of the items and their documentation, ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agents, in conjunction with Assistant U.S. Attorneys at United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) conducted interviews of a number of Hobby Lobby employees between January and June of 2016 which led to the discovery of a deliberate intent by employees of the company to avoid using a customs broker for the artifacts related to this transaction.

“The Republic of Iraq, standing on the land that was once home to the storied city-states and kingdoms of Mesopotamia, has a celebrated heritage as a cradle of civilization,” stated U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue.  “We are proud to have played a role in removing these pieces of Iraq’s history from the black market of illegally obtained antiquities and restoring them to the Iraqi people.”

US returns 3,800 ancient artefacts to Iraq
Ancient cylinder seals from Iraq are among the objects being returned by Immigration 
and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to Iraq [Credit: ICE]

Wednesday’s event was the first repatriation of cultural property to Iraq since March 2015, when ICE returned ancient antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects, including the Head of Assyrian King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, from the Palace of Sargon II. ICE has returned more than 1200 items to Iraq in five repatriations since 2008.

ICE has returned over 8,000 artifacts to over 30 countries since 2007, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th-18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia, and two Baatar dinosaur fossils to Mongolia, antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects returned to Iraq, ancient artifacts, including a mummy’s hand, to Egypt, and most recently royal seals valued at $1,500,000 to the Republic of Korea.

The Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program is unique to HSI’s portfolio.

Returning a nation’s looted cultural heritage or stolen artwork, promotes goodwill with foreign governments and citizens, while significantly protecting the world’s cultural heritage and knowledge of past civilizations.

The theft and trafficking of cultural heritage and art is a tradition as old as the cultures they represent. What has changed is the ability of cultural pirates to acquire, transport and sell valuable cultural property and art swiftly, easily and stealthily. These criminals operate on a global scale without regard for laws, borders, nationalities or the significance of the treasures they smuggle.

Federal importation laws give HSI the authority to take a leading role in investigating crimes involving the illicit importation and distribution of cultural property and art. Customs laws allow HSI to seize cultural property and art that are brought into the United States illegally, especially when objects have been reported lost or stolen.

Learn more about ICE’s cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

With support from the Department of State’s (DOS) Cultural Heritage Center (CHC) and in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, HSI has trained hundreds of special agents, investigators and attorneys on cultural property. At these workshops, scientists and experts provide instruction on the handling, documentation, storage and photography of different types of artifacts; and attorneys and HSI special agents train customs officers, fellow agents, and prosecutors on investigative methods.

Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [May 05, 2018]




New survey confirms no hidden Nefertiti chamber in Tutankhamun’s tomb

After almost three months of study, a new geophysics survey has provided conclusive evidence that no hidden chambers exist adjacent to or inside Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

New survey confirms no hidden Nefertiti chamber in Tutankhamun's tomb
Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of Kings in Luxor, Egypt [Credit: Nasser Nuri/Reuters]

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, announced the results, adding that the head of the Italian scientific team carrying out the research,

Francesco Porcelli of the Polytechnic University of Turin, is to provide all the details of the ground penetrating radar (GPR) studies during his speech to be delivered on Sunday evening at the ongoing Fourth Tutankhamun International Conference.

Waziri said that a scientific report was submitted on Sunday morning to the Permanent Committee for Ancient Egyptian Antiquities by Porcelli and his team, which included experts from the nearby University of Turin and from two private geophysics companies, Geostudi Astier (Leghorn) and 3DGeoimaging (Turin), who collected GPR data from the inside of Tutankhamun’s tomb in February 2018.

According to the report, which Ahram Online has obtained, Porcelli said that the GPR scans were performed along vertical and horizontal axes with very dense spatial sampling. Double antenna polarisations were also employed, with transmitting and receiving dipoles both orthogonal and parallel to the scanning direction.

Porcelli asserted that the main findings are as follows: no marked discontinuities due to the passage from natural rock to man-made blocking walls are evidenced by the GPR radargrams, nor there is any evidence of the jambs or the lintel of a doorway.

Similarly, the radargrams do not show any indication of plane reflectors, which could be interpreted as chamber walls or void areas behind the paintings of the funerary chamber.

“It is concluded, with a very high degree of confidence, that the hypothesis concerning the existence of hidden chambers or corridors adjacent to Tutankhamun’s tomb is not supported by the GPR data,” Porcelli said in the report.

This is the third GPR survey to be conducted inside the tomb in recent years. It was designed to stop the controversy aroused after the contradictory results of two previous radar surveys to inspect the accuracy of a theory launched in 2015 by British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, who suggested that the tomb of queen Nefertiti could be concealed behind the north and west wall paintings of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.

The theory was supported by former minister of antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty, who agreed to conduct two GPR surveys. The first was conducted by a Japanese professional who asserted with 95 percent certainty the existence of a doorway and a hall with artefacts.

The second radar survey was carried out with another high-tech GPR device by an American scientific team from National Geographic, who rejected the previous Japanese results and asserted that nothing existed behind the west and north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.

To solve the difficulties encountered by the two preceding surveys and provide a conclusive response, the current antiquities minister, Khaled El-Enany, who took office in March 2016, decided to discuss the matter at the second International Tutankhamun Conference, which was attended by a group of pioneer scholars and archaeologists who decided to conduct a third GPR analysis to put an end to the debate.

Author: Nevine El-Aref | Source: Ahram Online [May 06, 2018]




First ever discovered trilobite eggs paired with fossil of the segmented creature

For the past two years, Western Illinois University Assistant Professor of Geology Thomas Hegna has been part of a three-member team conducting research on what are believed to be the first-ever discovered trilobite eggs paired with a fossil of the segmented creature.

First-ever discovered trilobite eggs paired with fossil of the segmented creature
A light photograph of a pyritized, egg-bearing specimen of Triarthrus eatoni. A cluster of nine eggs is present 

on the right side of the head [Credit: Western Illinois University]

The ancient eggs, believed to be about 450 million years old, were found in New York by Markus Martin, an amateur paleontologist and friend to Hegna. The team also includes Assistant Professor Simon Darroch of Vanderbilt University.

Hegna said trilobites most closely resemble modern “rolly-polly” bugs. The trilobites are fossilized inside black shale, which Hegna said likely happened as a result of them being forced out of their habitat by an event such as an undersea mudslide.

“They would have had to be buried quickly to have been preserved,” Hegna said.

Martin collected the rocks in New York and then cracked them in an effort to examine what was inside. The trilobites from this locality are replaced with the mineral pyrite. Hegna said if Martin saw pyrite, also known as fools gold, in the crack, he then used an air abrasion system to go through the layers to get down to the trilobite.

“After Markus showed me the pictures of what he found we had a ‘eureka’ moment,” said Hegna. “My first thought was ‘What else could they be?’ People have found trilobites before, but never found the actual animal and eggs together.”

First-ever discovered trilobite eggs paired with fossil of the segmented creature
A virtual image created with the microCT scan data. In the image is the head of an egg-bearing specimen 

of Triarthrus eatoni with a cluster of eggs on the right side [Credit: Western Illinois University]

As fossil invertebrates, trilobites lived exclusively in the ocean during the Paleozoic Era.

After conducting visual research on the unearthed trilobites, Hegna said the team used a micro CT scanner at Vanderbilt University to get a “flipbook of slices” through the preserved trilobites and eggs.

“We digitally dissected the fossils,” said Hegna. “The CT scans help us see if the eggs were attached to the body without disturbing the fossil. It helped verify the egg’s replacement relative to the trilobite.”

The three-member team collaborated to write up the results of their research into a paper that was recently published in the academic journal Geology.

The team also presented its findings at the Central Regional and National meetings of the Geologic Society of America. Hegna said the attention the presentations received helped confirm the findings the team had made through its research.

First-ever discovered trilobite eggs paired with fossil of the segmented creature
A false colour, three dimensionally rendered image of a pyritized, egg-bearing specimen of Triarthrus eatoni,

with a cluster of eggs on the right side [Credit: Western Illinois University]

Prior to the team’s discovery, nothing was known about this early phase of the development of trilobites.

“By knowing more about their reproductive biology, we expand our knowledge about trilobite autecology and can begin to address long-standing research questions about trilobite mating behavior and reproductive strategies,” said the team’s paper. “Pyritized in situ trilobite eggs from the Ordovician of New York (Lorraine Group): Implications for trilobite reproductive biology.”

Many of the specimens that were part of the team’s research were donated to the Peabody Museum at Yale University, where Hegna completed his doctoral research. The museum also received the three-dimensional digital model of the specimens the team produced using the CT scan data.

Source: Western Illinois University [January 24, 2017]

Source TheArchaeologyNewsNetwork

Eruptive activity on Erte Ale.

Eyewitnesses have reported a bout of fresh activity on Erte Ale (or Erta Ale), an active shield volcano in the north of Ethiopia, during the first weeks of January 2017. Infrared cameras mounted on satellites recorded a sharp increase in temperatures beneath the volcano on 19 December 2016, with temperatures remaining high at the time of writing. The volcano was visited by a group of tourists travelling with Volcano Discovery on 16-19 January, who reported lava fountains and lava overtopping the crater, producing lava rivers on several flanks. On 21 January local residents reported a new fissure on the southeast flank of the volcano, about 7 km from the caldera, producing a significant lava flow.

Lava overflowing the caldera of Erta Ale on 17 January 2017. Enku Mulugeta/Volcano Discovery.

Erta Ale is on the Ethiopian Rift, the boundary between the Nubian Plate and the Danakil Microplate. The African Plate is slowly splitting apart along the Ethiopian Rift and the East African Rift to the south (which is splitting the Nubian Plate to the West from the Somali Plate to the East). Arabia was a part of Africa till about thirty million years ago, when it was split away by the opening of the Red Sea Rift (part of the same rift system), and in time the Ethiopian and East African Rifts are likely to split Africa into a number of new landmasses.

Rifting in East Africa. The Danakil Microplate is the red triangle to the east of the Afar depression at the southern end of the Red Sea. Università degli Studi di Firenze.

Source Sciency Thoughts

Inspire Preservation: Lia NigroI grew up in a small town in the…

Downtown Pittsburgh with the Smithfield Bridge & Monongahela River, ca. 1890-1910. (Pittsburgh Railways Company Records, 1872-1974, AIS.1974.29, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh)

The Pittsburgh city skyline from Mount Washington, over the Smithfield Bridge and Station Square – one of the city’s early efforts at economically-advantageous historic preservation. (L. Nigro, 2016)

The Monongahela Incline, opened on May 28, 1870, was the first incline constructed in Pittsburgh. (Image courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Second Century Acquisition Fund, 1999.34.1)

This December 2016 view of the Monongahela Incline from the top of the Mount Washington captures the spirit of a city over time. (L. Nigro)

Reminders of the railway are never distant during a walk or bike ride along the Westmoreland Heritage Trail, formerly the Penn Central rail corridor (2016)

Map of the interurban electric lines in the region from “Lewis’ Pittsburgh Street & Trolly Guide” Pocket Directory. (1919, H. A. Schafer News Co. Distributors)

Lia (right) with her sister (left), overlooking the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

A walk on one of the region’s rail-trails, such as the Westmoreland Heritage Trail, offers a connection to the area’s cultural and natural identity (L. Nigro, 2016).

Inspire Preservation: Lia Nigro

I grew up in a small town in the Pennsylvania rust belt, in

a river valley where the smoke and whistles of once lively industry have

gracefully given way to songbirds and a carpet of vines. Here, the relationship

between the natural and built environment was never in question. 

A contemporary view of the landscape evokes

the memory of accumulated years. Development of the industrial landscape, the patterns

of settlement and economic life that followed, and the promises of revitalization

fit together as naturally as the curving rivers, hillsides, and railroads.

Near Pittsburgh, I traced the indelible connections between memory and place.

Even as the landscape transformed through

colonial settlement to industrial powerhouse to the modern revival, many of its

buildings and neighborhoods, communities and ways of life, landmark sites and notable

views, and unique natural attractions have persisted in some way. In this

region, I came to understand that heritage preservation involves more than just saving the existence of one building, site, or corridor.


Transportation sign announcing Trafford, a town to the east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The town was named by George Westinghouse, founder of the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company. In addition to the Westinghouse plant, development in the town featured a housing plan for company employees. (Image via traffordhistory.org)

While many remarkable physical features do remain in this

area, the passing of time has been accompanied by transformation, growth, and

loss. The processes of both physical and social change reveal the value in preserving representations

of a landscape. 

Having access to maps, photos, drawings, and newspapers helps planners, historians, educators, and architects, and can play a critical role for each of us in understanding identity. These resources allow us to explore the landscape of the past, the

landscape of the present, and – most importantly – the living connections

between them.

Did You Know?

This intersection of historic, cultural,

and natural resources in Southwestern Pennsylvania is a National Heritage Area.

  • Learn more about NPS National Heritage Areas  –  While NHAs are not national park units, the National Park Service partners with, provides technical assistance, and distributes funding from Congress to the 49 NHAs. 

There are many archivists and information professionals dedicated to the preservation mission of the National Park Service. 

  • NPS Libris Discovery Portal: Find historic photos, documents, reports, maps, museum collections, and more from the National Park Service

As 2017 begins, we are featuring a series of landscape preservation inspiration posts from members of the program. Missed anything? Check out the full series here.


The early years of observation and collection: Lia (right) and sister investigate in Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of L. Nigro)

Sources & More:  

NASA Satellite detects Kilauea Fissures

NASA – EOS Terra Mission patch.

May 8, 2018

Satellite View of Kilauea Eruption

Image above: ASTER image acquired May 6 picks up hotspots on the thermal infrared bands – shown in yellow. These hotspots are newly formed fissures and lava flows. Image Credits: NASA/JPL/ASTER.

The eruption of Kilauea Volcano on the island of Hawaii triggered a number of gas- and lava-oozing fissures in the East Riff Zone of the volcano. The fissures and high levels of sulfur dioxide gas prompted evacuations in the area.

Images taken from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) onboard NASA’s Terra satellite picked up these new fissures. In the first image, the red areas are vegetation, and the black and gray areas are old lava flows. The yellow areas superimposed over the image show hot spots that were detected by ASTER’s thermal infrared bands. These hot spots are the newly formed fissures and new lava flow as of May 6. In the second photo, also acquired on May 6, the long yellow and green streaks are plumes of sulfur dioxide gas.

Image above: Massive sulfur dioxide plumes, extracted from ASTER’s multiple thermal bands, are shown here in yellow and green. Image Credits: NASA/JPL/ASTER.

On April 30, the floor of Kilauea’s crater began to collapse. Earthquakes followed, including one that measured magnitude 6.9, and lava was pushed into new underground areas that eventually broke through the ground in such areas as the Leilani Estates.

Kilauea is the youngest and southeastern-most volcano on the island. Eruptive activity along the East Rift Zone has been continuous since 1983. Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER): https://asterweb.jpl.nasa.gov/

NASA EOS Terra satellite: https://terra.nasa.gov/

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Esprit Smith.

Greetings, Orbiter.chArchive link


2018 May 8 The Observable Universe Illustration Credit &…

2018 May 8

The Observable Universe
Illustration Credit & Licence: Wikipedia, Pablo Carlos Budassi

Explanation: How far can you see? Everything you can see, and everything you could possibly see, right now, assuming your eyes could detect all types of radiations around you – is the observable universe. In visible light, the farthest we can see comes from the cosmic microwave background, a time 13.8 billion years ago when the universe was opaque like thick fog. Some neutrinos and gravitational waves that surround us come from even farther out, but humanity does not yet have the technology to detect them. The featured image illustrates the observable universe on an increasingly compact scale, with the Earth and Sun at the center surrounded by our Solar System, nearby stars, nearby galaxies, distant galaxies, filaments of early matter, and the cosmic microwave background. Cosmologists typically assume that our observable universe is just the nearby part of a greater entity known as “the universe” where the same physics applies. However, there are several lines of popular but speculative reasoning that assert that even our universe is part of a greater multiverse where either different physical constants occur, different physical laws apply, higher dimensions operate, or slightly different-by-chance versions of our standard universe exist.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180508.html


met-cloisters: Triptych with the Passion of Christ via The…


Triptych with the Passion of Christ via The Cloisters

Medium: Mother-of-pearl, gilt wood frame, silk backing, and tooled leather covering

The Cloisters Collection, 2006

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY



loumargi: Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919), Sleep and Death, the…


Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919), Sleep and Death, the Children of the Night – 1883


loumargi: Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898), The Altar of…


Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898), The Altar of Hymen – 1874


kelseylorene:The Propylaea, Entrance to the Acropolis, Athens,…


The Propylaea, Entrance to the Acropolis, Athens, Greece. 


met-cloisters: 6 of Nooses, from The Cloisters Playing Cards…


6 of Nooses, from The Cloisters Playing Cards via The Cloisters

Medium: Paper (four layers of pasteboard) with pen and ink, opaque paint, glazes, and applied silver and gold

The Cloisters Collection, 1983

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY


European Sculpture and Decorative Arts


kelseylorene:Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, Greece. 


Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, Greece. 


kelseylorene:Athens through Ancient Arches, Odeon of Herodes…


Athens through Ancient Arches, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Greece. 



https://t.co/hvL60wwELQ — XissUFOtoday Space (@xufospace) August 3, 2021 Жаждущий ежик наслаждается пресной водой после нескольких дней в о...