Over the Edge
Roundup of Strange Science for the Month
Pets Helped Make Modern Man - Paleoanthropologist
Pat Shipman of Penn State University says that without our
animal friends, we'd still be living in trees ourselves.
She argues that the uniquely human trait of taking in and
employing animals has spurred on human tool-making and the
use of language. These in turn have made humans successful.
Shipman admits that primitive people taking in animals at
first seems strange. "On the face of it, you are wasting
your resources. So this is a very weird behavior," she notes.
However, as man used his tools to become a predator he eventually
took in animals who also knew how to help him hunt -- like
wolves and other canines. Others animals like goats, cows
and horses he domesticated to provid milk, hair, hides and
meat. Shipman argues that managing or tracking all of these
animals required technology, knowledge and ways to convey
information boosting language and communications skills
humans might otherwise never have gained.
Ligar Birth Brings Fine - A zoo owner in Taiwan
is facing a $1,600 fine for allowing the breeding of Ligars
- the hybrid offspring of a male lion and a female tiger.
Two of the creatures were born at the World Snake King Education
Farm, but one died shortly after birth. The breeding of
these strange animals has been controversial with critics
of the practice arguing that the animals are unnatural man-made
creations with health problems caused by the crossbreeding.
Ligars are the largest big cats in the world because their
combination of genes seems to short-circuit natural growth
limitations. The zoo owner claims he never intended to create
ligars. "The pregnancy of the tigress caught me totally
unprepared," said Huang Kuo-nan, owner of the animal farm.
"The lion and the tigress have been kept in the same cage
since they were cubs more than six years ago, and nothing
happened." Even so he will still be fined for breeding wildlife
without prior approval according to a Tainan county government
agent. For more on hybrid animals see out page on the Humanzee.
Remains of John the Baptist Found? - Bulgarian
archaeologists think they may have found the remains of
the Biblical figure John the Baptist. They have unearthed
a reliquary full of human remains at a 5th century monastery
located on Sveti Ivan island, just off the coast of Bulgaria
near the town of Sozopol. The container is marked with the
date June 24th which is the day Christian's celebrate the
birth of the biblical figure. When questioned about what
the Church thinks of the find Fabrizio Bisconti, superintendent
of the Vatican Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology
announced that the commission "will wait until a more thorough
study has been conducted, including anthropological analysis,
before it will express an opinion on the finding." Skeptics
of the find point out that in the middle-ages there was
fierce competition between churches for early Christian
relics and the bone fragments of a human skull, hand and
tooth found inside the alabaster jar might well be forgeries.
One Hundred Dinosaurs in Central Park - Two scientists
have calculated that up to 100 dinosaurs could comfortably
live in a space the size of New York City's Central Park.
James Farlow of Indiana-Purdue University along with Dan
Coroian and John Foster have determined that a square kilometer
of land could support "an upper limit of a few hundred animals
across all taxa and size classes, and up to a few tens of
individuals of large subadults and adults." To make their
calculations the scientists looked at the theoretical energy
needs of a given community of dinosaurs along with how the
landscape could have met those needs. The researchers used
data from the Morrison Formation in Utah, where numerous
dinosaurs lived starting around 150 million years ago through
the end of the Jurassic Period. What is still unknown, however,
is whether these dinosaurs were cold-blooded or warm-blooded.
The scientists made their estimate assuming cold-blooded
creatures. If the animals were warm-blooded (like mammals)
their energy needed would be significantly higher and the
resulting population significantly lower.
"Lens" Increases Wind Power - Yuji Oyha, a professor
at Kyushu University in Japan has come up with a novel proposal
for a new type of wind turbine that is more efficient at
producing power. Wind is considered to be an important to
contributor to eco friendly "green power" so Oyha's invention
- which looks like a giant bicycle rim that surrounds the
turbine's turning fan blades- is a very welcome development.
Oyha believes the rim, which he likens to the lens of a
magnifying glass, can double or triple the efficiency of
the turbine. So far the design is still conceptual and Oyha
is looking for a partner who would be interested in developing
them for the commercial market.
Science Quote of the Month - "Science
is simply common sense at its best that is, rigidly accurate
in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic. "
Henry Huxley, English biologist
New at the Museum:
The Mysterious Treasure of the Copper Scroll -
The scroll labeled 3Q15 was an anomaly. It was unlike its
companion manuscripts in almost every way. It was not made
of leather or papyrus, but a sheet of almost pure copper.
The contents were not literary or doctrinal in nature. It
was simply a list with 64 entries that described where to
find a unique and fabulous treasure of incalculable value.
Not just an intellectual treasure, but one composed of gold
and silver. >Full Story
Mysterious Picture of the Month - What
is this thing?
Holy Legends - I've heard several legends
about the Holy Grail, and I was wondering if there's any
evidence of an actual Holy Grail. If there is, that what
can it do? Can it grant immortal life like in "Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade?"
It seems likely
that there was once a "Holy Grail." Despite some naysayers
there seems to be good evidence of the existence of Jesus
of Nazareth and a Passover supper attended by him and his
disciples just before his crucifixion. It was at this dinner
that the sacrament of communion was established using wine
and bread. Wine certainly implies that a cup was used (though
perhaps a larger communal one - more like a bowl - than
we might normally think of a cup today).
After that, though,
the story gets a very fuzzy. There is not much in the Bible
about a Grail and there is no real significance attached
to the cup in that holy set of scripture. Most of the legend
of the Grail seems to be connected with an individual named
Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was a rich, follower of Jesus
that took possession of his body after the crucifixion.
With the help of another follower named Nicodemus, he prepared
the body of Jesus to be placed in his own (Joseph's) tomb.
During this process, the legend says that he used the grail
to catch some of Jesus's blood.
story about Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail doesn't appear
in any document we know about until the Robert de Boron
wrote his poem Joseph d'Arimathe around the 12th
century. The poem says that Joseph was imprisoned for his
burial of Jesus's body and the Grail sustained him during
this period. He later left the middle-east and traveled
to Britain taking the Grail with him. From the Boron story
came a whole wealth of Grail fictional literature emerged
having to do with King Arthur and his knights and their
seach for the Grail.
was clearly a work of fiction, but later writers seem to
have taken it at face value. In a history of Glastonbury
Abbey written around 1350 AD claims were made that Joseph
came to Britain bringing the cup with him and it was at
As for the remarkable
powers of the cup, one of the earliest references to this
seems to be in the story of The Fisher King written
by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes around 1190 AD. Here
the Grail seems to have the strange power to keep people
alive with them only eating a small mass-wafer (like they
would serve during the sacrament of Holy Communion) a day
as long as it is served in the cup. However, the Grail clearly
does not have the full healing powers in this story as is
often described in later tales.
The power of
the Holy Grail to heal and give eternal life might actually
be connected with pagan stories that pre-dated Christianity
in Europe. In many of these stories special lakes or pools
had the power to grant eternal life if one drank or bathed
in them (One version of this story is the Fountain of Youth).
As the myths evolved the pool changed into a bowl (symbolic
of a pool) and this legend was later probably mixed with
the legend of the Grail when Christianity was brought to
The Grail story
has also been mixed in with the history of the Knights Templar,
a order of knights sworn to protect pilgrams to the holy
land. In the story the Knights find the Grail and transport
it back to Europe. There is no historical record to support
this story however.
separate story has the Grail left in the house of St Mark
where the Last Supper took place. Mark then takes it to
Rome where it was used as the Papal Chalice until it was
moved out of Rome in 3rd century during a period of persecution.
From there it went to a Spanish soldier and onto Spanish
monks who hid it during the Muslim occupation of Spain during
the 6th century. For a while it was held in the treasury
of several Spanish Kings until it was given to the Cathedral
of Valencia, where it remains today.
So is the Holy
Grail actually in a church in Valencia, Spain? Some people
might think so. However, there are a number of bowls that
are reputed to be "the one, true grail." Another contender
for the title is Nanteos Cup. For many years the cup was
kept at the Nanteos Mansion near Aberystwyth in Wales. Legend
connects this bowl with the story of the Grail held at Glastonbury
Abbey. According to the story, monks fleeing Thomas Cromwell's
persecution took the cup with them. The monks were hidden
by the Powells at Nanteos. When the last monk died the bowl
was passed to the Lord Powell and kept by the family ever
since. An recent examination of the cup by experts, however,
revealed that it is typical of mazer bowls, a type of medieval
vessel, probably created in the 14th century - far too recent
to be the real Grail. However, there are stories that people
have been healed after drinking from the vessel and the
current owner of the cup, Fiona Mirylees, still sends water
that has been in the cup to people with life threatening
When the script
was written for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade they
combined many of these myths. Where is the real Grail? Well,
I suspect that after the Last Supper everybody was so concerned
with the events that followed that nobody bothered with
the cup and it simply disappeared into the mists of history.
Apollo 11 Aliens - In September, 1969, the supermarket
tabloid, National Bulletin, reported that during the first
Apollo landing on the moon the previous July, astronauts
had observed alien spaceships. According to the story NASA
had managed to edit the radio transmissions so that the
news media was unaware. The National Bulletin reported,
however, that they had been slipped a copy of the tape before
it got edited. A look into the story by Stuart Nixon of
the National Investigations committee on Aerial Phenomena,
however, revealed that the transcript of the tape contained
many factual errors, and that the newspaper, when questioned,
could not produce any supporting documentation including
the original tape, or even the reporter who wrote the account.
Shine on Harvest Moon - On September 23 be sure
and catch the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the full
moon which closest in time to the Autumn Equinox (the first
day of Fall). The equinox this year will be on September
22 in North America and September 23 for most of the rest
of the world. On that day the Sun will rise directly in
the East and set directly in the West. The Harvest Moon
usually glows an orange or yellow color when it rises because
the seasonal tilt of the earth causes the moon to be seen
through the maximum amount of atmosphere changing its shade.
A Star Hustler Dies - Star Hustler Jack Horkheimer
died on August 20th at age 72. Horkheimer executive director
of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium and host of the popular
and long running show Star Gazer (originally named Star
Hustler) on PBS. The show ran for 31 seasons starting in
1972. The five minutes show, which guided viewers on significant
astronomical events for the upcoming week sky, was initially
run on PBS affiliated stations just before signoff, but
later with 24-hours scheduling moved to spots between longer
shows. The episodes opened up with Horkheimer appearing
to be sitting on the rings of Saturn courtesy of a green
screen while Isao Tomita's electronic rendition of Claude
Debussy's Arabesque No. 1 was played. Horkheimer was known
for his enthusiastic presentation and his opening line on
the show "Greetings, greetings, fellow star gazers!" and,
his signature closing line "Keep looking up!" His show introduced
many people to the joy of star gazing and he will be sorely
check local listing for area outside of North America.
Nova: Astrospies - An elite
corps of secret U.S. astronauts is trained to gather intelligence
on the Soviets during the Cold War. (Encore event also available
on Hulu.com) On PBS: October 5 at 8 pm; ET/PT.
On the Discovery Channel
Earth: The Movie - A landmark feature film from the makers of Life and Planet Earth, Earth:
the Movie captures the spectacle, wonder and majesty of
our world, and the creatures - great and small - who inhabit
Sep 12, 8:00 pm; Sep 12, 11:00 pm; ET/PT
I s Time Travel Possible?
Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking:
On the Discovery Channel
Hawking explores the world's favorite scientific 'what if?' warping
the very fabric of time and space as he goes. From killing
your grandfather to riding a black hole.
Sep 11, 9:00 pm; Sep 12, 12:00 am; ET/PT
On the Discovery Channel
Invisible Worlds: Off the Scale - Our world is alive with creatures that we can't see, acting in ways
that have more influence on humans than we might think.
Using thermal imaging to see through vegetation, ultra-low-light
color imaging helps us see in the dark.
Sep 11, 10:00 pm; Sep 12, 1:00 am; ET/PT
On the Science Channel
When Yellowstone Erupts - A super volcano lies beneath the beauty of Yellowstone Park. Scientists
are challenged with predicting when the next super-eruption
might take place and describing what will happen if this
cataclysmic event occurs.
Sep 02, 3:00 am; ET/PT
Search for the Amazon Headshrinkers - NGC has exclusive U.S. access to 45-year-old archive footage captured
by explorer Edmundo Bielawski, purportedly the only known
footage that shows the process of an actual -- recently
deceased -- human head being shrunk. On The National Geographic
Channel: Sept 7th 9:00 PM; Sept 11th 10:00 PM; ET/PT.
The Truth Behind the Ark - As told in the Bible, Noah built an ark to hold two of all living creatures
in preparation for a catastrophic flood. But what can science
tell us about the ark? On The
Channel: Sept 18th 10:00 PM; ET/PT.
Nazi Secret Weapons - Just prior to the end of WWII, the German military secretly undertook
a massive push to design miracle weapons - colossal tanks,
the world's first guided missiles and long-range bombers
that could attack New York On The
Channel: Sept 19th 8:00 PM; Sept 19th 11:00; ET/PT.
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