Operation Scan Pyramids hopes to build a computer model of the Giza plateau.


Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month


December 2015

In the News:

Great Pyramid Anomaly Found - Operation Scan Pyramids is using various non-invasive methods to try and look inside the pyramids of ancient Egypt and determine if there are unknown rooms or passageways inside them. The project started last month and is expected to continue into 2016. The team will be using such tools as infrared thermography, cosmic particle detectors and drones to try and peer inside the structures. According to the Ministry of Antiquities the scientists using infrared detection have already found an impressive anomaly on the eastern side of the Khufu pyramid. It isn't clear at this point what is causing the anomaly. The next step, after gathering all the data will be to take all the anomalies detected and data collected and subject them to further treatment and data analysis with the goal of eventually building a 3D virtual simulation of the Giza plateau.

Avian Archive Found in Russia - Renovators stumbled on a trove of old documents in the rafters of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Zvenigorod, an old town 40 miles west of Moscow. How did they get there? They were stolen by birds over the last couple centuries to build their nests. Some of the documents date back to 1830's when the roof was last replaced. "For several centuries swifts and jackdaws built their nests under the roof of the cathedral," said Dmitriy Sedov, a director at Zvenigorod's Historical and Architectural Museum. "We found a thick layer made of dirt, branches, and fragments of papers stolen by birds to keep their chicks warm." Though most of the papers had been torn and damaged, many were still readable and included a huge cross section of history such as birth certificates, letters, newspapers, bus tickets, delivery contracts, ration cards,students' diplomas and church documents. One find was the remainder of a 1,000 ruble note, which would have been a small fortune at the time it was lost. Many of the documents have been sent to historians for further analysis.

Burned Witch Found by Italian Researchers - Archeologists have discovered the body of a teenage girl who appears to have been burned and then hastily buried in a pit near San Calocero in Italy. Scientists speculate that she may have been thought to be a witch so her grave was covered with heavy stones to prevent her from rising from the grave. Scientists cannot tell if she was burned alive, or if the fire occurred shortly after death. The girl was 4' 9" tall and between the ages of 15 and 17. Her death occurred somewhere between the 9th and the 15th centuries. Preliminary analysis suggests that she suffered from Enamel hypoplasia a condition that in which enamel becomes weak. The girl might have had an exceptionally pale color and suffered from bleeding and fainting which may have branded her as a witch in the sight of her neighbors. Right now scientists are awaiting the results of radiocarbon dating to firmly establish her death date.

Open Wide, T-Rex! - A recent study shows that the ferocious Tyrannosaurus rex could open it jaws an amazing 90 degrees while herbivores dinosaurs, in general, were limited to just 45 degrees. "Theropod (carnivorous) dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus rex or Allosaurus, are often depicted with widely-opened jaws, presumably to emphasize their carnivorous nature," observes author Stephan Lautenschlager from the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences. "Yet, up to now," he continued, "no studies have actually focused on the relation between jaw musculature, feeding style and the maximal possible jaw gape." The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, used digital models and computer analysis to simulate the muscle strain that happened when dinosaurs opened their mouths. "We know from living animals that carnivores are usually capable of larger jaw gapes than herbivores, and it is interesting to see that this also appears to be the case in theropod dinosaurs," Lautenschlager added.

Girl Treated with Engineered Cells is Cured - In Britain a one-year old girl has become the first person successfully treated with immune cells genetically manipulated to attack her cancer. Doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in central London reversed her leukemia by using a new gene-editing technique to engineer cells to battle the illness. "As this was the first time that the treatment had been used, we didn't know if or when it would work and so we were over the moon when it did," said Professor Paul Veys, director of bone marrow transplant at the hospital. "Her leukemia was so aggressive that such a response is almost a miracle." Standard treatments did not seem to be helping the girl and her parents were offered the experimental technique. She was given a small infusion of the genetically engineered cells and few weeks later her parents were told that the procedure had worked.


Science Quote of the Month - "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science." - Albert Einstein


What's New at the Museum:

The Christmas Visions of Thomas Nast - At the beginning of the 19th century Santa Claus found himself in a quandry. What should he wear? Perhaps he should emphasize his title of St. Nicholas and appear as a stern bishop wearing robes? Or maybe go the other way and be seen as a clowning elf with a frock coat and pantaloons? It was at this point that Thomas Nast, premire American political cartoonist of the 1800's, stepped in and gave Santa the well-needed makeover that he still carries with him even today...> Full Story

Mysterious Picture of the Month - What is this this?

Ask the Curator:

Man in the Iron Mask - A man named Eustache Dauger was arrested in 1669-1670 and was under Bénigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars care. The iron mask he wore was actually a black velvet hood. Has his body been found? Could you get a mitochondrial DNA signature from the hood or body? - Conrad.

As far as I have been able to determine the body of the man called Eustache Dauger has not been found. If it was, however, it seems likely that DNA could be obtained from it and, if you had a clue to who he was, you might be able to match it up with other living relatives to find his true identity (or at least eliminate some possibilities).

For people not aware of this incident, however, I should explain the mystery. As Conrad notes, records show that around 1669 or 1670 a man was arrested in France during the reign of Louse XIV. He spent the next 34 or so years in jail until his death in November of 1703. While he was only one of a number of long-term prisoners held in France at the time, he was the only one that was required to wear a mask at any time he in the presence of other people.

Why a mask? Writers have speculated that Dauger was not his real name, but he was a person so well known that someone seeing his face would know who he was. French writer Voltaire (1694-1778) claimed that the true identity of the man was the king's illegitimate older brother (The king would have an interest in keeping such a person under wraps as he would be a contender for the throne), but there isn't any evidence for this.

In the 17th century writer Alexandre Dumas used the story as a part of the last section of his Three Musketeers saga. In Dumas's fictional world the man wearing the iron mask (not a black velvet one, which what Dauger actually wore) is Louis XIV's identical twin, Philippe, and within the plotline of the story he seeks to replace his brother as king.

Of course, Dumas's book was just piece of entertainment. What was the true identity of Dauger, if he wasn't really Dauger?

Theories abound on this and historians have debated the subject for centuries.

Historian Hugh Ross Williamson makes the case that the prisoner was actually the biological father of Louis XIV (Louis XIII had been estranged from his wife for 14 years at the time of t Louis XIV's birth. If Louis the XIII was not actually the King's father, the king would certainly have an interest in keeping his biological dad under wraps.)

Some people make the case that General Vivien de Bulonde, who angered the Louis the XIV by withdrawing a battle and leaving men and munitions behind, is the mysterious prisoner. However, other documents indicate the General was released after just a few months confinement and his death is recorded as occurring six years after Dauger's demise.

Another possibility was an Italian diplomat named Count Ercole Antonio Mattioli. The Count had angered the King by leaking the details of the sale of Casale, a strategic fortified town near the border of France and Italy. Records indeed show Mattioli was arrested, but also show he was never jailed in the same location as the mysterious Dauger.

What we do know for sure about the prisoner, however, is found in the letters between the French prison governor, Bénigne d'Auvergne de Saint-Mars, and his various bosses during the years Dauger was under his administration. In July 1669 Saint-Mars was sent instructions to prepare a cell with multiple doors (an inner and an outer one to help isolate the prisoner for the outside world). The prisoner was to be killed if he spoke to anyone about anything other than his immediate needs. The letter also states that Dauger is "only a valet" and his needs should be minimal.

Later Dauger actually temporary served as a valet to one other prisoners, Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis of Belle-Île, and a former superintendent of finances who was imprisoned for embezzlement. The fact that Dauger could be treated as a servant this way is a clue to his identity. The class protocol at the time made it unthinkable that somebody of noble class could serve someone else even if he was a prisoner. This makes it very unlikely that Dauger was any relative of the king or of noble blood.

Still, that leaves the nagging question, if Dauger was a nobody, then why did he have to wear the mask?

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In History:

Hydrogen Balloon Takes Off - On December 1st, 1783, the first manned voyage of a balloon using hydrogen was launched from Paris. The two passenger on board were Professor Jacques Alexander Cesar Charles and Marie-Noel Robert. The pair ascended to about 2000 feet (600m) and traveled about 27miles (43km) in about 2 hours. It landed and Robert got out. The Professor then continued the flight for a short period climbing to 8858 feet (2700m).

In the Sky:

Geminid Meteor Shower - The Geminid meteor shower will be in the sky the night of the 13th to the 14th. For this year it is considered the best shooting star show in the sky. With the moon just a narrow crescent on that night and setting early in the evening skies, it will be extremely dark and viewing should be at its best. Estimates place the number of meteors that can be seen as high as 120 an hour.



British "Hell Hound" Might Be Found - Behind Every Legend, they say, there is a grain of truth. Folklore has it that a giant dog terrorized the British Isles in the 16th century and recently archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a giant dog that weighed around 200 pounds and stood 7 feet tall on its hind legs. Could this creature be the "Black Shuck" (a name thought to come from an old English word for black "demon") of legend? According to the radiocarbon dating tests the remains come from just about the right era. Though we will never know for sure, it could be that his "hound from hell" actually existed.



Zeep and Meep are on a well deserved vacation. In their place we feature highlights from their past adventures.

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