Stories tagged Britain

Dec
14
2008

The oldest brain, in its natural habitat: Really, you don't even need to read the post if you look at this picture. It tells the whole story.
The oldest brain, in its natural habitat: Really, you don't even need to read the post if you look at this picture. It tells the whole story.Courtesy flappingwings
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but all y’all Buzzketeers can stop your searching—the hunt is over, and the oldest brain on the island nation of Great Britain has been found. The prize goes to this crusty old skull, found in a muddy pit in York. The skull, in turn, person who had his or her head cut off about 2000 years ago, before the Roman invasion of Britain, probably as part of a ritual sacrifice and burial (the head’s body wasn’t buried nearby).

An archaeologist was cleaning the skull (archaeologists love skulls, especially clean ones), when she noticed an “unusual yellow substance” move inside the cranium. Brain.

The “unusual yellow substance” is shrunken and fragmentary, and it probably won’t reveal much about human neurological evolution, as we haven’t evolved much in the last few thousand years (although I beg to differ—let’s see who can beat Double Dragon II first, me or an Iron Age Brit), but it still takes the oldest brain cake. Or the cake for “oldest brain,” lets say. The find is remarkable because soft tissue, brain especially, is rarely preserved over such a long period of time.

The archaeologists did point out, however, that a whole bunch of well-preserved brains inside skulls) surfaced in a Florida peat bog in the 80s, and these brains date back as far as 8000 years. So, you know, USA, USA.

Jul
07
2008

God save the queen: From abduction, probing, and public ridicule.
God save the queen: From abduction, probing, and public ridicule.Courtesy .kol tregaskes
That’s kind of a bummer, isn’t it? Right?

Aliens (space aliens) and America used to be like pizza and beer, adenine and thymine, Johnny and June; we were inseparable. We dissected them and hid their crash sites, and they mutilated our surplus cattle and probed our rural drunks.

And now they’ve crossed the pond to shack up with a foxier mistress with a more sophisticated accent: Lady Britannia.

Sure, there was that awesome sighting in Texas in January, but since then all aliens seem to care about is England. Apparently, it has been a crazy year for UFO sightings in Britain.

Dozens of reported UFO sightings across the country have got British extraterrestrial enthusiasts stammering, dropping their h’s, and constructing fresh tinfoil hats. Out of Cadbury egg wrappers. In their spare time, they’re working on theories for the increasing number of encounters, a favorite being aliens’ concern over global warming and what man is doing to the planet. I suppose the best way to warn humanity of the dangers of climate change is to zoom past small towns in the middle of the night, but I have a different theory—the aliens want to take over Earth, but it’s still too cold for them to comfortably inhabit the planet, so they’re idling their high-energy spacecrafts in our low atmosphere to release even more greenhouse gases. They’ve probably picked England because of the low number of firearms in the country—who needs to have the locals taking potshots at you all night?

Anyway, we’ve been dumped. Again.

Jun
29
2007

Dear Readers,

Now, please raise a hand or two if I’m getting ahead of you, but I think it’s time we get down to business.

You’ve all heard of “the future,” correct? Flying cars, artificial intelligence, iPhones, and excremental fuel sources? I thought so. Or is there anything here that you are, as of yet, unfamiliar with?

Do your part to solve the energy crisis: A local man prepares to save the future, the only way he knows how.    (photo by Mimi K)
Do your part to solve the energy crisis: A local man prepares to save the future, the only way he knows how. (photo by Mimi K)

Ever since the release of Back to the Future Part II, flying cars have been, more or less, old news, and Tamagotchi has put to rest all fears of A.I. iPones will remain a mystery to all of us for another few hours, at least, but are we all clear on the matter of turning excrement, or “poop,” into sweet diesel fuel?

Oh. I see. We haven’t all been doing our assigned reading, have we?

Well, if the responsible among you would like to put your heads down on your desks for a few minutes, I’ll refresh the rest of the Science Buzz readers.

Chemists around the globe have been hard at work on various processes to convert organic, carbon-based waste products into something very much like crude oil. Examples of organic, carbon-based waste products include, but are not limited to, chicken and turkey guts, old tractor tires, Sega Genesis cartridges (in part), lawn compost, cookie dough, defective jewel cases, ramen noodle wrappers, my fingernail clippings, old magazines, new magazines, tennis shoes (right and left), twine, super glue, baseball hats, worn out VHS copies of “Biodome,” and, naturally, human fecal matter.

The method for turning carbon products back into something like petroleum is relatively new, although certainly not unheard of. By applying the right conditions (heat, pressure, and, uh, other stuff) to the contents of, say, a couple tons of landfill, you can end up with a crude oil like substance, and some left over minerals and metals. The trick is in refining this process so that the energy needed for the transformation is less than the potential energy of the fuel output. As scientists come closer to a workable method, government and industry have been taking a closer look at large-scale applications. This article mentions Britain’s interest in the technology needed to turn their organic waste – of all sorts – into transportation fuel.

As something that produces carbon-based fuels, this process wouldn’t exactly halt the output of global-warming CO2, but it’s not quite so harmful as burning fossil fuels because, as the article puts it, “the carbon produced when the fuel is burnt was absorbed from the atmosphere by the plants or trees used to make it.” That is to say, it wouldn’t create new CO2, because the organic components of the fuel had just been taking in carbon that was already in the atmosphere.

The facilities required for the process are, unfortunately, extremely expensive. Once everything is set up, however, the fuel produced could potentially be very cheap. And the ingredients aren’t generally difficult to produce.

Jan
24
2007

Should courts have the power to chemically change a convict's body?: Photo US Dept. of State
Should courts have the power to chemically change a convict's body?: Photo US Dept. of State

Great Britain is considering new laws that would require sex offenders to receive hormone injections. Hormones – such as estrogen and testosterone -- are chemicals produced by the body that stimulate or regulate tissues to act in certain ways. Lawmakers think the injections – also known as “chemical castration” – would prevent future attacks. But some people object, arguing the government has no right to change our body chemistry.

What do you think? Leave us a comment or take our poll

Feb
21
2006

Two fascinating stories related to the archaeology of Great Britain and the monetary (dollar) value of significant archaeological finds appeared in the news this week. The first story is related to an archaeological find in Lancaster, and the second is related to an Anglo-Saxon coin which was owned by a man right here in Minnesota.

Most professional archaeologists think of their finds as priceless. An archaeologist is concerned with what their finds can contribute to science, history and maybe future museum displays. While it used to be much more common for archaeological finds to come up for sale in public auction, the importance of an artifacts original context has grown ever more important in modern archaeology, making single artifacts not associated with a known archaeological site far-less desirable. While artifacts are sometimes given a monetary value by an insurance company before it goes on loan to another museum - most professionally acquired artifacts never appear at auction.

The news of the find of a Roman gravestone with a clear etching of a solider caused excitement among archaeologists in Great Britain. Archaeologists were excited by the find because it is in such great condition. Those same archaeologists, however, were saddened by the fact that the developer, who owned the land where the artifact was found, had already spoken to Sotheby's, the famous auction house. It is expected to bring about $100,000 (£357,500) at auction.

The second news story appeared in the StarTribune. The story begins, "For a little more than a year, it was his: a small gold coin 1,200 years old and bearing the likeness of Coenwulf, king of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Mercia, and the first-known coin reference to a marketplace named London." Allan Davisson, the now former-owner of the coin mortgaged his home to pay for the $400,000 bill for the artifact. Davisson recently sold the coin for a considerable profit to an American collector who was willing to pay $600,000 for the specimen. The new owner plans to sell it to the British Museum in London. The article continues, "It is the first gold coin in Great Britain to bear the image of a monarch and the first to include, on the obverse side, a reference -- in Latin -- to London. British authorities say it may be the most important coin in the realm for its numismatic, historical and cultural value."

The study of numismatics, or money in all its forms, is popular among both professional archaeologists and amateurs. Many types of historic coins are viewed as being valuable because they provide so much information for their context right on the coin itself. The image of an important individual can date a coin to within a few years, and a written description can tell numismatists where the coin was minted, or produced. An early reference to the city of London, like in the coin discussed above makes an artifact like this virtually priceless. Sometimes, however, museums and auction houses alike are asked to put a price on the priceless.

What type of questions do sales like the ones described above bring up for archaeology?

If you were in charge of making laws governing antiquties, like priceless archaeological artifacts, what sort of rules would you make surrounding their sale or removal from their country of origin?

Do you think it should be illegal for certain types of artifacts to be owned by private collectors, rather than museums? Why or why not?

Should certain artifacts, or types of artifacts, that have already been removed from their country of origin be returned, or is it "finders keepers"?

For additional information on the coin described in the StarTribune check out the Santa Clara History in pictures website.