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Monthly Archives: June 2019

People smoked pot to get high 2,500 years ago, study says

Getting high on marijuana may not be a modern pastime, as archaeologists have found the earliest clear evidence to date that people were smoking cannabis for its psychoactive properties some 2,500 years ago.

They found evidence of burned cannabis with high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (the cannabis ingredient responsible for the high) on 10 wooden incense burners, known as braziers; the burners were found alongside eight human burials at an ancient site known as Jirzankal Cemetery (also called Quman Cemetery) on the Pamir Plateau of western China.

One of the tombs that archaeologists excavated on the Pamir Plateau.

One of the tombs that archaeologists excavated on the Pamir Plateau. (Xinhua Wu)

The burners all carried a mystery residue, which a chemical test soon revealed to be cannabis. “To our excitement, we identified the biomarkers of [cannabis],” study co-researcher Yimin Yang, a professor in the department of archaeology and anthropology at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, told reporters at a news conference. [25 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

Researchers have known for decades that ancient people in eastern China cultivated cannabis as long ago as 3500 B.C. But this cannabis was grown as an oil-seed and fiber crop, and so it had low psychoactive properties. In other words, the ancient people harvesting cannabis for these purposes probably weren’t smoking or ingesting it for its high.

The cannabis residues found in the braziers, however, tell another story. It’s likely that ancient people purposefully selected cannabis plants with high THC levels and then smoked them as part of a ritual or religious activity associated with these burials, “perhaps, for example, aimed at communicating with the divine or the deceased,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Ancient cemetery

Archaeologists began excavating Jirzankal Cemetery in 2013, and were intrigued to find the braziers, which held heating stones. To determine what these ancient people had burned, the archaeologists partnered with Yang’s team, which used a technique known as gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to analyze the chemical residues on the braziers.

In the first test, the researchers found biomarkers of cannabis on the internal charred wood of a brazier. Then, they analyzed an ancient sample of cannabis from the 2,500-year-old Jiayi Cemetery in Turpan, China, where the plant was found laid across a man’s chest as a burial shroud. This test showed preserved components of cannabis, including cannabinol (CBN), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabicyclol (CBL).

While THC does not preserve well, CBN is a good indicator that it’s present. Intriguingly, the researchers found ample CBN on the wooden braziers and on two of the stones, indicating that its THC levels were higher than those typically found in wild plants. As a control, they tested samples from the outside of the braziers, but didn’t find any cannabinoids.

Of note, the burials are more in line with the ancient mortuary practices from ancient Central Asia, including the modern-day countries of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, than they are from China, the researchers said.

Where did the psychoactive pot come from?

Most wild cannabis, as well as early cultivated varieties of the plant, contain low levels of psychoactive compounds. So where did this high-THC variety come from?

The researchers have two main ideas. Perhaps a wild variety of pot with high psychoactive levels arose naturally, and then humans found and cultivated it. “I agree that humans are always going to be looking for wild plants that can have effects on the human body, especially psychoactive effects,” study co-researcher Robert Spengler, the laboratory director at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, told reporters.

How did cannabis with high THC levels come about? Given that Jirzankal Cemetery is high up in the mountains — more than 9,800 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level — perhaps the plants encountered stressors there that led them to create more psychoactive properties, the researchers said.

In this line of thinking, the extreme mountain environment — such as low temperatures, low nutrient availability, high exposure to ultraviolet rays and strong light intensity — may have caused the plants to change how they produced or metabolized certain compounds, which could lead to the creation of greater amounts of psychoactive compounds, the researchers said.

“This is potentially linking these plants — the plants with higher THC production — to higher elevation,” Spengler said. “But that’s all fairly theoretical, so we really cannot pinpoint exactly what the mechanisms for the higher THC level are.”

Another idea is that humans — either intentionally or inadvertently — played a role in increasing the plant’s psychoactive properties. Perhaps people bred different marijuana plants that led to varieties with higher THC levels.

“Some of them may have been rapidly domesticated by humans simply moving them or transporting them [along trade routes such as the silk road] … from the Caucasus all the way to East Asia,” Spengler said. “So, it’s possible that humans were still inflicting evolutionary changes on these plants without actually intensively cultivating them.”

That said, it’s still an “open debate” whether the psychoactive pot occurred naturally, or whether humans played a role, he said.

The study is the latest to look at cannabis’s origins and historic uses. In May, another group of researchers posited that the cannabis plant likely originated high on the Tibetan Plateau, according to an analysis of fossil pollen. The new finding “provides yet another piece in the biomolecular archaeological puzzle of the ‘abiding mystery of Central Asia’ and its impact on human cultural and biological development through the millennia,” Patrick McGovern, the scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science. “Much more remains to be learned.”

The study was published online today (June 12) in the journal Science Advances.

Originally published on Live Science.

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Stunning Monet unseen for 87 years eyes $44.6 million at auction

One month after Claude Monet’s “Meules” sold for a whopping $110.7 million at Sotheby’s New York, a beautiful painting of waterlilies that’s been in a private collection for 87 years is set for auction.

Part of Monet’s “Nymphéas” collection, the painting is expected to fetch up to $44.6 million next week when it goes on auction in London for the first time ever.

The Impressionist’s masterpieces have garnered record-breaking bids. His “Meules” raked in more than twice the high end of the estimate at Sotheby’s in New York last month, according to Forbes.

 

“Monet’s Nymphéas are among the most iconic and celebrated Impressionist paintings and their profound impact on the evolution of Modern Art marks them as Monet’s greatest achievement. The artist’s famous lily pond in his garden at Giverny provided the subject matter for most of his major later works, paintings whose significance in forging the path for subsequent artists is now fully recognized,” the Sotheby’s catalog copy states.

Claude Monet's Nymphéas (1908), oil on canvas. 

Claude Monet’s Nymphéas (1908), oil on canvas.  ((Sotheby’s London))

“The theme of waterlilies, that became Monet’s most celebrated series of paintings, recorded the changes in his style and his constant pictorial innovations. The present painting, which dates from 1908, is a powerful testament to Monet’s enduring vision and creativity in his mature years,” according to the famous auction house.

“This beautifully lyrical and softly ephemeral Nymphéas painted in 1908 is a timeless reflection of Monet’s vision and innovation,” Thomas Boyd-Bowman, head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sales in London, told Forbes. “Acquired in 1932, it has remained a hidden treasure in the same family collection for decades and will now make its very first appearance at auction.”

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Mysterious large mass discovered on Moon bewilders scientists: ‘Whatever it is, wherever it came from’

A large mass of unknown material has been discovered on the largest crater on the Moon and scientists aren’t sure what it is.

According to an April 2019 study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers believe the mass could contain metal from an asteroid that crashed into the celestial satellite, which resulted in the aforementioned crater, known as the Lunar South Pole-Aitken basin.

“Imagine taking a pile of metal five times larger than the Big Island of Hawaii and burying it underground. That’s roughly how much unexpected mass we detected,” lead author Dr. Peter James, assistant professor of planetary geophysics at Baylor University, said in a statement.

 

At roughly 1,550 miles in diameter, the Lunar South Pole-Aitken basin stretches across approximately one-fourth of the Moon, according to NASA. The Moon’s circumference is roughly 11,000 kilometers.

This false-color graphic shows the topography of the far side of the Moon. The warmer colors indicate high topography and the bluer colors indicate low topography. The South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin is shown by the shades of blue. The dashed circle shows the location of the mass anomaly under the basin. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

This false-color graphic shows the topography of the far side of the Moon. The warmer colors indicate high topography and the bluer colors indicate low topography. The South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin is shown by the shades of blue. The dashed circle shows the location of the mass anomaly under the basin. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

In addition to being the largest crater on the Moon, the Pole-Aitken basin is also one of the largest known impact craters in the solar system and is thought to be approximately 4 billion years old.

James and his team looked at data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission and the changes in gravity they discovered surprised them.

“When we combined that with lunar topography data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we discovered the unexpectedly large amount of mass hundreds of miles underneath the South Pole-Aitken basin,” James said. “One of the explanations of this extra mass is that the metal from the asteroid that formed this crater is still embedded in the Moon’s mantle.”

The anomaly – “whatever it is, wherever it came from,” James added – is weighing down the basin floor by more than half a mile. The team of researchers ran computer simulations that show the iron-nickel core of an asteroid could have been placed into the upper mantle of the Moon following impact.

“We did the math and showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon’s mantle until the present day, rather than sinking to the Moon’s core,” James noted.

One other possibility for the unexplained mass is that it could be an area where dense oxides compiled following the last stage of lunar magma ocean solidification.

Whatever it is, James said the basin is “one of the best natural laboratories for studying catastrophic impact events, an ancient process that shaped all of the rocky planets and moons we see today.”

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NASA will let tourists visit the International Space Station starting in 2020

NASA plans to allow tourists to visit the International Space Station from 2020 – at an estimated cost of more than $50 million (£39 million) per trip.

Until now, the floating space lab has only been accessible to astronauts representing state-level space agencies.

In a surprise announcement today, NASA confirmed that it would be “opening the International Space Station for commercial business”.

It means that private companies will be able to take “private astronauts” to the ISS for up to 30 days.

“The agency can accommodate up to two short-duration private astronaut missions per year to the International Space Station,” Nasa explained.

“These missions will be privately funded, dedicated commercial spaceflights.”

Transport will be provided by both Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, who are currently developing capsules that can carry humans to the ISS.

It’s expected that a trip will likely cost around $50 million (£39 million) per astronaut, according to early estimates – but could easily rise well above that figure.

The spaceflight to the ISS will account for a large chunk of the cost.

NASA typically pays around $75 million for seats aboard a Soyuz spacecraft destined for the ISS, and even paid $82 million per seat in 2015.

However, NASA says seats aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon and/or Boeing CST-100 capsules will cost roughly $58 million per seat.

It’s these capsules that will be used to ferry astronauts up to the ISS – but the cost continues to rise after the journey.

Keeping astronauts on board the ISS is a pricey business.

For instance, regenerative life support and toilet cost $11,250 (£8,800) per astronaut each day.

And general supplies – like food and air – cost $22,500 (£17,500) per astronaut each day.

Nasa will get around $35,000 (£27,000) per night that a private astronaut spends on board the ISS.

A large bank balance won’t be enough either: you’ll have to pass Nasa’s rigorous health checks and training procedures.

As part of its “commercialization” of the ISS, Nasa will be making one space station port and utilities available for a private company to “attach a commercial module to”.

And it hopes that in the long-term, there will be lots of private space stations floating just above Earth.

“In the long-term, NASA’s goal is to become one of many customers purchasing services from independent, commercial and free-flying habitable destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.

“A robust low-Earth orbit economy will need multiple commercial destinations, and NASA is partnering with industry to pursue dual paths to that objective that either go through the space station or directly to a free-flying destination.”

Whatever ends up going into space, it’s unlikely to get cheaper any time soon.

Even SpaceX charges $62million (£48.7million) to send commercial satellites into orbit with its relatively new Falcon 9 rocket.

And Axiom Space, a Houston-based company hoping to organize trips to the ISS, has pledged to charge $55 million (£43.2 million) for a 10-day trip to the ISS.

So why is NASA letting tourists travel to the ISS?

The main advantage seems to be keeping costs down, as the ISS is very expensive to run.

But it’s also about continuing to test space travel – to make it safer and cheaper for everyone.

“Market studies identified private astronaut missions to low-Earth orbit as a key element to demonstrate demand and reduce risk for future commercial destinations in low-Earth orbit,” NASA explained.

The long-term plan is to create space stations near Earth that can be used as stop-off points for deeper trips into space.

NASA hopes to set up several “lunar gateways” starting from 2028 that will float near the Moon, and could be used for crewed missions to Mars.

“The first Gateway is about the moon, but I think the second Gateway, being a deep-space transport, again using commercial and international partners, enables us to get to Mars,” said NASA top boss Jim Bridenstine, speaking last year.

“What we don’t want to do is go to the surface of the moon, prove that we can do it again, and then be done. We want to go to stay.

“And the Gateway, in my view – I’ve been convinced – enables us to take advantage of commercial and international partners in a more robust way so we are there to stay, it enables us to get to more parts of the moon than ever before, and it enables us to get to Mars.”

This story originally appeared in The Sun.

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Stone block with mysterious 12,000-year-old engravings discovered at prehistoric hunting site

Archaeologists in France have uncovered a mysterious carved stone block at a prehistoric hunting site.

The stone was found during excavations at Angouleme in southwestern France.  A number of engravings have been carved into the sandstone, including horses, deer and an aurochs, an extinct species of wild cattle.

Drawings on the stone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

Drawings on the stone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

“The most visible engraving, that of a headless horse turned to the right, occupies half the surface,” according to a translated statement from French national archeological research organization Inrap. “The rump and the saddle follow the curves of the natural edge of the stone. Very fine incisions may suggest the coat”.

The area where the stone was found was used as a hunting site by the prehistoric Azilian culture. Other items discovered at the site include tools for stripping carcasses.

Side face of the sandstone block.

Side face of the sandstone block. (Denis Gliksman, Inrap)

Experts think that the stone is about 12,000 years old. More research will be done to precisely date and gain more information from the artifact.

Other mysterious stones have been grabbing attention in France. A village in Brittany, for example, recently offered a reward to anyone who can decipher a strange inscription on a centuries-old rock.

Last year, archaeologists announced the discovery of 12,000-year-old cave drawings in Eastern France.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and Madeline Farber contributed to this article.  Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Bronze Age Siberian “Birdman” wore a collar of beaks and skulls

Bronze Age Siberian ‘Birdman’ wore a collar of beaks and skulls

Archaeologists have unearthed a Bronze Age skeleton that was buried with an unusual garment: a collar or headdress made of dozens of bird beaks and skulls.

The so-called birdman’s remains, which date to about 5,000 years ago, were discovered at the Ust-Tartas dig site in Siberia’s Novosibirsk region, The Siberian Times reported .

The collar of beaks and skulls may have been a protective garment like armor, or may have been worn for rituals, Kobeleva said. While the birds have not yet been identified, they were likely large shore birds, such as herons or cranes , according to The Times.

Archaeologists still don’t know exactly how the skulls and beaks were attached to each other or to a piece of fabric, as the scientists have not yet detected any holes drilled into the bones so they could be stitched together, The Times reported.

And the “birdman” had company; the archaeologists discovered a two-tiered grave nearby. An upper layer held the bodies of two children, who were approximately 5 and 10 years old when they died. On the lower level — and underneath a wooden divider — was the skeleton of an adult male.

A number of artifacts were buried with the man. One object the researchers found near the skull was a type of mask made of two bronze hemispheres with circular eyeholes, and a bronze crosspiece, according to The Times. Polished stones near the body were thought to be ceremonial, suggesting that this individual — along with the beak-wearing birdman — conducted rituals for his Bronze Age group.

“Both men must have carried special roles in the society,” Kobeleva told The Times.

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