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Category Archives: Humor and Observations

Trove of ancient Roman letters unearthed near Hadrian’s Wall

Archaeologists are thrilled by the discovery of 25 tablets that could reveal fascinating details of everyday life on the northern frontier of the Roman Empire.

The wooden ink documents were found on June 22 at the Roman fort of Vindolanda just south of Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England. Archaeologists believe that the tablets date from between 85 and 92 A.D.

“It’s just an incredible discovery,” Dr. Andrew Birley, CEO of the Vindolanda Trust and director of excavations at the site, told Fox News. “It was 25 documents in one space, within a few meters – that, effectively, is a hoard.”

The rare pieces of wood, which are about the size of modern postcards, were found preserved in damp earth about 10 feet below  ground level.

Experts could clearly read one of the tablets – a letter from a soldier called Masclus to his commanding officer requesting leave.

Masclus also features prominently in a trove of 300 tablets found at Vindolanda in 1992. In that haul, which dates from 105 A.D., Masclus made a request for beer from his commanding officer. “If you do not send me more beer, I cannot answer for the men,” he wrote.

“Masclus was a real character,” Birley told Fox News, noting that the 12-year span between letters suggests he may have remained at Vindolanda despite a number of regiments rotating through the fort. “He’s obviously got a role that, potentially, we have never conceptualized,” he said. “We have learnt a lot, potentially, about how the Roman Army works.”

While experts do not know Masclus’ exact rank, he may be a centurion, according to Birley. “Bearing in mind that he’s responsible for a detachment of men, he’s an officer of some sort,” he explained. “It might be that he’s a regional centurion, we don’t know yet.”

The fragile tablets, some of which are only 2mm thick, are now undergoing a painstaking three-to-four-month conservation process to ensure that they can survive in an oxygenated environment. “They are so fragile, that if we leave them in the oxygen, in the air, and they go black,” explained Birley, noting that the tablets are being carefully cleaned with deionized water. The documents are then bathed in methylated spirits and dried out. Eventually, infra-red photography will be used to fully decipher their text.

“We want to try to conserve these things as long as possible so that people can go back to the primary texts and continue reading them,” Birley said. The archaeologist also noted that the current season of excavations at Vindolanda could unearth more surprises. “Our excavations have got another two-and-a-half months to go – this may not be the end of it,” he said.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Treasure hunters strike gold with ancient jewelry find

The Leek Frith Torcs (Staffordshire County Council).

The Leek Frith Torcs (Staffordshire County Council).

An incredible haul of ancient gold jewelry has been unearthed the U.K. by two treasure hunters using metal detectors.

Detectorists Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania found the four torcs, a form of ancient necklace or bracelet, on farmland in Staffordshire in December. The finds, which were handed over to the U.K. government-funded Portable Antiquities Scheme, were announced Tuesday.

Dubbed the Leek Frith Torcs, the finds may date as far back as 400 B.C. and could be the earliest examples of Iron Age gold ever discovered in Britain, experts say. The torcs, which include three neck torcs and one bracelet, are thought to be from continental Europe, possibly Germany or France.

HUGE 3,000-YEAR-OLD GOLD ‘BELT’ UNEARTHED IN THE UK

Dr. Julia Farley, curator of the British & European Iron Age Collections at the British Museum, assessed the items. “This unique find is of international importance. It dates to around 400–250 BC, and is probably the earliest Iron Age gold work ever discovered in Britain,” she said, in a statement. “The torcs were probably worn by wealthy and powerful women, perhaps people from the continent who had married into the local community. Piecing together how these objects came to be carefully buried in a Staffordshire field will give us an invaluable insight into life in Iron Age Britain.”

The site in the Staffordshire Moorlands area was investigated by archaeologists from Stoke-On-Trent City Council, who described the find as “complete” with no evidence of other pieces.

The BBC reports that the pieces will be on display at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke for the next three weeks.

ALTAR OF VIKING SAINT-KING DISCOVERED IN NORWAY

“This amazing find of gold torcs in the North of the county is quite simply magical and we look forward to sharing the secrets and story they hold in the years to come,” said Staffordshire County Council Leader Philip Atkins in the statement.

An inquest Tuesday declared that the find was treasure, the BBC reports, with the artifacts deemed the property of the Crown, or British state. The UK Government’s Treasure Valuation Committee will offer a value to the metal detectorists that found the haul, the landowner where the discovery was made, and any museum that wants to acquire the torcs, according to the BBC.

Once the parties agree on the valuation, the museum would have to raise the money to pay for the artifacts. The finders say they will share the proceeds with the landowner.

FARMER’S FIELD YIELDS HOARD OF ENGLISH CIVIL WAR COINS

This is the latest stunning ancient jewelry find in the U.K. In 2015 a huge 3,000-year-old gold belt, described as one of the largest ever discovered, was unearthed in Cambridgeshire.

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Long lost ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ found buried under volcanic ash, New Zealand researchers say

Scientists in New Zealand say they have discovered the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” But there is a caveat.

It’s buried under hundreds of pounds of volcanic ash.

Using the forgotten 1859 New Zealand diaries of 19th century geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter and maps he made during that time period, forensic cartographers Rex Bunn and Sascha Nolden were able to pinpoint the exact location of the famed and elusive pink and white terraces of Lake Rotomahana on New Zealand’s North Island.

“Forensic cartography is described as part science and part art,” the researchers wrote in the introduction to their academic paper.

The terraces, which were the largest deposits on silica on earth, were for years a global attraction – drawing tourists from around the world in the mid-19th century to gawk at the famed pools and bathe in the heated waters of their springs. But in 1886, before the exact location of the springs was properly described and mapped, the nearby Mount Tarawera volcano erupted and buried the terraces under 50 feet of ash and mud.

“They [the terraces] became the greatest tourist attraction in the southern hemisphere and the British Empire, and shiploads of tourists made the dangerous visit down from the U.K., Europe and America to see them,” Bunn told the Guardian last week. “But they were never surveyed by the government of the time, so there was no record of their latitude or longitude.”

The volcanic eruption also vastly altered the surrounding landscape and made it all but impossible for the exact location of the terraces to be marked.

Using von Hochstetter’s field notes – the German-Austrian geologist was the only person to have surveyed the landscape before the 1886 eruption – the Kiwi researchers, however, were able to determine the precise location of the buried terraces.

“Our research relied on the only survey ever made of that part of New Zealand and therefore we are confident the cartography is sound,” Bunn said. “Hochstetter was a very competent cartographer.”

Bunn is now in the process of getting funding to excavate the site of the terraces, which he believes may have only suffered minimal damage from the volcanic ash and could potentially be brought back to their former glory.

“We want to undertake this work in the public interest. And I have been closely liaising with the ancestral owners of the land, the Tuhourangi Tribal Authority, and they are supportive and delighted with the work,” he said.

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Air Force cadet creates bulletproof breakthrough

Air Force cadet Hayley Weir had an idea that turned out to be a game changer. “It was just the concept of going out there and stopping a bullet with something that we had made in a chemistry lab.”

The 21-year-old Weir approached Air Force Academy Assistant Professor Ryan Burke with the idea. He was skeptical.

“I said, ‘I’m not really sure this is going to work, the body armor industry is a billion-plus-dollar industry,” he noted.

Weir’s idea was to combine anti-ballistic fabric with what’s known as a shear thickening fluid to create a less heavy material to use in body armor. She demonstrated the principle to Burke by combining water and cornstarch in a container and asking the professor to jam his finger into the paste-like goo.

“I jam my finger right into this bowl, and I almost broke my finger! Hayley’s laughing because I’ve got this finger that I’m shaking and I’m saying, ‘You know, that’s pretty impressive stuff.'”

Convinced, Ryan worked with Weir for several months in a small lab at the Air Force Adacemy in Colorado Springs. They were helped and advised by Dr. Jeff Owens, Senior Research Chemist at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

They tried combining several different ingredients to come up with the exact formula for the shear thickening fluid, and the correct way to layer it with ballistic fibers.

“The pieces are not new,” Weir explains, “everything that we’ve used in there has been researched (before) in some capacity for ballistics protection.”

They tested their combinations on the firing range, failing time and again, until one day their quarter-inch thick design repeatedly stopped a round fired from a 9mm handgun.

Weir and Ryan’s excitement was tempered by the range safety officer who pulled his .44 Magnum and told them bluntly, “This will fail.”

Ryan says, “We loaded it in and it stopped it. And it stopped it a second time, and then a third time.”

They realized they had hit on something special, that could potentially lighten the average 26-pound body armor kit worn by servicemen in the field by as much as two thirds.

“This is something that our competition doesn’t have right now,” Weir explained. “And with this advantage our soldiers, if they wear this body armor, will be able to move faster, run farther, jump higher.”

Body armor for the military and first responders may not be the only thing that can be improved by the new fabric. It could possibly be used to reduce or replace the thick metal plates that protect military aircraft, tanks and other vehicles.

“And there’s some significant gravity and weight behind that,” Ryan said. “And what it could mean for people like my friends who are still active duty in the military, that are going downrange, serving overseas.”

A patent for the as yet unnamed design is pending, and if money is ultimately made, the Air Force will share the profits with Weir, Ryan and Owens.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s that great of an achievement,” Weir muses, “just because it’s been something that we’ve enjoyed doing.”

The Air Force believes it is definitely a great achievement. They are providing the newly graduated 2d Lt Weir with a full-ride scholarship to Clemson University, where she will earn her Master of Materials Science and Engineering, before returning to the Air Force to continue her work.

Alicia Acuna joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1997 and currently serves as a general assignment reporter based in the network’s Denver bureau.

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Ex-bikini model warns against lifestyle: What ‘a warped brain I had’

 (iStock)

Leaders of the #fitspo movement solicit heaps of praise on social media, but what it really takes to achieve a viral-worthy transformation photo often remains hidden from public view.

Former bikini competitor Julie Ledbetter, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, has illuminated some of those secrets in a viral Instagram post — and, she divulges, the journey isn’t always pretty.

“I was almost in the single digits for body fat % (not healthy), constantly cold (in the middle of JULY), always thinking about my next meal because I was in a deep caloric deficit and couldn’t miss a gym session because ‘I was ___ weeks out from my show,’” Ledbetter writes in the post.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BTDDutuFTbq/embed/?cr=1&v=7#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A9743.995%7DNot so anymore. Since abandoning the competitions, she’s lost her six-pack and buff arms — but she’s also gotten her life back, she writes.

To show how she’s changed, Ledbetter shares a reverse side-by-side transformation photo: one showing her in 2014 before she won a bikini competition and another showing her today, when she’s “happy, healthy and free” with no plans to compete anymore.

She recalled sending the 2014 photo to her coach at the time, asking him if she still needed to shed more weight before the competition.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BRHkQNOl3k4/embed/?cr=1&v=7#%7B%22ci%22%3A1%2C%22os%22%3A9770.000000000002%7D“Talked (sic) about a WARPED brain I had,” she writes.

In the post, she clarifies that she isn’t bashing bikini competitions themselves. Rather, she urges her followers not to compare themselves to women like her former self. Not only did she find the lifestyle unsustainable, but many of the images that grace magazine covers are Photoshopped to look unrealistic, she warns.

“The body on the right is a maintainable body,” she writes. “I am at a healthy body fat %, I am not constantly thinking about my next meal or stressed when things take priority over my workouts. I am strong, content and most importantly confident of the body I have built since 2014. This body is something that I can confidently say I can maintain for life.”

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Fracking isn’t contaminating groundwater, study finds

New research claims that fracking isn't contaminating groundwater.

New research claims that fracking isn’t contaminating groundwater.  (Reuters, File)

A major anti-fracking argument by environmentalists may not have the facts to back it up, a new study conducted by Duke University found.

Fracking has not contaminated groundwater in northwestern West Virginia, according to the peer-reviewed study published this month in a European journal.

“Based on consistent evidence from comprehensive testing, we found no indication of groundwater contamination over the three-year course of our study,” explained Avner Vengosh, the professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

TAPPED OUT: SCIENCE SHUTS DOWN AN ANTI-FRACKING MYTH ABOUT DRINKING WATER

The growing industry could help create as many as 3.5 million jobs by 2035, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

While the study concluded that fracking didn’t contaminate groundwater, the researchers did say accidental spills of fracking wastewater could be dangerous to surface water in the area.

VIDEO: IS FRACKING REALLY SO BAD?

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”However, we did find that spill water associated with fracked wells and their wastewater has an impact on the quality of streams in areas of intense shale gas development,” Vengosh added.

“The bottom-line assessment,” he continued, “is that groundwater is so far not being impacted, but surface water is more readily contaminated because of the frequency of spills.”

To complete the research, water samples from 112 drinking wells in northwestern West Virginia were evaluated during a three year period. Twenty of the water wells were sampled prior to drilling or fracking started in the area in order to obtain a baseline for later comparisons.

Tests demonstrated the presence of saline groundwater and methane in both the pre-drilling and post-drilling well water samples. But the samples had a chemistry slightly but distinctly different from the methane and salts found in fracking fluids and shale gas. The findings indicated that the elements occurred naturally in the region’s permeable rock and weren’t related to the result of recent shale gas operations at the site.

The study appears in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.

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The Victorian-Era Supercomputer And The Genius Who Created It

The London Science Museum finally completed work on the Victorian era’s greatest supercomputer, the Difference Engine No. 2, 120 years after the death of inventor Charles Babbage. This five-ton machine is currently traveling across the pond to San Francisco, and will go on display in America for the first time starting May 10th at the Computer History Museum. Find out everything you wanted to know about Charles Babbage and his wonderful engines in today’s triviagasm.

  • Babbage had a life-threatening fever when he was 8 years old, and the parents ordered that his “brain was not to be taxed too much.” Babbage later thought that this left him free to daydream, which led to his computers.
  • Babbage was later schooled at the Holmwood Academy, which only had 30 students. They also had a massive library, with many books focused on mathematics, which he fell in love with.
  • He worked on calculating machine designs from other inventor/mathematicians like Blaise Pascal, Wilhelm Schickard, and Gottfried Leibniz. All of these men had designed working calculators from the 1500s on. In Shickard’s case, he had invented a calculating machine called “The Speeding Clock” that could work with six-digit numbers and would ring a bell to indicate memory overflow. It was later destroyed in a fire, but a working replica was constructed in 1960.
  • Babbage himself first proposed building a “calculating engine” with much more capacity in 1822, and he went on to design several machines which he called “Difference Engines.” Sadly, they were never built because of their enormous size, cost, and also because Babbage’s personality frequently clashed with investors. Also, in 1827, Babbage’s father, wife, and two of his sons died… all in the same year. He had a resulting mental breakdown which further delayed any construction or design.
  • The first Difference Engine design had over 25,000 parts, would have been eight feet high, and would have weighed 15 tons. It was never fully completed during his lifetime, although different sections were later assembled and shown to work by his son, Henry Provost Babbage, after he inherited them.
  • Babbage revised his designs for the Difference Engine No. 2, although this was never built during his lifetime either. In 1989, the London Science Museum began constructing one from his designs, and it was completed in 1991. It has 8,000 parts of bronze, cast iron and steel, weighs five tons and measures eleven feet long and seven feet high.
  • Only two versions of this Engine exist: the one built for the London Science Museum, and a second one that was built by the museum on special commission for millionaire Nathan Myhrvold.
  • The first completed Difference Engine No. 2 performed its first calculation in 1991, and returned results to more than 31 digits. That’s more than your souped-up pocket calculator.
  • A separate printing unit that Babbage designed was constructed for the Engine in 2000 and didn’t need USB a to b cables or a serial interface. Pretty fancy stuff for the 19th Century.
  • Babbage improved on his Difference Engine ideas again by working on plans for an Analytical Engine that could be reprogrammed by inserting programs on punch cards into the machine. This was the first programmable computer, which later led to other scientists improving on these ideas and eventually to the modern computer.
  • Besides working on engines and calculating machines, Babbage also served as a mathematics professor at Cambridge for many years, won a Gold Medal from the Royal Astronomical Society, working on railroad rail gauges, invented uniform postal rates, ran for Parliament, worked in cryptography, and also invented the “pilot” (better known as a cow-catcher) that was mounted on the front of locomotives to “push” cows off the tracks to help prevent derailings.
  • Babbage also didn’t suffer from what he called public nuisance very well, either. He published “Observations of Street Nuisances” in 1864, which was a summary of 165 nuisances that he observed over 80 days. He also wrote “Table of the Relative Frequency of the Causes of Breakage of Plate Glass Windows” after counting the broken windows on a nearby factory.
  • On a side note, growing up in Dallas, Texas, I used to beg my parents to take me to a little software shop to buy computer games. It was called Babbage’s. Today it’s better known as GameStop, but I still have a soft spot for that geeky little store.
  • To this date, Charles Babbage’s brain is preserved in a glass jar at the London Science Museum, just awaiting the perfect moment for reanimation.

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