Tag Archives: Laura Geggel

Remains of Napoleon’s one-legged general found under Russian dance floor

By Laura Geggel Associate Editor | LiveScience

An excavation in a peculiar place — under the foundation of a dance floor in Russia — has uncovered the remains of one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite generals: a one-legged man who was killed by a cannonball more than 200 years ago, news sources report.

Gen. Charles Etienne Gudin fought with Napoleon during the failed French invasion of Russia in 1812. On July 6 of this year, an international team of French and Russian archaeologists discovered what are believed to be his remains, in Smolensk, a city about 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of Moscow, according to Reuters.

The researchers said that several clues suggested that the skeleton they found under the dance floor belongs to Gudin, who had known Napoleon since childhood. Both men attended the Military School in Brienne, in France’s Champagne region. Upon hearing of Gudin’s death, Napoleon reportedly cried and ordered that his friend’s name be engraved on the Arc de Triomphe, according to Euronews.

Records from the 1812 Russian invasion note that Gudin’s battlefield injuries required him to have his left leg amputated below the knee, Euronews reported. Indeed, the skeleton in the coffin was missing its left leg and showed evidence of injury to the right leg — details that were also mentioned in those records, the archaeologists said, according to Reuters.

Moreover, it was “with a high degree of probability” that the remains the team uncovered belonged to an aristocrat and a military veteran of both the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, they said, according to Reuters.

“It’s a historic moment not only for me, but for I think for our two countries,” French historian and archaeologist Pierre Malinovsky, who helped find the remains, told the Smolensk newspaper Rabochiy Put(Worker’s Journey), according to Reuters. “Napoleon was one of the last people to see him alive, which is very important, and he’s the first general from the Napoleonic period that we have found.”

The general has known living descendants, so researchers plan to test the skeleton for DNA. That way, they’ll be able to say for sure whether the remains are those of Gudin.

Gudin, however, is hardly the only French fatality recently found in Russia. Earlier this year, scientists did a virtual facial reconstruction of a man in his 20s who was slashed in the face with a saber and died during the invasion of Russia.

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Neolithic people made fake islands more than 5,600 years ago

Hundreds of tiny islands around Scotland didn’t arise naturally. They’re fakes that were constructed out of boulders, clay and timbers by Neolithic people about 5,600 years ago, a new study finds.

Researchers have known about these artificial islands, known as crannogs, for decades. But many archaeologists thought that the crannogs were made more recently, in the Iron Age about 2,800 years ago.

 The new finding not only shows that these crannogs are much older than previously thought but also that they were likely “special locations” for Neolithic people, according to nearby pottery fragments found by modern divers, the researchers wrote in the study.

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Deep, hidden trench discovered beneath Antarctic glacier


Radar that can penetrate ice helped researchers make this 3D map of the bedrock beneath the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland. (Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets)

Ice-penetrating radar has uncovered a previously unknown ice-covered trench, and other detailed terrain, in the bedrock hidden beneath two massive, bluish glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.

The gaping features were revealed in the first, highly detailed 3D maps of the frozen bedrock the land under Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier and Antarctica’s Byrd Glacier which may help researchers predict how glaciers, ice sheets and sea levels may change in the future.

“Without bed topography, you cannot build a decent ice-sheet model,” lead researcher Prasad Gogineni, director of the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) at the University of Kansas, said in a statement.

For the study, the CReSIS team analyzed survey data, collected from 2006 to 2011, with a NASA device called a multichannel coherent radar depth sounder/imager (MCoRDS/I) that can send radar through ice to map the ground beneath. [See Stunning Photos of Antarctica’s Ice]

Researchers operate MCoRDS/I by sending radar waves down to the glaciers. The radar signals not only reflect off the ice’s surface, but they also bounce off layers within the ice sheet and the bedrock below. Taken together, these signals give researches access to a 3D view of the terrain.

However, even MCoRDS/I faces challenges when mapping bedrock. Warm ice and rough surfaces can weaken and scatter radar waves, the researchers said. To help overcome this challenge, the researchers used a sensitive radar tool that has a large antenna array, and relied on cutting edge signal- and image-processing techniques to remove interference and create a bedrock map.

“We showed that we have the technology to map beds,” Gogineni said.

After analyzing the data in a computer program, the researchers were able to create comprehensive, 3D maps of the terrain under the Jakobshavn and Byrd glaciers.

Interestingly, glaciologists have wanted a detailed map of Jakobshavn Glacier for years. It’s the world’s fastest moving glacier, and it drains about 7.5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet, the researchers said.

Byrd Glacier, which also moves faster than average, was previously mapped in the 1970s. Yet, beneath the glacier, the researchers recorded a trench about 1.9 miles below sea level that the old mappers had missed. With the new maps and knowledge of the trench, the researchers revised depth measurements of the bedrock, finding the old depth measurements were off by about a half-mile in some areas.

Future technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), may help create even more detailed maps of bedrock beneath glaciers, the researchers said.

“Improving ice-sheet models means we need even finer resolution,” Gogineni said. “To do this, we need lines flown much closer together, which small UAVs would be well-suited for.”

The study was published in the September issue of the Journal of Glaciology.

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52-million-year-old ‘ant-loving’ beetle caught in amber


The beetle Protoclaviger trichodens got trapped in this piece of amber in India 52 million years ago. (J. Parker | AMNH)

A newly discovered 52-million-year-old fossil of an “ant-loving” beetle is the oldest example of its species on record, and may help researchers learn more about this social parasite, a new study finds.

Like its descendants living today, the ancient beetle was likely a myrmecophile, a species that depends on ants for survival. The prehistoric beetle probably shared living quarters with ants and benefited from their hard work by eating ant eggs and taking the ants’ resources.

Other myrmecophiles include the lycaenid butterfly, which lays its eggs in carpenter ants’ nests, tricking the ants into caring for their young; and the paussine ground beetle, which also dupes ants by living alongside them as it preys on the ants’ young and workers. [The 10 Most Diabolical and Disgusting Parasites]

The beetles’ and butterflies’ shared parasitic behavior suggests that myrmecophily (ant love) is an ancient evolutionary phenomenon, the researchers said. But the fossil record of such creatures is poor, making it unclear how and when this practice arose, they added.

The amber-encased beetle, now known as Protoclaviger trichodens, and other stealth beetles began to diversify just as modern ants became more abundant in prehistoric times, the researchers found.

“Although ants are an integral part of most terrestrial ecosystems today, at the time that this beetle was walking the Earth, ants were just beginning to take off, and these beetles were right there inside the ant colonies, deceiving them and exploiting them,” beetle specialist and lead researcher Joseph Parker, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, said in a statement.

There are roughly 370 known beetle species that belong to the Clavigeritaegroup, myrmecophiles that are about 0.04 to 0.12 inches long. But many more myrmecophile beetles are likely awaiting discovery, Parker said.”This tells us something not just about the beetles, but also about the ants their nests were big enough and resource-rich enough to be worthy of exploitation by these super-specialized insects,” Parker explained. “And when ants exploded ecologically and began to dominate, these beetles exploded with them.”

Sneaky beetles

The beetles use a sneaky strategy to bypass the high security surrounding ant nests. Ants rely on pheromones to recognize intruders, which they then dismember and eat. In a feat that continues to mystify scientists, Clavigeritaebeetles are able to pass through this smelling system and participate in colony life. [Mind Control: See Photos of Zombie Ants]

“Adopting this lifestyle brings lots of benefits,” Parker said. “These beetles live in a climate-controlled nest that is well protected against predators, and they have access to a great deal of food, including the ants’ eggs and brood, and most remarkably, liquid food regurgitated directly to their mouths by the worker ants themselves.”

The beetles have evolved to look a certain way to reap these benefits, he said.

Clavigeritaebeetles look nothing like their close relatives. The segments within their abdomens and antennas are fused, likely to provide protection against worker ants, which are somehow tricked into carrying the beetles around the nest. Eventually, the worker ants carry the beetles to the brood galleries, where the beetles feast on eggs and larvae, Parker said.

The beetles also have recessed mouthparts, which make it easy for them to receive liquid food from worker ants. They also coat their bodies with oily secretions from brushlike glands that may encourage the ants to “adopt” them, in lieu of attacking them. But the chemical makeup of these secretions is unknown.

“If you watch one of these beetles interact inside an ant colony, you’ll see the ants running up to it and licking those brushlike structures,” Parker said.

Rare beetle find

Yet it’s rare to encounter Clavigeritaebeetles in the wild, making the new specimen which is possibly the first fossil of this group to be uncovered a valuable find.

Researchers named it Protoclaviger trichodens, from the Greek word prtos(“first”) and claviger (“club bearer”). To describe its tufts of hair, the research team used the Greek word trchas (“hair”) and the Latin word dens (“prong”).

The fossil, from the Eocene epoch (about 56 million years ago to 34 million years ago), is an amber deposit from what was once a rich rainforest in India. The body may look like that of modern Clavigeritaebeetles, but two hooklike brushes on top of its abdomen, called trichomes, give it a primitive appearance, the researchers said. Also, Protoclaviger‘s abdominal segments are still separate, unlike the fused-together segments in today’s beetles.

Protoclaviger is a truly transitional fossil,” Parker said. “It marks a big step along the pathway that led to the highly modified social parasites we see today, and it helps us figure out the sequence of events that led to this sophisticated morphology.”

The study was published today Oct. 2 in the journal Current Biology.

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