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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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Did Van Gogh shoot himself? Auction of pistol reignites debate.

The auction of a pistol said to have been used by the painter Vincent van Gogh to shoot himself has reignited a debate about who actually pulled the trigger: Did Van Gogh commit suicide, or was he shot by someone else?

The gun will be auctioned in France on Wednesday (June 19), where it’s expected to sell for more than $50,000.

For years, most Van Gogh experts have accepted the explanation that he shot himself in the chest with a pistol in a suicide in July 1890. [30 of the World’s Most Valuable Treasures That Are Still Missing]

Such a gun was found more than 70 years later, in a field near the French farming village of Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh died, and it has widely been accepted as the weapon he used to shoot himself.

Van Gogh lived on for 30 hours before dying from the wound. His last words, according to his brother Theo, were “the sadness will last forever.”

In the years since his death, the Dutch expressionist painter, who cut off his left ear in a dispute with the painter Paul Gauguin has become the archetype of a despairing, suicidal artist overcome by depression.

But in 2011, biographers Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh argued that Van Gogh didn’t shoot himself, but was shot accidentally by 16-year-old René Secrétan, who was spending the summer in the village.

According to their biography “Van Gogh: The Life” (Random House, 2011), Secrétan and his brother both befriended and bullied Van Gogh when he stayed at Auvers — and that Secrétan possessed the gun involved.

Based on a number of lingering mysteries about the last hours of Van Gogh’s life, the authors proposed that the artist was shot during a scuffle with Secrétan; then, he implied that he had shot himself, in order to cover for the boys, they wrote in an essay in Vanity Fair.

The theory that Van Gogh was shot by another is disputed by some experts on the life of the artist. But Naifeh told Live Science that he was more convinced than ever that Secrétan shot Van Gogh.

Mystery weapon

The gun being auctioned in Paris next week is a Belgian-made 7mm Lefaucheux revolver — a popular small caliber handgun at that time.

The gun matches the description of the 7mm bullet taken from Van Gogh’s body by his doctor, and it is theorized that its low power may be why Van Gogh didn’t die immediately but staggered back to his hotel with the bullet still lodged in his chest.

The pistol was found by a farmer in 1965 — 75 years after Van Gogh’s death — in a field at Auvers, badly corroded and beyond use. It was then given to the family who owned the hotel where Van Gogh died.

Grégoire Veyrès, the auctioneer for Auction Art who is conducting the sale, told Live Science that an investigation by the writer Alain Rohan determined that the corroded weapon had been buried in the ground for at least 50 years. [In Photos: Van Gogh Masterpiece Reveals True Colors]

Rohan’s investigative work was accepted as valid by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which displayed the gun in a 2016 exhibition about the artist’s mental illness, Veyrès said.

According to Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey, who writes regularly on the artist for the Art Newspaper in London, the gun is accepted among many Van Gogh scholars as the weapon that he used to take his own life.

Death debated

According to Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey, who writes regularly on the artist for the Art Newspaper in London, the gun is accepted among many Van Gogh scholars as the weapon that he used to take his own life.

“I believe it highly likely, although not certain, that it is the actual gun,” Bailey told Live Science, adding that the Van Gogh Museum had also stated there was a “strong possibility” that this was the gun he used.

While the 2011 biography by Smith and Naifeh was “excellent,” he said, many Van Gogh experts didn’t accept their theory.

“I am convinced that it was suicide, not murder or manslaughter,” he said. “Van Gogh’s family and close friends believed it was suicide.”

Naifeh, who won a Pulitzer Prize with Smith in 1991 for their biography of the American painter Jackson Pollock, said his discussions with forensic experts had strengthened his belief that Secrétan shot the artist.

“I have only become more convinced that it is more likely that he was shot in a scuffle than that he wasn’t,” he told Live Science.

Naifeh noted that there was no evidence linking the gun either to Van Gogh or to the manner of his death.

“What forensic evidence is there to tie Vincent van Gogh to this gun? And, even if there were forensic evidence tying Vincent to this gun, what does this say about who pulled the trigger?” he asked: “Those are the two big questions, and I do not see any answers.”

Although Van Gogh is one of the most famous artists in the world — one of his paintings of a farmed field, completed a year before his death, sold for $81 million in 2017 — he sold only one painting during his lifetime, for 400 francs.

The most expensive Van Gogh painting to date was sold for $82 million in 1990, the “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” from 1890. Gachet was the doctor who would ultimately attend his death later that year.

Original article on Live Science.

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Scientists develop new laser that can find and destroy cancer cells in the blood

Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood. And now, researchers have developed a new kind of laser that can find and zap those tumor cells from the outside of the skin.

Though it may still be a ways away from becoming a commercial diagnostic tool, the laser is up to 1,000 times more sensitive than current methods used to detect tumor cells in blood, the researchers reported June 12 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

If the tests do come back positive, that typically means there’s a high concentration of circulating tumor cells in the blood; at that point, the cancer has likely spread widely to other organs and it’s often “too late to effectively treat patients,” Zharov added. [Top 10 Cancer-Fighting Foods]

Years ago, Zharov and his team came up with the idea of an alternate, noninvasive method to test larger quantities of blood with a greater sensitivity. Taking the familiar route, they tested it in the lab, then on animals and recently brought it to clinical trials in humans.

The new technology, dubbed the Cytophone, uses pulses of laser light on the outside of the skin to heat up cells in the blood. But the laser only heats up melanoma cells — not healthy cells — because these cells carry a dark pigment called melanin, which absorbs the light. The Cytophone then uses an ultrasound technique to detect the teensy, tiny waves emitted by this heating effect.

They tested the technology on 28 light-skinned patients who had melanoma and on 19 healthy volunteers who didn’t have melanoma. They shone the laser onto the patients’ hands and found that within 10 seconds to 60 minutes, the technology could identify circulating tumor cells in 27 out of 28 of those volunteers.

Finding and killing tumor cells

The device didn’t return any false positives on the healthy volunteers, and it didn’t cause safety concerns or side effects, they said. Melanin is a pigment that is normally present in the skin, but skin cells aren’t harmed, Zharov said. Even though the skin produces melanin naturally, this laser technique doesn’t harm those cells. That’s because the laser light exposes a relatively a large area on the skin (so it’s not focused enough on individual skin cells to damage them), while the laser energy is more concentrated on the blood vessels and circulating tumor cells, he added.

Unexpectedly, the team also found that after the treatment, the cancer patients had fewer circulating tumor cells. “We used a relatively low energy” with the primary purpose of diagnosing rather than treating the cancer, Zharov said. Yet, even at that low energy, the laser beam seemed able to destroy the cancer cells.

Here’s how it works: As the melanin absorbs the heat, the water around the melanin inside the cells begins to evaporate, producing a bubble that expands and collapses, mechanically destroying the cell, Zharov said.

“Our goal is by killing these cells, we can help prevent the spreading of metastatic cancer,” he said. But he hopes to conduct more research to optimize the device further to kill more tumor cells, while still being harmless to other cells.

They also haven’t yet tested the device on people with darker skin, who have higher levels of melanin. Even so, only a very small percentage of African Americans get melanoma.

The team hopes to expand the technology to find circulating tumor cells released by cancers other than melanoma. These cancer cells don’t carry melanin, so to detect them, the researchers would first need to inject the patients with specific markers or molecules that would bind to these cells so that they can be targeted by the laser. They have so far demonstrated that this technique could work on human breast cancer cells in the lab.

Originally published on Live Science.

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New discovery fills gap in ancient Jerusalem history

DIGGING HISTORY

New discovery fills gap in ancient Jerusalem history

Archaeologists think construction on this ancient building started in the early second century B.C. and continued into the Hasmonean period.

Archaeologists think construction on this ancient building started in the early second century B.C. and continued into the Hasmonean period.  (Israeli Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists have discovered the first ruins of a building from the Hasmonean period in Jerusalem, filling a gap in the ancient city’s history, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced.

The building’s remains were uncovered during an extensive dig at the Givati Parking Lot, located in Jerusalem’s oldest neighborhood, the City of David. Excavations over several years at the site have turned up some remarkable finds, including a building from the Second Temple period that may have belonged to Queen Helene, a trove of coins from the Byzantine period, and recently, a 1,700-year-old curse tablet in the ruins of a Roman mansion.

Despite extensive excavations in Jerusalem, IAA archaeologists Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets said there has been an absence of buildings from the Hasmonean period in the city’s archaeological record. Simon Maccabeus founded the Hasmonean dynasty in 140 B.C. This group ruled Judea until 37 B.C., when Herod the Great came into power. [In Photos: The Controversial ‘Tomb of Herod the Great’]

“Apart from several remains of the city’s fortifications that were discovered in different parts of Jerusalem, as well as pottery and other small finds, none of the Hasmonean city’s buildings have been uncovered so far, and this discovery bridges a certain gap in Jerusalem’s settlement sequence,” excavators Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets said in a statement. “The Hasmonean city, which is well-known to us from the historical descriptions that appear in the works of Josephus, has suddenly acquired tangible expression.”

Flavius Josephus recounted Jewish history and the Jewish revolt against the Romans in his first century A.D. books “The Jewish War” and “Antiquities of the Jews.” Some archaeologists have used his texts to guide their work and interpretations. For example, excavators who recently found cooking pots and a lamp in an underground chamber in Jerusalem think these objects could be material evidence of Josephus’ account of famine during the Roman siege of the city.

IAA officials said the Hasmonean building has only come to light in recent months, adding that the structure boasts quite impressive dimensions. It rises 13 feet (4 meters) and covers 688 square feet (64 square meters) with limestone walls more than 3 feet (1 m) thick.

Inside, the excavators found pottery and coins, the latter of which helped them determine the age of the building. IAA researchers think construction on the building began in the early second century B.C. and continued into the Hasmonean period, when the most significant changes were made inside the structure.

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Deep, hidden trench discovered beneath Antarctic glacier

3D-Jakobshavn

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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New discovery fills gap in ancient Jerusalem history

hasmonean-walls

Archaeologists think construction on this ancient building started in the early second century B.C. and continued into the Hasmonean period. (Israeli Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists have discovered the first ruins of a building from the Hasmonean period in Jerusalem, filling a gap in the ancient city’s history, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced.

The building’s remains were uncovered during an extensive dig at the Givati Parking Lot, located in Jerusalem’s oldest neighborhood, the City of David. Excavations over several years at the site have turned up some remarkable finds, including a building from the Second Temple period that may have belonged to Queen Helene, a trove of coins from the Byzantine period, and recently, a 1,700-year-old curse tablet in the ruins of a Roman mansion.

Despite extensive excavations in Jerusalem, IAA archaeologists Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets said there has been an absence of buildings from the Hasmonean period in the city’s archaeological record. Simon Maccabeus founded the Hasmonean dynasty in 140 B.C. This group ruled Judea until 37 B.C., when Herod the Great came into power. [In Photos: The Controversial ‘Tomb of Herod the Great’]

“Apart from several remains of the city’s fortifications that were discovered in different parts of Jerusalem, as well as pottery and other small finds, none of the Hasmonean city’s buildings have been uncovered so far, and this discovery bridges a certain gap in Jerusalem’s settlement sequence,” excavators Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets said in a statement. “The Hasmonean city, which is well-known to us from the historical descriptions that appear in the works of Josephus, has suddenly acquired tangible expression.”

Flavius Josephus recounted Jewish history and the Jewish revolt against the Romans in his first century A.D. books “The Jewish War” and “Antiquities of the Jews.” Some archaeologists have used his texts to guide their work and interpretations. For example, excavators who recently found cooking pots and a lamp in an underground chamber in Jerusalem think these objects could be material evidence of Josephus’ account of famine during the Roman siege of the city.

IAA officials said the Hasmonean building has only come to light in recent months, adding that the structure boasts quite impressive dimensions. It rises 13 feet (4 meters) and covers 688 square feet (64 square meters) with limestone walls more than 3 feet (1 m) thick.

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