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Blue Planet

Terrabyte Incognita: Africa might not look like you think it does

17th century map of africa

From Willem Janszoon Blaeu's 17th Century map of Africa
There is no such thing as an objective map. This was true of cave paintings, Roman tapestries, and colonialists' charts of Africa. It is also true of Google Maps.

About halfway through Jonathan Swift's boisterously witty epic poem On Poetry: A Rhapsody, the 18th century English satirist briefly turns his attention to maps of Africa, writing:
So geographers, in Afric maps,
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er uninhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns.
In Swift's time, European explorers had only skirted around the coastal edges of Africa and its interior remained, to all intents and purposes, a mystery. But as the poet pointed out, rather than just leave the middle of the continent blank, mapmakers would instead "fill their gaps" with things they thought might reside in such exotic corners of the world, such as strange monkeys, roaming lions, and "elephants for want of towns."
Arrow Down

The true story behind the appalling Tuskegee syphilis experiment

Syphilis Experiment
© Today I Found Out
Controversial research programs, unethical experimentation, and human trials have been part of the medical field for centuries. It doesn't make it any less wrong, but certain scientists with questionable ethics have gotten away with a lot in the name of, well, science. The more (in)famous examples of wayward science include eugenics sterilization, electroshock therapy, ionizing radiation experiments, and the CIA program MKULTRA. But the government sponsored Tuskegee syphilis experiment, a program that ran for forty years in Macon County, Alabama during the mid-20th century, is one of the more appalling and deceitful of the bunch.

In 1932, the medical community still did not know a whole lot about treating syphilis. This was the case despite documentation of the disease dating all the way back to just after Columbus made his famous jaunt across the big blue.

According to the Oxford Journal, syphilis was a "cultural embarrassment" and had many different names that exemplified prejudices of different nationalities. The German and English called it the "French Pox." The Russians referred to it as the "Polish sickness" and the Poles as the "German sickness." The Japanese called it the "Chinese ulcer."

In the 16th century, Europe experienced a syphilis epidemic likely caused by the abundance of sailors traveling from sea port to sea port and doing what sailors do when they come into port. In fact, there is some evidence that points to Columbus and his crew being the ones who brought syphilis back from the new world. Either way, despite the disease being around for at least 450 years (and some evidence points to longer than that), there was no one, true, successful treatment for it. One popular remedy for several centuries was the use of mercury, which is quite poisonous in it's own right, either by ingestion or rubbing it on the skin. This led to the popular saying "a night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury."

In 1908, Japanese scientist Sahachiro Hata (working in Germany) discovered the drug Salvarsan was somewhat effective as a treatment for syphilis. It was also quite toxic, as it came from the arsenic family. There were instances of patients losing limbs after taking the drug. Eventually, in 1912, Hata and Nobel Prize winner Paul Ehlric developed a easier-to-administer, but still toxic, drug called Neosalvarsan - which became the standard treatment for syphilis until the late 1940s.
Hiliter

Comics artists publish powerful anthology of stories to counter Michael Gove's 'jingoistic' interpretation of WW1

The architects of the First World War are put on trial in the Hague and deserting soldiers celebrated in a graphic novel produced by Britain's leading comic artists designed to undermine "jingoistic" commemorations of the conflict's centenary.

To End All Wars, which includes 27 short stories based on real incidents, many told from a soldier's perspective, is intended as a corrective to Education Secretary Michael Gove's insistence that the conflict should be taught as a "just war" fought to halt German expansionism.

The anthology, illustrated in classic "war comic" style, includes The Coward's War, the story of Thomas Highgate, the first British soldier to be executed for desertion during the First World War. It concludes with the posthumous pardon awarded in 2006.

"Mud, Lice and Vice" depicts the devastation in the ranks caused by sexually transmitted diseases picked up by young British soldiers taking advantage of French brothels.

In "The Iron Dice," Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of war, is placed on trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague at a hearing which undermines the claim that war was "inevitable".
Pyramid

3,300-year-old tomb discovered - possibly of military officer

A tomb newly excavated at an ancient cemetery in Egypt would have boasted a pyramid 7 meters (23 feet) high at its entrance, archaeologists say.
pyramid entrance
© Kevin Cahail
Dating back around 3,300 years this tomb was discovered recently at an ancient cemetery at Abydos in Egypt. At left the rectangular entrance shaft with massive walls served as a base for a small pyramid that was an estimated 23 feet (7 meters) high.
The tomb, found at the site of Abydos, dates back around 3,300 years. Within one of its vaulted burial chambers, a team of archaeologists found a finely crafted sandstone sarcophagus, painted red, which was created for a scribe named Horemheb. The sarcophagus has images of several Egyptian gods on it and hieroglyphic inscriptions recording spells from the Book of the Dead that helped one enter the afterlife.

There is no mummy in the sarcophagus, and the tomb was ransacked at least twice in antiquity. Human remains survived the ransacking, however. Archaeologists found disarticulated skeletal remains from three to four men, 10 to 12 women and at least two children in the tomb.

Newly discovered pyramid

sarcophagus
© Kevin Cahail
In one of the burial chambers the archaeologists found a sandstone sarcophagus, painted red, which was created for a "scribe" named Horemheb.
The chambers that the archaeologists uncovered would have originally resided beneath the surface, leaving only the steep-sided pyramid visible.

"Originally, all you probably would have seen would have been the pyramid and maybe a little wall around the structure just to enclose everything," said Kevin Cahail, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, who led excavations at the tomb.

The pyramid itself "probably would have had a small mortuary chapel inside of it that may have held a statue or a stela giving the names and titles of the individuals buried underneath," Cahail told Live Science. Today, all that remains of the pyramid are the thick walls of the tomb entranceway that would have formed the base of the pyramid. The other parts of the pyramid either haven't survived or have not yet been found.
Fireball

Rats and fleas myth laid to rest as researchers conclude Black Death plague was spread by air-borne pathogens

plague black death
© Philip Toscano/Press Association
Black death researchers extracted plague DNA from 14th century skulls found in east London.
Evidence from skulls in east London shows plague had to have been airborne to spread so quickly

Archaeologists and forensic scientists who have examined 25 skeletons unearthed in the Clerkenwell area of London a year ago believe they have uncovered the truth about the nature of the Black Death that ravaged Britain and Europe in the mid-14th century.

Analysis of the bodies and of wills registered in London at the time has cast doubt on "facts" that every schoolchild has learned for decades: that the epidemic was caused by a highly contagious strain spread by the fleas on rats.

Now evidence taken from the human remains found in Charterhouse Square, to the north of the City of London, during excavations carried out as part of the construction of the Crossrail train line, have suggested a different cause: only an airborne infection could have spread so fast and killed so quickly.

The Black Death arrived in Britain from central Asia in the autumn of 1348 and by late spring the following year it had killed six out of every 10 people in London. Such a rate of destruction would kill five million now. By extracting the DNA of the disease bacterium, Yersinia pestis, from the largest teeth in some of the skulls retrieved from the square, the scientists were able to compare the strain of bubonic plague preserved there with that which was recently responsible for killing 60 people in Madagascar. To their surprise, the 14th-century strain, the cause of the most lethal catastrophe in recorded history, was no more virulent than today's disease. The DNA codes were an almost perfect match.

Comment: What is not being considered is that outbreaks were recorded almost simultaneously in many parts of Europe. "Air-borne" spread of the plague may have come from cosmic events.

The comet of the black death: Comet Negra, 1347
New Light on the Black Death: The Cosmic Connection

People

It's all about mutation: The light skin of the Irish can be traced to India and the Middle East

© Photocall Ireland
Have you ever wondered where the Irish get their light skin color from? It appears we may now have the answer.
Have you ever wondered where the Irish get their light skin color from? Well, it appears we may now have the answer.

A major new US study at Penn State University has found that Europeans' light skin stems from a gene mutation from a single person who lived 10,000 years ago.

Scientists made the discovery after identifying a key gene that contributes to lighter skin color in Europeans, and the Irish fall into this category.

The Mail Online reports that, in earlier research, Keith Cheng from Penn State College of Medicine reported that one amino acid difference in the gene SLC24A5 is a key contributor to the skin color difference between Europeans and West Africans. This is undoubtedly where the Irish get their light skin from.
Info

First-ever excavation of Nazi death camp reveals horrors

Treblinka
© Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel
Archaeologist Caroline Sturdy Colls excavates at Treblinka. A documentary about the work airs on Saturday (March 29) on the Smithsonian Channel.
The first-ever archaeological excavations at the Nazi death camp Treblinka have revealed new mass graves, as well as the first physical evidence that this camp held gas chambers, where thousands of Jews died.

Presented in a new documentary, Treblinka: Hitler's Killing Machine, which will air Saturday (March 29) on the Smithsonian Channel, the excavations reveal that the Nazis weren't as adept at covering up their crimes as they believed when they razed the death camp in 1943. Brick walls and foundations from the gas chambers remain, as do massive amounts of human bone, including fragments now eroding out on the forested ground surface.

"For me, that was quite shocking," said project leader Caroline Sturdy Colls, a forensic archaeologist who normally works with police to find modern murder victims. "These artifacts are there, and these human remains are on the surface, and they're not being recorded or recovered."
Info

Archeologists discover tomb of Attila the Hun - FAKE

Attila?
© WorldNewsDailyReport
Budapest - Construction workers building the foundations of a new bridge over the Danube River in the Hungarian capitol, have unearthed a spectacular 6th century sepulchre. The analysis of the monument revealed that it was the burial chamber of a great hunnic leader, most likely that of King Attila himself.

"This site is absolutely incredible!" explains Albrecht Rümschtein, an historian from the Lorand Eötvös University in Budapest and member of the team of specialists investigating the tomb. "We found many horse skeletons, as well as various weapons and other artefacts, all traditionally associated with Huns. These objects include a large sword made of meteoric iron, which could certainly be Attila's legendary "Holy War Sword of the Scythians", allegedly given to him by the god Mars himself. In fact, this definitely seems to be the resting place of the almighty Attila, but further analysis needs to be done to confirm it."

Comment: One of our research forum members decided to look into this story; the following are his results and conclusions:

Reasons for questioning the validity of the article in chronological order:

1. No other sources
I did a search to try to find a Hungarian source to back this up, as if this investigation was actually taking place currently and taken as seriously as the article suggests, than it would be all over the Hungarian media. I couldn't find a single source. There have been many claims in the past that they have found Attila the Hun's grave in the past - the last one being in 2012 - but none of them in Budapest.

2. No bridges over the Danube are currently being built or planned to be built in Budapest.
The last bridge that was built in Budapest was in 2008
The last one that was built on the Danube south of Budapest was in 2007. The next one that they're planning on building is slated to start next year. This will also be outside Budapest, in Komarom.

3. No historian is at the Lorand Eotvos University of Budapest (ELTE) by the name of Albrecht Rümschtein.
Link to a list of the Historian faculty members HERE
His name was also a red flag as there's nothing Hungarian about it (though there are instances when this happens) but since I later found out that he doesn't exist, it fits.

4. The original posting website carries some rather questionable other news.
For example if we go to the Politics section, we'll find THIS
Which seems to be something totally made up about the uproar in India because of a new Oliver Stone movie that depicts Gandhi as the Indian Rambo.

Other headlines in the same section include:
- India: Gandhi's Loincloth Sold 85M$ at Auction link
- Last Active Unit of French Resistance Finally Surrenders Weapons link
- Ireland: Man Accused of Stealing Roads Finally Arrested link
- Missouri Squirrels Demand Right to Unionize link
- OBAMA: "School Crossing Guards Should Be Sexier" link
- New Right-Wing Party Triumphs in Legoland Elections link

With these in mind, I think it's pretty safe to say this worldnewsdailyreport is a satire 'news' website, similar to The Onion and not a real news site.

Top Secret

Enemies of America could destroy the CIA with FOIA - CIA director in 1975

Bella Abzug
In mid-1970s, feminist and peace movement activist Congresswoman Bella Abzug tore through the intel world, fearlessly taking on the CIA and the NSA for surveilling Americans. So I've been reading some of her hearings, and it turns out that the dynamics of the intelligence world (in this case the CIA) and its relationship with Congress and the public haven't changed at all. Today, journalist Jason Leopold is nicknamed a 'FOIA terrorist' by a 'certain government agency' because he files so many requests so effectively, and sues when they deny him the things to which he is entitled.

This was going on in the 1970s, right after FOIA was amended to allow requests to the intel community. Bella Abzug was one member who helped make that happen, with hearings and legislative initiatives to force various agencies to reveal who they were surveilling.

Abzug's tenure in Congress was short but incredibly influential - she was nearly redistricted out of her spot in 1972, and eventually was drummed out of politics in 1976. But wow did she leave a mark. Here's a hearing in 1975 during which she went after the CIA Director, William Colby, for keeping files on peace activists and members of Congress. It's a remarkable hearing, not just for the stunning and aggressive back and forth between Colby and Abzug, but also for the ass-kissing of the CIA by chief GOP ranking member Sam Steiger and how FOIA and information disclosure became the focal point of tension.

Here are two excerpts.
Boat

Medieval compass guided Vikings after sunset

Viking Suncompass
© Copyright Proceedings of the Royal Society A; Balazs Bernath; Alexandra Farkas; Denes Szaz; Miklos Blaho; Adam Egri; Andras Barta; Susanne Akesson; and Gabor Horvath
The Uunartoq disc was discovered in an 11th century convent in Greenland in 1948. It is thought to have been used as a compass by the Vikings as they traversed the North Atlantic Ocean from Norway to Greenland.
Often regarded as ruthless robbers, the Vikings were also impressive mariners capable of traversing the North Atlantic along a nearly straight line.

Now, new interpretations of a medieval compass suggest the sea robbers may have skillfully used the sun to operate the compass even when the sun had set below the horizon.

The remains of the supposed compass - known as the Uunartoq disc - were found in Greenland in 1948 in an 11th-century convent. Though some researchers originally argued it was simply a decorative object, other researchers have suggested the disc was an important navigational tool that the Vikings would have used in their roughly 1,600-mile-long (2,500 kilometers) trek from Norway to Greenland.

Though only half of the wooden disc remains, it is estimated to have been roughly 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) in diameter with a now-lost central pin that would have cast a shadow from the sun indicative of a cardinal direction.

Researchers based at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary have studied the fragment in detail.

They concluded that although the disc could have functioned as a single entity, it was more likely used in conjunction with other tools - including a pair of crystals and a flat, wooden slab - to help navigate when the sun was low in the sky or even below the horizon.

"When the sun is low above the horizon, even the shadow of a small item can fall off the board, and such situations are frequent in the northern seas," said study co-author Balázs Bernáth.

Bernáth and colleagues think that, to help solve this long-shadow problem, the Vikings may have used a low-lying, domed object in the middle of the compass to create a wider, shorter shadow than a more typical sundial spike would. A wide hole within the center of the disk - previously interpreted as a place to grip the compass - could have served as a holding spot for this so-called central gnomon, the team suggests.
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