On this day in 565, the Loch Ness Monster was sighted for the first time.

The Irish monk St. Columba is said to have made the first sighting of the Loch Ness “monster” on this day while helping establish Christianity in the wilds of Scotland.

The legends, folk tales, accurate observations or complete hoaxes — your choice — that have come down to us as “Nessie” have bedeviled zoologists and everyone else who has tried to establish the existence of this cryptid over the centuries.

Descriptions of Nessie have depended almost solely on visual sightings and film and photographic evidence, which is of dubious quality at best. She (if that’s what the monster is) has been variously identified as a plesiosaur, an exceptionally large eel, a long-necked seal and even a swimming elephant.

While most photos, eyewitness sketches and some physical evidence seem to suggest the plesiosaur, paleontologists believe that the aquatic dinosaur was a cold-blooded reptile requiring much warmer water than is found in Loch Ness, where the average temperature is around 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

Serious searching for Nessie began in the mid-20th century, and a number of technologies — cameras, submersibles, sonar — have been employed since, all in vain. The Loch Ness monster remains as elusive, and as integral to the Scottish tourist industry, as ever.

Advertisements

European history was altered by a bacterial infection in someone’s stomach, according to a report from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

The stomach in question belonged to Napoleon, and the infection led to ulcers, which likely caused the French dictator to get cancer and die. Even if Napoleon had managed to escape from house arrest on the island of St. Helena, where the British stuck him after the 1815 battle of Waterloo, he would have been too weak to mount a comeback, the researchers added.

The study also cast doubt on the theory that Napoleon was poisoned with arsenic.

Dr. Robert Genta at UT, along with Canadian and Swiss scientists, essentially took the notes from the autopsy conducted at Napoleon’s death and threw it a battery of modern tests. The autopsy descriptions show that Napoleon’s stomach was filled with a dark material that resembled coffee grounds, an indication of gastrointestinal bleeding that likely was the immediate cause of death, according to Genta. The doctors then compared the descriptions against modern images of 50 benign ulcers and 50 gastric cancers. They determined that no benign cancer could look like the lesion described in the autopsy.

“It was a huge mass from the entrance of his stomach to the exit. It was at least 10 centimeters long. Size alone suggests the lesion was cancer,” Genta said in a prepared statement.

Genta also noted that contemporaries noted that Napoleon–who was rather tubby in his lifetime–lost 20 pounds toward the end. An ironic ending for a man who has a pastry named after him.

source

From a new analysis of a human skull discovered in South Africa more than 50 years ago, scientists say they have obtained the first fossil evidence establishing the relatively recent time for the dispersal of modern Homo sapiens out of Africa.

The migrants appeared to have arrived at their new homes in Asia and Europe with the distinct and unmodified heads of Africans. Read the rest of this entry »

A rib bone and a piece of cloth supposedly recovered after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake are probably not hers, according to experts trying to unravel one of the mysteries surrounding the 15th century French heroine.

Eighteen experts began a series of tests six months ago on the fragments reportedly recovered from the pyre where the 19-year-old was burned for heresy.

Although the tests have not been completed, findings so far indicate there is “relatively little chance” that the remnants are hers, Philippe Charlier, the head of the team, told The Associated Press on Saturday. read more…

Discovery rewrites history of ancient Mediterranean civilizations

Compared to the well-studied world of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the civilizations that flourished in the eastern Mediterranean just before Homer’s time are still cloaked in mystery.

Even the basic chronology of the region during this time has been heatedly debated. Now, a resolution has finally emerged — initiated, quite literally, by an olive branch.

Scientists have discovered the remains of a single olive tree, buried alive during a massive volcanic eruption during the Late Bronze Age. A study that dates this tree, plus another study that dates a series of objects from before, during and after the eruption, now offer a new timeline for one of the earliest chapters of European civilization.

The new results suggest that the sophisticated and powerful Minoan civilization (featured in the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur) and several other pre-Homeric civilizations arose about a century earlier and lasted for longer than previously thought. read more…

After being ensconced for millions of years in the heart of a South African cave, the most complete hominid fossil found to date is finally seeing the light of day … or almost. A cast of Little Foot, a fossil with both ape-like and human features, was unveiled last week at an interactive museum at Maropeng, near the Sterkfontein caves where it was found, effectively bringing it closer to an eager public.

Another cast will be displayed at New York’s natural history museum and a third is already there for all to see at the Sterkfontein caves.

Little Foot generated huge excitement when it was found in the 1990s at the Sterkfontein caves north of Johannesburg as it was first dated to between 3.0 and 3.5 million-years-old. read more…

The Origins of Halloween

October 31, 2006

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter. Read the rest of this entry »

CAIRO (Reuters) – Statues weighing up to five tonnes and thought to be of one of ancient Egypt’s greatest pharaohs, Ramses II, have been found northeast of Cairo, Egypt’s Supreme Antiquities Council said in a statement on Sunday.

Ramses II ruled Egypt from 1304 to 1237 BC, and presided over an era of great military expansion, erecting statues and temples to himself all over Egypt. He is traditionally believed to be the pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of Moses.

“Many parts of red granite statues were found, the most important of which had features close to Ramses II … The statue needs some restoration and weighs between four and five tonnes,” the statement quoted the Council’s Zahi Hawass as saying.

A royal head weighing two to three tonnes and a seated 5.1 meter (16.7 foot) statue were also found, with cartouches, or royal name signs, of Ramses II on the side of the seated statue.

The discoveries were made at a sun temple northeast of Cairo in ancient Heliopolis, a region known in ancient times for sun worship and where the Council says a calendar based on the solar year was invented. Source: Yahoo

It was a time when giants roamed the earth. Giants like the palaeeudyptes, a 1.5m-high penguin – the 40 million-year-old remains of which have been found near Kawhia, an hour’s drive south of Hamilton.

The remains of this giant bird were found last month by Tony Lorimer who stumbled across the find while on a trip escorting the Hamilton junior naturalists club.

Dwarfing the huge emperor penguin, the palaeeudyptes would have cut an imposing figure across the Waikato landscape.

It seems to have died on the foreshore and sunk into the mud at a time when much of the area was just small low-lying islands.

“Two of us were walking along when we almost banged heads going for a look and realised they were bones,” Mr Lorimer said.

Ewan Fordyce, associate professor of paleontology at Otago University, said the find was extremely significant.

The bones may now become the showpiece of a small museum run by the Hamilton junior naturalists club. But Alan Tennyson, curator of fossils at Te Papa, said the fossil was a national treasure and should be somewhere where it could be appreciated by everyone. NZ Herald

The British revisionist historian and Nazi apologist David Irving was today sentenced to three years in prison after he admitted denying the Holocaust.

An eight-member jury at a court in Vienna convicted Irving, 68, a few hours after it began its deliberations on the first day of his trial.

Irving had pleaded guilty to denying the Holocaust in two speeches on a visit to Austria in 1989, but said at the trial that he had later changed his views.

The speeches included a call for an end to the “gas chambers fairy tale”, and claims that Adolf Hitler had helped Europe’s Jews and that the Holocaust was a myth. Read the rest of this entry »