Surfing The Wierd

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dinos, Dinos, and More Dinos

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Before the Sahara Was a Desert

Stone Age Graveyard Reveals Lifestyles Of A 'Green Sahara'

The largest Stone Age graveyard found in the Sahara, which provides an unparalleled record of life when the region was green, has been discovered in Niger by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and University of Chicago Professor Paul Sereno, whose team first happened on the site during a dinosaur-hunting expedition.


Photo Below:

>Stone Age embrace: A remarkable triple burial -- containing a woman and two children who were 5 (left) and 8 years old, their limbs entwined -- was discovered at the Gobero site during the 2006 field season. Pollen clusters found in the sand indicated who were 5 (left) and 8 years old, their limbs entwined -- was discovered at the Gobero site during the 2006 field season. Pollen clusters found in the sand indicated the three had been buried on top of flowers. The skeletons showed no sign of injury and had been ceremonially posed and buried, along with four arrowhead

Science News

Stone Age Graveyard Reveals Lifestyles Of A 'Green Sahara'

ScienceDaily (Aug. 15, 2008) — The largest Stone Age graveyard found in the Sahara, which provides an unparalleled record of life when the region was green, has been discovered in Niger by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and University of Chicago Professor Paul Sereno, whose team first happened on the site during a dinosaur-hunting expedition.

The remarkable archaeological site, dating back 10,000 years and called Gobero after the Tuareg name for the area, was brimming with skeletons of humans and animals — including large fish and crocodiles. Gobero is hidden away within Niger’s forbidding Ténéré Desert, known to Tuareg nomads as a “desert within a desert.” The Ténéré is the setting of some of Sereno’s key paleontological discoveries, including the 500-toothed, plant-eating dinosaur Nigersaurus that lived 110 million years ago and the enormous extinct crocodilian Sarcosuchus, also known as SuperCroc.

The discovery of the lakeside graveyard — representing two successive human populations divided by more than 1,000 years — is reported in the September 2008 issue of National Geographic magazine and the Aug. 14 issue of the journal PLoS ONE.

As they explored the site, the team tiptoed among dozens of fossilized human skeletons laid bare on the surface of an ancient dune field by the hot Saharan wind. Jawbones still clenched nearly full sets of teeth; a tiny hand reached up through the sand, its finger bones intact. On the surface lay harpoon points, potsherds, beads and stone tools. The site was pristine, apparently never visited.

“Everywhere you turned, there were bones belonging to animals that don’t live in the desert,” said Sereno. “I realized we were in the green Sahara.”

Two seasons of excavation supported by the National Geographic Society eventually revealed some 200 graves clearly belonging to two successive lakeside populations. The older group, determined to be Kiffian, were hunters of wild game who left evidence that they also speared huge perch with harpoons when they colonized the green Sahara during its wettest period between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. Their tall stature, sometimes reaching well over 6 feet, was not immediately apparent from their tightly bound burial positions.

The more recent population was the Tenerian, a more lightly built people who appeared to have had a diverse economy of hunting, fishing and cattle herding. They lived during the latter part of the green Sahara, about 7,000 to 4,500 years ago. Their one-of-a-kind burials often included jewelry or ritual poses — a girl wearing an upper-arm bracelet carved from a hippo tusk, for example, and a stunning triple burial containing a woman and two children in a poignant embrace.

“At first glance, it’s hard to imagine two more biologically distinct groups of people burying their dead in the same place,” said team member Chris Stojanowski, a bioarchaeologist from Arizona State University. “The biggest mystery is how they seemed to have done this without disturbing a single grave.”

Although the Sahara has long been the world’s largest desert, a faint wobble in Earth’s orbit and other factors occurring some 12,000 years ago caused Africa’s seasonal monsoons to shift slightly north, bringing new rains to the Sahara. From Egypt in the east to Mauritania in the west, lakes with lush margins dotted the formerly parched landscape, drawing animals, fish and eventually people. Separating these two populations was an arid interval perhaps as long as a millennium that began about 8,000 years ago, when the lake disappeared and the site was abandoned.

Dating the sun-bleached bones of fossil humans in the Sahara has proved very difficult. Using a new technique, the team has obtained nearly 80 radiocarbon dates from Gobero bones and teeth, including comprehensive dates based directly on human skeletons.

Archaeologist Elena Garcea of the University of Cassino in Italy helped identify the poorly known cultures so well-preserved at the site. Garcea, an expert in ancient pottery who has spent nearly three decades digging at Stone Age sites in northern Africa, traveled with Sereno in 2005 to the site, where she stood amazed, gazing at far more human skeletons than she had seen in all her previous digs combined.

She quickly homed in on two distinct types of pottery, one that bore a pointillistic pattern linked with the Tenerian and another that had wavy lines and zigzags. “These are Kiffian,” a puzzled Garcea told Sereno. “What is so amazing is that the people who made these two types of pots lived in the same place more than a thousand years apart.”

Over the next three weeks Sereno, Garcea and their team of five American excavators made a detailed map of the site. They exhumed eight burials and collected scores of artifacts from both cultures. In a dry lake bed nearby, they found dozens of Kiffian fish hooks and harpoons carved from animal bone as well as skeletal remains of massive Nile perch, crocodile and hippo.

A year later, a second round of excavation turned up more riddles: An adult Tenerian male was buried with his skull resting on part of a clay vessel; another adult male was interred seated on the shell of a mud turtle.

One burial, however, brought 2006 activity at the site to a standstill: Lying on her side, the skeleton of a petite Tenerian woman emerged from the sand, facing the skeletons of two young children; their slender arms reached toward her and their hands were clasped in an everlasting embrace. Samples taken from under the skeletons contained pollen clusters — evidence the people had been laid out on a bed of flowers. The team employed a range of new techniques to preserve this remarkable burial exactly as it had been for more than 5,000 years.

Bioarchaeologist Stojanowski analyzed dozens of individuals’ bones and teeth for clues to the two populations. “This individual, for example, had huge leg muscles,” he said of ridges on the thigh bone of a Kiffian male, “which suggests he was eating a lot of protein and had an active, strenuous lifestyle. The Kiffian appear to have been fairly healthy — it would be difficult to grow a body that tall and muscular without sufficient nutrition.” In contrast, the femur ridge of a Tenerian male was barely perceptible. “This man’s life was less rigorous, perhaps taking smaller fish and game with more advanced hunting technologies,” Stojanowski said.

Analysis of measurements on Kiffian skulls links them to skulls found across northern Africa, some as old as 16,000 years, Stojanowski said. The Tenerian, however, are not closely linked to these ancient populations.

Ancient bones from many animals common today on the Serengeti were identified at the site by Hélène Jousse, a zooarchaeologist from the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria. The evidence showed that elephants, giraffes, hartebeests, warthogs and pythons all made Gobero their home. Abundant bones of 6-foot-long Nile perch indicate the presence of a deep lake during Kiffian times; remains of small catfish and tilapia make it likely that the waters were shallower during Tenerian times.

The team is continuing to analyze Gobero bones for more clues to the people’s health and diet. A large-scale return expedition is planned to the site to further explore the two populations that coped with extreme climate change.

Besides National Geographic, the research at Gobero is funded by the Island Fund of the New York Community Trust, the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

The National Geographic magazine article and special Web features on Gobero are at Extensive information about the discovery and science of Gobero is available at Project Exploration’s “People of the Green Sahara” Web site,


Heat - Cold Changes Gender in Fish, some Reptiles

Global Warming's Fish-Sex Effect

pejerrey fish
A small increase in water temperature among sensitive fish like the South American pejerrey can result in a population that is 98% male
Cousseau, B. and Perrotta, R.G. /

Once scientists began studying the impact of global warming on everything from tourism to asthma, it was only a matter of time before they got around to sex. Now two biologists at Spain's Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) have done just that, at least when it comes to fish.

You may have missed it in biology class, but in some finned species, like the Atlantic silverside — as well as in many reptiles — sex is determined not by genetics but by temperature: the undifferentiated embryo develops testes or ovaries on the basis of whichever option conveys evolutionary advantages for that particular environment. Now, in a study published in the July 30 edition of the scientific journal Public Library of Science, Natalia Ospina-Alvarez and Francesc Piferrer have gone a little further in explaining how that mechanism works. In laboratory tests, they have demonstrated that higher water temperatures result in more male fish.

"We found that in fish that do have temperature-dependent sex determination [TSD], a rise in water temperature of just 1.5 degrees Celsius can change the male-to-female ratio from 1:1 to 3:1," says Piferrer, the study's co-author. In especially sensitive fish, a greater increase can throw the balance even more out of whack. Ospina-Alvarez and Piferrer have found that in the South American pejerrey, for example, an increase of 4 degrees Celsius can result in a population that is 98% male.

What makes these findings especially troubling, of course, is that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that ocean-water temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5 degrees over the course of this century — and they may even go up a few degrees more. "If climate change really does result in a rise of 4 degrees, which is the maximum the IPCC predicts, and if species can't adapt in time or migrate, then in the most sensitive cases of TSD, we're looking at extinction," says Piferrer.

Most research into fish sex determination has been done in the lab (for obvious reasons), but the pejerrey is one of the few species that scientists have been able to study in the field. And those studies have revealed that already, its proportion of males to females is skewed. "It could be because of chemical pollution or it could be because of climate change. We don't know," cautions Piferrer. "But the field data matches our predictions."

At this stage, it is hard to tell what these results bode for already declining fish populations around the world. Of the estimated 33,000 piscatorial species, only 5,000 have had their sex-determination mechanism affirmed. But the study by the two CSIC scientists also suggests that the percentage of TSD fish is lower than previously believed. In tests of 59 species believed to be reproductively sensitive to temperature, only 40 proved to be true TSDs.

That would be good news in this grim era of climate change if it weren't for one factor: even genotypic sex determination can be affected by anomalous conditions, including anomalous temperature. "Basically, if you freeze it or cook it enough," says Piferrer, "you can get whatever sex you want."


60 Year Old Death Solved

Mummified remains from 1948 plane crash identified

This undated  photo provided by Alaska State Troopers shows ...
Sun Aug 17, 12:15 AM ET

This undated photo provided by Alaska State Troopers shows a photo of Francis Joseph Van Zandt on his merchant marine application. The frozen human forearm and hand found near the crash site of Northwest Flight 4422 on Mount Sanford located about 200 miles from Anchorage, Alaska was identified as belonging to Van Zandt. The flight from Shanghai China to New York crashed on the 16,237-foot peak in 1948 killing 24 merchant marines and six crewmen including Van Zandt.

(AP Photo/ Alaska State Troopers)

By MARY PEMBERTON, Associated Press Writer Sun Aug 17, 3:28 AM ET

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Nine years of sleuthing, advanced DNA science and cutting-edge forensic techniques have finally put a name to a mummified hand and arm found in an Alaska glacier.

The remains belong to Francis Joseph Van Zandt, a 36-year-old merchant marine from Roanoke, Va., who was on a plane rumored to contain a cargo of gold when it smashed into the side of a mountain 60 years ago. Thirty people died in the crash.

"This is the oldest identification of fingerprints by post-mortem remains," said latent fingerprint expert Mike Grimm Sr., during a teleconference Friday, during which the two pilots who found the remains, genetic scientists and genealogists talked about the discovery.

Twenty-four merchant marines and six crewmen were flying from China to New York City on March 12, 1948, when the DC-4 slammed into Mount Sanford, perhaps because the pilots were blinded by an unusually intense aurora borealis that night. The wreckage disappeared into the glacier within a few days.

The DC-4 was thought to be carrying gold because the merchant marines had just delivered an oil tanker to Shanghai. Though no gold was found, the two commercial airline pilots who discovered the wreckage found themselves on a scientific adventure filled with high-tech sleuthing.

The pilots, Kevin McGregor and Marc Millican, discovered the mummified remains in 1999 while recovering artifacts to identify the wreckage they had found two years earlier.

An Alaska State Trooper flew to the glacier to take possession of the remains, which were flown to Anchorage where the state medical examiner tried to obtain fingerprints. The remains then were embalmed.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety attempted to match the fingerprints to numerous databases but came up empty because the details of the fingerprints were unclear.

A few pieces of the arm were sent to a commercial DNA laboratory. However, no data could be obtained because the remains, having been in a frozen and dehydrated state for decades, were too degraded.

In 2002, the arm and hand were sent to a DNA expert in Canada. Dr. Ryan Parr at Genesis Genomics in Thunder Bay was able to extract some DNA. However, it was still necessary to locate family members related to the victim for a mitochondrial DNA match. Mitochondrial DNA is DNA passed down by females.

In 2006, Dr. Odile Loreille at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Md., was asked to help. Her expertise is extracting DNA from the embalmed remains of unidentified soldiers from the Korean War.

Loreille developed new methods that allowed her to read the hand and arm's mitochondrial DNA.

"I managed to get a mitochondrial sequence," she said. "Now I just needed some relatives to compare."

That's when forensic genealogist Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick got involved in the frustrating search for living relatives of the victims. She and her assistants found family members of 16 of the victims, but no DNA matches.

In the meantime, Grimm Sr., and his son, Mike Grimm Jr., began work with Edward Robinson, a professor of forensic science at George Washington University. Robinson made several attempts to rehydrate the fingers to raise the fingerprint swirls, but by this time only the layer of skin below the outer epidermal layer remained.

Robinson tried again with a newly-developed rehydrating solution. The fingers were soaked in the fluid and examined hourly. Special imaging techniques then were used to produce a complete set of fully legible fingerprints.

On Sept. 6, 2007, the prints were compared with some kept at the National Marine Center in Arlington, Va., and a match was found.

In the meantime, Loreille confirmed the finding with nuclear DNA from a nephew of Van Zandt's. A genealogist also located a relative whose mitochondrial DNA matched the remains.


Worse Than 1984 !

Can companies beam advertisements into my brain?

by John Fuller

Find the answer to these problems by clicking here. The implication of some of this technology is frightening. Abuse would be too enticing for government and Big Business to control the citizens.

Monkey Mind Controls Robot
In a first-of-its-kind experiment, the brain activity of a monkey has been used to control the real-time walking patterns of a robot halfway around the world, according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center. (January 18)

This technology could be a godsend to people with certain disabilities.

Monkey Mind Controls Robot
Play Video


Stephen Hawking - His Marvelous Wheelchair

stephen hawking Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Stephen Hawking's Wheelchair Physicist Stephen Hawking suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Hawking has near complete paralysis but retains enough muscle control to allow him to press a button with his right hand. A computer screen displays a series of icons that allow control of his wheelchair, doors and appliances in his house. He can select items on the screen by pressing the button when a moving cursor passes over the correct area of the screen.

­Hawking speaks in a similar manner. The screen displays the alphabet, with a cursor moving over it. He presses the button at the appropriate letter. Once he has constructed a complete sentence, he can send the text to the voice synthesizer built into his chair [source: Professor Stephen Hawking]. Hawking’s ability to move a finger on his right hand differentiates him from many other victims of paralysis or disease, who are unable to communicate or interact with control systems at all.


How Stuff Works

the computer
Communication system I communicate with a computer system. I have always used IBM compatible computers, on my wheel chair. They run from batteries under the wheel chair, although an internal battery will keep the computer running for an hour if necessary. The screen is mounted on the arm of the wheel chair where I can see it, more recent systems have the whole computer in a box on this arm. The original systems were put together for me by David Mason, of Cambridge Adaptive Communications. This company manufacture and supply a variety of products to help people with communication problems express themselves. Recently, Intel engineers designed a new computer for me powered by a Pentium II processor, which I now use. On the computer, I run a program called Equalizer™, written by a company called Words Plus inc. A cursor moves across the upper part of the screen. I can stop it by pressing a switch in my hand. This switch is my only interface with the computer. In this way I can select words, which are printed on the lower part of the screen. When I have built up a sentence, I can send it to a speech synthesizer. I use a separate synthesizer, made by Speech+. It is the best I have heard, though it gives me an accent that has been described variously as Scandinavian, American or Scottish. I also can use Windows 98 through an interface called EZ Keys, again made by Words Plus. I am able to control the mouse with the switch through cleverly selected process from a small box shown on the desktop. I can also write text using similar menu's to those in Equalizer. I can save what I write to disk. I write papers using a formatting program called TEX. I can write equations in words, and the program translates them into symbols, and prints them out on paper in the appropriate type. I can also give lectures. I write the lecture beforehand, and save it on disk. I can then send it to the speech synthesiser, a sentence at a time. It works quite well, and I can try out the lecture, and polish it, before I give it.
Stephen Hawking
Recent Improvements Professor Hawking is determined that he is able to keep up with the recent improvements in computer and communication technology. Below are some of the recent improvements, which have been carried out on the system within the last 12 months. Latest Pentium chip In November '03, Professor Hawking was donated a new custom-made mobile computer system by Intel. It is powered by a Centrino Pentium M 1.5GHz chip. With inbuilt wireless, it allows him accesses to the internet throughout his home and office. In non-wireless areas, Intel manage a mobile phone account for us so that Professor Hawking is able to dial in to the Cambridge server from anywhere in the world, via a Nokia laptop card phone. Upgrade to Windows XP To keep up with the times, the new computer is running on Windows XP. For many years it has been impossible to upgrade beyond Windows'98, because Professor Hawking's favourite speech software, Equalizer by Words-Plus, was made many years ago, and was designed to run only on DOS based operating systems. However, Intel has kindly funded the conversion of the software to XP. This involved Words-Plus re-writing the whole program for today’s operating system. Power Due to Professor Hawking's active lifestyle, it is impossible to power his chair computer via the mains as he is never in one place long enough to make this practical. Thus the laptop needs to be powered by a set of slim PowerPad batteries on his chair. The new computer can also be powered directly off his wheelchair motor battery too. Keep talking It is essential that Stephen is able to make use of a telephone. He is able to use either his laptop mobile card phone, or connect his chair computer directly to a telephone socket. The process works by sending digital commands from his computer instructing the phone system to dial a number, answer the phone or hang up at the end of a call. Who's got the remote? Stephen has a universally programmable infra-red remote control attached directly to his computer system. This enables him to operate many of the electronic items in his home, such as televisions, video recorders and music centres. He also has a radio control device which enables him to open doors and operate lights throughout his home. He is now also able to operate doors within his workplace. With the opening of the newly built Centre for Mathematical Sciences, he will be able to get about the building virtually unassisted.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bigfoot or Hoax??;_ylt =AgxMc_QAA2VuH5p2N_lYfjdH2ocA

Georgia men claim hairy, frozen corpse is Big Foot

This still frame image from video provided by Bigfoot Global ...
Fri Aug 15, 5:17 PM ET
11 of 23

This still frame image from video provided by Bigfoot Global LLC, shows what is claimed by them to be a bigfoot or sasquatch creature in an undisclosed area of a northern Georgia forest in June 2008.

(AP Photo/Bigfoot Global LLC)

Slideshow: Bigfoot

plus: video news report at end of article

By MALIA WOLLAN, Associated Press Writer Fri Aug 15, 7:44 PM ET

PALO ALTO, Calif. - Bigfoot or big fat lie? Whenever someone reports sighting the hairy beast of yore (details always fuzzy) or capturing the hirsute humanoid on film (images always grainy), it scares up a dubious debate of international proportions. Friday was just the latest episode in the Sasquatch show, as unreal as it may be.

Two men who claim to have stumbled across a Bigfoot corpse in the woods of northern Georgia indignantly stood by their story at a news conference in Palo Alto during which they offered an e-mail from a scientist as evidence and acknowledged they wouldn't mind making a few bucks from the "find" they have kept stuffed in a freezer for over a month.

"Everyone who has talked down to us is going to eat their words," predicted Matt Whitton, an officer on medical leave from the Clayton County Police Department.

Whitton and Rick Dyer, a former corrections officer, announced the discovery in early July on YouTube videos and their Web site. Although they did not consider themselves devoted Bigfoot trackers before then, they have since started offering weekend search expeditions in Georgia for $499. The specimen they bagged, the men say, was one of several apelike creatures they spotted cavorting in the woods.

As they faced a skeptical audience of several hundred journalists and Bigfoot fans that included one curiosity seeker in a Chewbacca suit, the pair were joined Friday by Tom Biscardi, head of a group called Searching for Bigfoot. Other Bigfoot hunters call Biscardi a huckster looking for media attention.

Biscardi fielded most of the questions. Among them: Why should anyone accept the men's tale when they weren't willing to display their frozen artifact or pinpoint where they allegedly found it? How come bushwhackers aren't constantly tripping over primate remains if there are as many as 7,000 Bigfoots roaming the United States, as Biscardi claimed?

"I understand where you are coming from, but how many real Bigfoot researchers are out there trekking 140,000 miles a year?" Biscardi said.

Biscardi, Whitton and Dyer presented what they called evidence supporting the Bigfoot theory. It was an e-mail from a University of Minnesota scientist, but all it said was that of the three DNA samples sent to the scientist, one was human, one was likely a possum and the third could not be tested because of technical problems.

At least one other Bigfoot researcher, Idaho State University anthropologist Jeffrey Meldrum, called the trio's claims "not compelling in the least." He told the Scientific American that photographs posted on the Web site "just looks like a costume with some fake guts thrown on top for effect."

Whitton and Dyer have offered three different accounts of how they found the beast's remains.

In early videos, the animal was shot by a former felon, and the men followed it into the woods. In a second version, they found a "family of Bigfoot" in the north Georgia mountains. In the third, the two were hiking and stumbled upon the corpse with open wounds.

In one of their YouTube videos, they are shown speaking with a man they identify as a scientist. Earlier this week, they admitted that the man was Dyer's brother. Dyer said they were simply having fun.

Asked why anyone should believe his claims when he already had shown a flair for tomfoolery, he suggested that skeptics simply are jealous.

"They don't have a choice to believe us. We have a body," Dyer said.


Associated Press writer Juanita Cousins in Atlanta contributed to this report


"Bigfoot" fails DNA test

Posted 2008/08/17 at 12:16 am EDT

PALO ALTO, California, Aug. 17, 2008 (Reuters) — Bigfoot remains as elusive as ever. Results from tests on genetic material from alleged remains of one of the mythical half-ape and half-human creatures, made public at a news conference on Friday held after the claimed discovery swept the Internet, failed to prove its existence.

Its spread was fueled by a photograph of a hairy heap, bearing a close resemblance to a shaggy full-body gorilla costume, stuffed into a container resembling a refrigerator.

One of the two samples of DNA said to prove the existence of the Bigfoot came from a human and the other was 96 percent from an opossum, according to Curt Nelson, a scientist at the University of Minnesota who performed the DNA analysis.

Bigfoot creatures are said to live in the forests of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. An opossum is a marsupial about the size of a house cat.

Results of the DNA tests were revealed in an e-mail from Nelson and distributed at the Palo Alto, California, news conference held by Tom Biscardi, host of a weekly online radio show about the Bigfoot.

Also present were Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer, the two who say they discovered the Bigfoot corpse while hiking in the woods of northern Georgia. They also are co-owners of a company that offers Bigfoot merchandise.

Despite the dubious photo and the commercial interests of the alleged discoverers, the Bigfoot claim drew interest from Australia to Europe and even The New York Times.

Biscardi said the DNA samples may not have been taken correctly and may have been contaminated, and that he would proceed with an autopsy of the alleged Bigfoot remains, currently in a freezer at an undisclosed location.

(Reporting by Clare Baldwin in Palo Alto; writing by Jim Christie; editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Henderson)


Another Yeti?? In India. video: testing hairs file: yeti, sasquatch,abominable snowman, etc..: Scientists test 'Yeti hairs'


On the Net:

Bigfoot Tracker:

Big Foot Field Researchers Organization:


Monday, August 11, 2008

Savants- Mysterious Brains

Savants: Unlikely Genius

Savants: Unlikely Genius

It's estimated that there are only 50 true savants in the world. They are often people with enormous disabilities who also have extraordinary talents. The mathematical wizardry of George Finn and Daniel Tammet, the musical abilities of Rex Lewis-Clack and Derek Paravincini and the sculpting artistry of Alonzo Clemons all illustrate how savants relate to the world in a way that's unimaginable to most of us Rex


A musical prodigy » Watch Clip



He remembers every song he's ever heard » Watch Clip

Brain Man

Brain Man

Daniel Tammet on how his brain works » Watch Clip

Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits

Meeting other savants » Watch Clip

More On Savants From 60 Minutes



Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Antartica - Ancient Life

Mon Aug 4, 5:10 PM ET
This undated handout photo provided by the Proceedings of the ...
Mon Aug 4, 5:10 PM ET

This undated handout photo provided by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows a view of the Insel Range looking to the northeast. Ancient lake sediments found in the McMurdo Dry Valleys generally occur on benches and platforms like these, far above the valley floors. AP Photo/PNAS, A Lewis)

Ancient moss, insects found in Antarctica

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer Mon Aug 4, 5:14 PM ET

WASHINGTON - Mosses once grew and insects crawled in what are now barren valleys in Antarctica, according to scientists who have recovered remains of life from that frozen continent. Fourteen million years ago the now lifeless valleys were tundra, similar to parts of Alaska, Canada and Siberia — cold but able to support life, researchers report. Geoscientist Adam Lewis of North Dakota State University was studying the ice cover of the continent when he and co-workers came across the remains of moss on a valley floor.

"We knew we shouldn't expect to see something like that," Lewis said in a telephone interview.

The moss was essentially freeze dried, he said. Unlike fossils, where minerals replace soft materials, the moss tissues were still there, he said.

"The really cool thing is that all the details are still there," even though the plant has been dead for 14 million years. "These are actually the plant tissues themselves."

Lewis' findings are reported in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While some mosses have been found near the coast of Antarctica, as well as insects living on sea birds, this site is well inland.

Further study uncovered remains of tiny crustaceans known as ostracodes, small midges and beetles, and pollen from southern beech trees and pink plants.

"The existence of wet-based glaciers, proglacial lakes, tundra vegetation and insect remains all indicate that the climate of the western Olympus range ... was warmer and wetter that that of today" about 14 million years ago, the researchers report.

It's important to know that because it adds to the understanding of the Earth's climate system, Lewis explained.

For 50 million years the Earth has been cooling, he said. "As it cools it crosses thresholds. This is one, when Antarctica became permanently frozen and locked up."

"You have to understand where these thresholds are," he added, "Because, if human beings are unfortunate enough to push climate over one of these thresholds, it could be a total catastrophe."

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.


Monday, August 4, 2008

World's Tiniest Snake

Scientist: World's smallest snake in Barbados

In this photo taken in 2006 and released on Sunday, Aug. 3, ...
Sun Aug 3, 4:34 PM ET

In this photo taken in 2006 and released on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008, by U.S. scientist S. Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State University, the globe's tiniest snake is shown curled up on a U.S. quarter. Hedges said Sunday he has discovered the globe's tiniest species of snake in the easternmost Caribbean island of Barbados, with full-grown adults typically less than four inches (10 centimeters) long. He named the diminutive snake 'Leptotyphlops carlae' after his herpetologist wife, Carla Ann Hass.

(AP Photo/Penn State University, S. Blair Hedges)

By DAVID McFADDEN, Associated Press Writer Sun Aug 3, 7:48 PM ET

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A U.S. scientist said Sunday he has discovered the globe's tiniest species of snake in the easternmost Caribbean island of Barbados, with full-grown adults typically stretching less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) long.

S. Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State University whose research teams also have discovered the world's tiniest lizard in the Dominican Republic and the smallest frog in Cuba, said the snake was found slithering beneath a rock near a patch of Barbadian forest.

Hedges said the tiny-title-holding snake, which is so diminutive it can curl up on a U.S. quarter, is the smallest of the roughly 3,100 known snake species. It will be introduced to the scientific world in the journal "Zootaxa" on Monday.

"New and interesting species are still being discovered on Caribbean islands, despite the very small amount of natural forests remaining," said Hedges, who christened the miniature brown snake "Leptotyphlops carlae" after his herpetologist wife, Carla Ann Hass.

The Barbadian snake apparently eats termites and insect larvae, but nothing is yet known of its ecology and behavior. Genetic tests identified the snake as a new species, according to Hedges. It is not venomous.

Zoologist Roy McDiarmid, curator of amphibians and reptiles at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, said he has seen a specimen of the diminutive creature. He saw no reason to argue with the assertion that it is the world's smallest snake.

McDiarmid said the Barbados creature is a type of thread snake, also called worm snake, which are mostly found in the tropics. "We really know very little about these things," he said in a Sunday telephone interview from his Virginia home.

Finding the globe's tiniest snake demonstrates the remarkable diversity of the ecologically delicate Caribbean. It also illustrates a fundamental ecological principle: Since Darwin's days, scientists have noticed that islands often are home to both oversized and miniaturized beasts.

Hedges said the world's smallest bird species, the bee hummingbird, can be found in Cuba. The globe's second-smallest snake lives in Martinique. At the other end of the scale, one of the largest swallowtail butterflies lives in Jamaica.

Scientists say islands often host odd-sized creatures because they're usually inhabited by a less diverse set of species than continents. So island beasts and insects often grow or shrink to fill ecological roles that otherwise would be filled by entirely different specie