What big plaque deposits you have!
A dentist will tell you to floss everyday, but an archeologist might, well, have different priorities. Turns out the nitrogen and carbon isotopes in dental plaque can give archeologists a look at 1,000-year-old diets.
The buildup of plaque on this set of teeth is, um, impressive. (Cut the skull some slack though, this was before we had dentists to chide us about daily flossing.) Without the benefit of modern dental hygiene, the plaque built up over a lifetime, layer upon layer like a stalagmite. In a paper recently published in the Journal of Archeological Science researchers exhumed 58 medieval Spanish skeletons and scraped off their dental plaque to test carbon and nitrogen isotopes. When they compared the isotope profiles of the Spaniards to that of plaque from an Alaskan Inuit, the scientists found the ratio of nitrogen-15 to be quite different. That makes sense, as the Intuit ate a predominantly marine diet, and there is more nitrogen-15 in the protein molecules of organisms living in sea than on land.
It sounds like the opening plot to a made-for-TV horror flick: Global warming renders an Arctic land bridge habitable, spurring a race of “monstrously big ants” to blaze a trail between Europe and America. This particular horror story actually played out 50 million years ago, and the monstrously big ants were only about 2 inches long, about the size of the smallest known hummingbird. Archeologists recently unearthed the fossilized remains of this new giant ant species—one of the largest ant species ever seen—in Wyoming, making it the first complete giant ant fossil found in America. And because similar giant ants have been found in Europe, they think this is the first reported example of a tropical insect traipsing across the Arctic.
It all started when paleoentomologist Bruce Archibald spied a fossil that was sitting in a drawer at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. “I immediately recognized it and said, ‘Oh my god, this is a giant ant and it looks like it’s related to giant ants that are known from about this time in Germany,’” as he told Live Science. The fossil they found was a queen ant, so we still don’t know how large the average worker was. Because of its whopping 2-inch length, he included the word “titan” into the new species, dubbing it Titanomyrma lubei.
Roman Catholic bishops have called for a new kind of abstinence this Lent: no text messaging. They have deemed every Friday during Lent “no SMS day,” partly to honor “concrete” rather than “virtual” relationships. But the refrain from phones is also an attempt to bring attention to the ongoing conflict in Congo, which is partly fueled by coltan, a mineral found aplenty in the eastern part of the country and which is crucial for many technologies, including cell phones.
Others, meanwhile, are embracing technology to the fullest—enough to try and turn magic carpet rides into reality. In space, no less. A Japanese astronaut will try to fly on a carpet when he arrives at the International Space Station later this month—he’ll also try 16 other challenges out of the total 1,597 total suggestions submitted.
Over in Italy, a “vampire” skeleton has been exhumed from a mass grave in Venice. It is thought to be from a period during the Middle Ages when vampires were believed to spread the plague by chewing on people’s shrouds after dying—an act that grave-diggers sought to prevent by putting bricks in the mouths of suspected vampires.