In 1991, German hikers found a surprise on an Alpine trail: a dead body. It turned out the man had died some time ago–around 5,000 years earlier. Researchers guessed from his scattered belongings that the iceman had died a lonely death from the cold and an arrow wound in his shoulder. But now, based on the way his belongings were scattered and the timing of his last meal, some archaeologists think the iceman named Ötzi may have had a proper funeral.
Though many previous studies have looked at the body itself, ScienceNOW reports that archaeologist Alessandro Vanzetti and his team looked at all of the iceman’s gear. They used a modeling technique called spatial point pattern analysis to make a map of how Ötzi’s goods–including axe, dagger, quiver, backpack, and unfinished bow–got to their final resting places. Specifically, the analysis determines how Ötzi’s surroundings froze and thawed over time. The researchers say the scattering is consistent with a ceremonial burial and that Ötzi’s tribe may have placed his possessions around him on a nearby stone platform. The study, which ScienceNOW calls “provocative,” appears in Antiquity Journal.
As archaeologists dug up the ancient corpse, something looked a little off. For one, it didn’t have a head. Second, one of the skeleton’s arms looked like it supported a lot more muscle than the other. Third, it seemed a lion had chewed on it.
Meet a dead Roman gladiator. Archaeologists uncovered around eighty such skeletons in York, England over the past seven years. Though they admit that the 1,600- to 1,800-year-old corpses might have had other origins, the researchers say all signs point to the ancient circus. A decapitated corpse suggests that individual got a thumbs down from the jeering crowds, the mismatched arms signify much swordplay, and the bite marks imply that a lion, tiger, or bear had taken a taste in battle.
Michael Wysocki, who examined the remains in the forensic anthropology laboratory at the University of Central Lancashire, discussed those tell-tale bite marks with CNN:
“Nothing like them has ever been identified before on a Roman skeleton…. It would seem highly unlikely that this individual was attacked by a tiger as he was walking home from the pub in York 2,000 years ago,” he said.
One other clue comes from the fact that the skeletons, despite their violent lives and deaths, had what appears a ceremonial burial, resting in their graves with some great ancient goodies (i.e. horse bones and cow remains, the believed leftovers from a feast). Still, archeologists speculate that none of these fighters were the stars of their day, and that many bit the dust after only one or two battles.
Image: flickr / storem
No one dreams of leaving a lasting carbon footprint on the world when they depart. But if it’s a choice between that and being reduced to a brown soupy liquid and a pile of bones, which option would you take?
The California legislature is considering allowing funeral homes to provide a third alternative to burial or cremation. Instead of hauling out the backhoe or firing up an incinerator to dispose of human remains, funeral directors could offer a method called alkaline hydrolysis or “bio-cremation.” This technique uses hot water, pressure, and sodium- or potassium-hydroxide (the strongly basic chemicals often referred to as lye) to break down the body’s tissues into simple molecules in a matter of a few hours.
Proponents of bio-cremation say it’s the eco-friendly death option. They note that cremation produces air pollution and greenhouse gases, while burials use tons of wood for caskets and involve treating bodies with hazardous embalming chemicals.
Four other states have already approved bio-cremation, but before funeral homes can offer the service, they have to figure out what to do with the environmentally friendly liquid remains. Last week, an undertaking service in Minnesota asked its local city council for permission to pour it down the drain.
Out of respect for the dead, or reverence for the city’s sewer system, or maybe just gut-level disgust, the council rejected the proposal.
Discoblog: Wireless Gravestone Tech Will Broadcast Your Awesomeness to Posterity
Discoblog: “Gravestone Project” Takes Citizen Science to the Cemetery
Discoblog: Save the Planet: Dissolve Your Dead
DISCOVER: The Future of Death
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Death
Over four hundred years after his death, the man known for moving the sun to the center of the solar system made a move himself.
On Saturday, at a medieval cathedral at Frombork on Poland’s Baltic coast, the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus—whose ideas were once declared heresy by the Vatican—was reburied with full religious honors.
After a stint in city of Olsztyn, Copernicus’s remains returned to his original resting location (under the cathedral’s floor), but his grave got an upgrade. After his death in 1543 he lay for centuries in an unmarked grave, but his new plot has a black tombstone with six planets orbiting a golden sun. The ceremony concluded a several week tour of a wooden casket with the astronomer’s remains. Read More
For those people seeking some long-term postmortem respect, you could always go the route of the Royal Tenenbaum epitaph and have your hyperbolic greatness engraved upon a headstone. But we all know weather eventually gets the better of those words, and besides: Why settle for one measly sentence when you could speak directly to your descendants from beyond the grave?
To build a history of how Earth’s climate has changed over centuries, you need something long-lasting that’s been around the whole time—long-lived trees, or cores from ice in Antarctica and Greenland that has built up over the years, or maybe gravestones.
Gravestones? They’re actually ideal candidates, standing in one place and receiving little touch or attention from the living. If you’ve ever tried to read inscriptions in an older cemetery, you know what the elements can do to the stone as atmospheric gasses dissolved in the rain wear it down. But to some climate scientists, the amount of wear is raw data attesting to the climate history of the area.
To honor the start of a new school year, we bring to you the following Fermi problem: How long would a physics lecture have to be to actually kill you?
Or more precisely, from Physics Buzz:
Assuming you’re not in a big lecture hall and the professor shuts the door at the start of class, how long does it take for you and your classmates to deplete the oxygen enough to feel it?
The mathletes at the Buzz make a few assumptions about the classroom, but in a 16-foot by 16-foot classroom with a 10-foot ceiling, packed with 34 bleary-eyed students and one Red Bull fueled professor the answer is…2 hours and 51 minutes!
Of course you’ll probably be brain dead long before that point.
Check their math here and then tell us why they’re right or wrong, or if you’ve ever survied such a physics marathon.
Discoblog: Can Golfing Make You Deaf?
Discoblog: Boys: If You Want To Get Girls, Don’t Study Science
DISCOVER: Fairway Physics
Image: flickr / Rober S. Donovan
Ever wonder what your exact numerical risk of dying in the next year is? Feel free to satisfy your morbid curiosity at DeathRiskRankings.com, a tool developed by professors and students at Carnegie Mellon University. The site uses data from the CDC and the European Commission to calculate an estimated likelihood that you’ll kick the bucket, based on factors like your gender and geographic region.
Of course the results produced by the web site speak to groups of people and cannot predict with accuracy when you might actually kick the bucket. The timing of your own end is based on many uncharted factors, from heredity to lifestyle to untimely accidents….
The researchers found that beyond infancy, the risk of dying increases annually at an exponential rate. A 20-year-old U.S. woman has a 1 in 2,000 (or 0.05 percent) chance of dying in the next year, for example. By age 40, the risk is three times greater; by age 60, it is 16 times greater; and by age 80, it is 100 times greater (around 1 in 20 or 5 percent).
Maybe the tool can serve as a happy reminder that the clock is ticking. On that note, perhaps your precious time would be better spent doing something besides surfing the ‘net. [Ed note: No, please, surf away! And tell your friends!]
Discoblog: Can an Algorithm Give You Advice About Your Love Life?
Discoblog: Google Turns “Magic Algorithm” Inwards, Predicts Which Employees Will Quit
Discoblog: Ant Intelligence Could Help Us Steer Clear of Traffic Jams
Image: flickr / Robbertvan der Steeg
Lazarus Syndrome was in the news a few months ago when a 23-year-old man was pronounced dead, only to have his heart start beating again a half hour later. While that story had a tragic end (the man eventually died) now there’s another Lazarus story, this time with a joyous outcome.
A baby born 16 weeks premature at a hospital in Paraguay was pronounced dead—that is, until he “woke up” right before his own funeral. MSNBC reports:
Dr. Ernesto Weber, head of pediatric care at the state-run hospital in the capital of Asuncion, said the baby weighed just 500 grams when he was born.
“Initially, the baby didn’t move, he practically didn’t have any respiratory reflexes, nor did we hear a heartbeat and, as a result, we declared a premature fetus of 24 weeks dead,” Weber told Reuters Television….
But when the family took him from the hospital to prepare him for his funeral, the unbelievable happened.
“I opened the box and took the baby out and he cried. I got scared and I said “the baby’s crying” … and then he started moving his arms, his legs and I got scared, we got very scared,” said one member of the family, Liliana Alvarenga
UPDATE: Unfortunately, the child died shortly after awakening. The medical staff at the Paraguayan hospital where he was born stated that his vital organs were not strong enough to survive.
Discoblog: Man, Pronounced Dead, Spontaneously Comes Back to Life
Discoblog: Why Michael Jackson Might Be Buried Without His Brain
Discoblog: The Incredible Shrinking Baby Keeps Shrinking, Baffles Doctors
Despite their energy-saving efforts, wind farms have a bad rap for killing birds. And now there may be a bigger problem: The noise from turbines could be killing livestock as well—or, at least, playing a part in their deaths.
According to one Taiwanese farmer, Kuo Jin-shan, the turbines erected near his farm on an island in the Taiwan Strait have been keeping his goats awake at night. Now that 400 of Huo’s goats have died, he is blaming their deaths on the loud noise coming from the wind farms.
After eight turbines were installed on the Penghu archipelago four years ago, the farmer began to notice some marked changes in his goats—they weren’t as hungry, they were losing weight, and many had started to die.
It seems outlandish to suggest that hundreds of goats dropped dead from sleep deprivation, but local livestock inspector Lu Ming-Tseng has backed up the farmer’s claim. Apparently, unusual sounds can affect an animal’s appetite, disturb how it grows, and make it lose shut-eye, all of which cause serious disruption to the animal’s health.