Monday, December 31, 2012

What Are The Giants of Alaska’s Lake Iliamna?

Alaska’s Lake Iliamna is the largest freshwater lake in Alaska and the second largest lake in the

 United States.It is over 80 miles long with a surface area of more than 1,000 square miles and an average depth of 660 feet.  It is connected to Bristol Bay by the Kvichak River.  Marine mammals such as beluga whales and harbor seals are known to reach Lake Iliamna by traveling up this river.

Many of the world’s large lakes are said to be the homes of lake monsters, and Lake Iliamna is no exception.  Aleuts and other indigenous people knew about these creatures, locally known as Illies, and did not venture to hunt them.

Although the Illies had been reported by early white settlers and other visitors to the lake, the creatures were relatively unknown until pilots began to report sightings from the air in the 1940s. The pilots described giant fish or whale-like creatures ranging in size from about ten to thirty feet long. Generally, they are described as being the color of dull aluminum, with broad, blunt heads. Their tails were vertical, unlike those of whales, and the creatures did not surface.

Some more recent reports describe the fish as black or very dark brown.

In 1959, oil tycoon Tom Slick funded a series of investigations around Lake Iliamna intended to establish the existence of the Illies.  He also offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who managed to catch one. No one claimed the reward. The Anchorage Daily News offered a $100,000 reward for physical evidence of the monsters, but so far the reward has never been claimed.

Based on the descriptions, any people believe the monsters are actually gigantic lake sturgeon, which are known to grow to lengths of 20 feet and weigh around 1,800 pounds. The white sturgeon, for example, is the largest freshwater fish in North America. These giant fish are bottom feeders and are rarely seen near the surface of the lakes and deep rivers in which they live.

It is not likely that the Lake Iliamna monsters are either whales or seals. The reports do not indicate that these creatures surface for air, and their tails are invariably described as vertical. Marine mammals’ tails are universally horizontal.

So far, no major expeditions have been mounted to find and identify the mysterious monsters of Lake Iliamna, although Animal Planet’s “River Monsters” series did conduct an investigation which failed to identify the creatures. So the mystery of the Lake Iliamna monsters remains unsolved, at least for now.
There are several stories of sightings of these monsters at this site

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

“Extinct” Whale Turns Up Alive

The pygmy right whale, which bears almost no resemblance to any whale on earth today, turns out to be the last living member of a group which was thought to have been extinct for about two million years.

The little whale, which measures only about 21 feet (6.5 meters) long, lives in the Southern Hemisphere and is rarely seen. As a result, very little is known about its social structure or its habits. In appearance, the little whales display arched snouts which set it apart from other whales.

Recently, DNA studies disclosed that the pygmy whales split from ancestors which later became the so-called baleen whales somewhere between 17 and 25 million years ago. The pygmy right whales' skulls, when compared with fossil specimens and the skulls of modern whales, suggest that these little animals are the last remnants of an ancient family known as cetotheres, which were thought to have gone extinct around two million years ago. So these rare and elusive whales can be considered living fossils.

It is still amazing to me how many “living fossils” turn up. It seems that every few weeks a new one is discovered. How many more are out there?

If you’d like to see more, including pictures, go here

Monday, December 17, 2012

Real Cases of Immaculate Conception?

The movie “Jurassic Park” featured a scene where the hero discovers dinosaur eggs and realizes that some of the previously all-male population of animals have become females. Is this possible in real life? It turns out that it is, sort of. In fact, one species of reptile has done away with males altogether.

The existence of the phenomena, known as parthenogenesis, was first discovered in the 1700s by Swiss scientist Charles Bonnet, who was studying aphids at the time. Since then, several other species have been found to be able to produce young without the help of a male. Most, but not all, are insects.

Sharks are sometimes known to produce young without the presence of a male. In December 2001, a shark pup was born to one of three female hammerhead sharks in an enclosed tank with no male present. The pup’s DNA was analyzed in 2007 and it was found that its mother was its only parent. Again, in 2008, a blacktip shark who died was found to have been pregnant. She had been in captivity for eight years and had never been in the presence of a male. For some reason, all shark pups born to virgin females are female.

Komodo dragons are also known to produce young through parthenogenesis. In fact, two different cases were discovered in England in 2006. Since Komodo dragons are a species with a WZ chromosome makeup, all of their offspring are male. This would enable an isolated female to repopulate her environment by mating with her own offspring.

Honeybees practice an interesting form of parthenogenesis. Queen bees mate only once in their lifetimes. Progeny born as a result of mating are females. But they also produce offspring from otherwise unfertilized eggs. These bees become male drones. . This brings the concept of gender selection to a whole new level.

The lizard called the New Mexico whiptail has taken parthenogenesis to the extreme. There are no male whiptails. It is interesting, though, that the female members still practice mating behaviors, with some females known to mount ovulating companions in the same way a male might. When two whiptails are placed together, they synchronize their ovulation cycles so that only one is producing eggs at any given time.

There’s more information on this amazing phenomena here

Monday, December 10, 2012

Superstrong Babies - What’s Behind the Story?

A baby born in Germany in 1999 could stand up when he was two days old. By the time he was

 three, he could lift a couch. In 2005 in Michigan, a couple adopted a young baby named Liam.
 By the time Liam was five months old, he could hang in a cross position on rings. He was
 performing pull-ups by the time he was nine months old. What is the secret behind these

It turns out that both boys have a genetic condition called myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy.  It results when a gene intended to restrict the production of myostatin, which limits muscle growth in “normal” humans, is somehow mutated to allow a decreased production of myostatin. The result is that muscle production is virtually unlimited.

In the case of the unidentified German child, the condition may have been inherited. The boy’s parents, uncle, and three other close relatives all share the mutation. But in the boy’s case, both copies of the DNA segment were mutated, possibly because both his parents shared the mutation. Liam apparently has only one mutated copy of the gene.

There is a downside to the boys’ condition. There is a danger that they may suffer from heart problems or other diseases as they grow older.

Humans are not the only species vulnerable to the effects of lowered myostatin. An entire breed of cattle known as Belgian Blue apparently are predisposed to the condition. Laboratory mice have been deliberately altered genetically to reproduce forms of myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy. The condition has also shown up naturally, though rarely, in other species.

Photos of the German boy, along with other pictures of animals suffering from myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy can be found here. Warning: Some of these photos are not easy to look at.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Has a Veterinarian Confirmed the Existence of Bigfoot?

A team led by veterinarian Melba S. Ketchum believes they have discovered physical evidence that proves the existence of Bigfoot. And their evidence suggests that the elusive creature is a human-ape hybrid.

Dr. Ketchum and her team, consisting of experts in genetics, forensics, imaging and pathology, conducted their studies at DNA Diagnostics in Nacogdoches, Texas. Dr. Ketchum has nearly thirty years of experience in genetics research and forensics. She is now staking her professional reputation on the team’s findings.

The study took place over a period of five years. Initially, Ketchum analyzed hair samples found following an alleged Bigfoot encounter. They found unusual characteristics during DNA sequencing, but they could not conclusively verify their findings. They then studied more than 100 DNA samples believed by some to have been left by Sasquatches.

Dr. Ketchum said in an interview that she did not believe in Bigfoot before she began analyzing the evidence. Nevertheless, after analyzing the first samples five years ago, she was intrigued enough by the anomalies in the sample that she decided to follow up with more testing. Over the next several years, the DNA Diagnostics team received more samples of hair, blood, saliva and urine, all obtained from the sites of alleged Bigfoot sightings.

The team claims to have found three nuclear genomes that suggest the creature is not only real, but is actually a human hybrid. They believe that a human female mated with an unknown primate, creating the iconic mystery creature. They believe the mating took place about 15,000 years ago, although that date seems to be a bit young since the creatures are believed to roam an extensive range spanning at least two continents.

Dr. Ketchum said that they began getting human results on the mitochondrial DNA, which comes from the female side of the family. Other labs which had gotten human results from their tests assumed that the samples had been contaminated and destroyed them. Her team split their samples with another forensic lab, one working by hand while the other relied on robots. In many cases, their samples showed human DNA sequences.

Other laboratories are also testing alleged Bigfoot samples for unusual DNA. Researchers from both Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology are planning to submit their results to a peer-reviewed scientific journal at some time in the future.

What happens if Dr. Ketchum’s team, or one of the other research teams, can definitely prove through DNA testing that Bigfoot really exists? And what if it turns out that they are at least partly human? Should they be left alone to work out their own destiny? Should they be granted the rights of other humans? Should attempts be made to contact a long-lost cousin? It may be that these questions will become relevant very soon.

For more information, go here

Monday, November 26, 2012

Planets Without Suns

There are a number of starless planets roaming about in space, but one in particular is creating a lot of excitement among astronomers. It is only 100 light years away from Earth, which in astronomical distances is practically a hop, skip and a jump away, and it is very young.

The planet, a gas giant, has no name, at least as yet. It is known by its catalog number, CFBDSIR2149-0403. The reason astronomers are so excited is that they have a chance for a close-up study of an object without interference from starlight. Astronomers theorize that there may be billions of these objects wandering around in our galaxy.

CFBDSIR2149-0403 was detected in 2009 by astronomers in Hawaii using heat signals and an infrared camera. A second team at the Paranal Observatory in Chile then aimed a large telescope at the object and found the object. They describe it as being nearly identical in circumference to Jupiter, although it appears to be from four to seven times larger in mass. They analyzed its atmosphere and found ammonia, methane and water vapor. These same gases are found in our own solar system’s gas giants, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus.

The “substellar object” was found near the southern constellation Dorado, but may actually not be part of the AB Doradus group, which is a collection of 30 stars that formed from the same cloud of galactic gas. Astronomers have also found that it is a very young “planet,” aged somewhere between about 50 and 120 million years old.

Objects like CFBDSIR2149-0403, wandering without a star to illuminate them, are very hard to spot. Some of the younger objects, however, still carry a residual glow caused by their own heat.

Some of these stars may eventually be captured by a sun if they happen to wander close enough to be pulled in by the star’s gravity field. Others may wander for an eternity. One pair, however, found one another, circling around each other rather than around a sun.

 Since our solar system’s giant gas planets share gases in common with CFBDSIR2149-0403, one has to wonder whether they were once roaming stars that happened to wander into the Sun’s gravitational influence and become part of our own system. Perhaps there’s hope yet that CFBDSIR2149-0403 will yet find a home.

There’s more information on this orphan planet here

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Meat-Eating Sponges?

Relax. You’re not likely to encounter one of these carnivorous sponges. They live about 2 miles below the ocean’s surface, and the biggest ones found so far are only about 14 inches tall.

Its scientific name is Chondrocladia lyra, but it’s better known as the “harp sponge” for its unusual, and beautiful form. It was actually discovered in 2000 by scientists using a deep-diving, remote operated vehicle, but researchers only reported its existence in an article published in the journal Intertebrate Biology in October 2012. It lives deep in Monterey Bay off the coast of California.

Scientists have known of the existence of carnivorous sponges for less than twenty years. But little was known about their lives since they usually live in very deep water. But researchers were able to retrieve two live specimens which allowed them to study the sponges in some detail.

Harp sponges use barbed hooks which cover their branching limbs to catch their dinner. They wait for tiny fish and crustaceans to be swept past them by deep-sea currents, then wrap their prey in thin membranes while they slowly digest their victims.

They also have an interesting way of reproducing. While most sponges release their sperm to swim in the water around them, all carnivorous sponges studied so far transfer their sperm in condensed packages. The swollen balls at the tips of the sponges’ branches hold these sperm packets, releasing the spermatophores into the passing currents. When other sponges capture the packets, the sperm works its way into its new host from the packets and fertilizing their eggs. These sponges are able to produce both sperm and eggs, although they cannot fertilize their own eggs.

The discovery was made by Senior Research Technician Lonny Lundsten of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which has made other remarkable discoveries in the past, including a squid which has elbows.

If you’re interested in seeing a photo of this interesting new animal, go here

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pueblo, Colorado’s Haunted Fire Museum

One of the most active haunted sites in Pueblo is The Hose Co. No. 3 Fire Museum. And it is
definitely active.

The museum is housed in the old Station No. 3 of the Pueblo Fire Department, which was built in 1895. It was built by the Masonic Temple in Pueblo and was originally leased to the City of Pueblo for $75 a month. The city bought the station and the land it sat on for $500 in 1890. One of the stipulations of the agreement was that no alcohol was ever to be allowed on the property.  The fire house also served as a local hospital, and people in the neighborhood brought injured people there to be treated.

The building has been the scene of unusual events dating back at least to the 1930s. The museum boasts all the usual paranormal phenomena, such as footsteps and disembodied voices, things falling, cold spots, glowing orbs and EVP phenomena. And these ghosts are not shy.

One of the best documented examples of possible ghostly activity involves a Model T Ford that once was driven by the Fire Chief. The car was taken outside the station in 2006 and left idling while its battery was charged. Suddenly it started off by itself and took a trip around the block, eventually parking itself in the front of the building. The incident was witnessed not only by people at the station, but by a woman who worked across the street and a couple who lived not far away. The car had traveled 520 feet without a driver, and had made several turns in its trip around the block, running through a stop sign at one corner.

It turns out that the Model T is not the only vehicle to take itself for a short drive. Back in the early 1960s a 1960 Seagraves fire truck started itself about 3:30 in the morning and drove out through the door onto the street, a short trip of only about 20 feet. The firefighters in the building were asleep upstairs at the time.

Researchers, accompanied by a reporter, investigated the building just before Halloween in 2012 asked “What’s your name?” They did not hear a reply at the time, but later, when they reviewed their tape, they heard a male voice say, “I’m Ted.”

Later, the team heard footsteps, and experienced nausea in certain rooms. They also reported becoming nauseous when sitting in the old Model T. A stuffed animal fell off a desk on the ground floor while everyone was upstairs.

These stories represent only a few of the phenomena experienced by visitors, researchers, and firefighters over the many years of the station’s existence. The museum was featured in 2011 on the SyFy channel’s “The Haunted Collector.”

The museum does not have regular visiting hours, but Museum Curator Mark Pickerel, whose father was a firefighter working out of Hose Company No. 3 when it was still a working fire station, has posted many of the stories on the museum’s website at

Thursday, October 25, 2012

So What Got Into These Bees?

The Alsace region in northeastern France is famous for its fine white wines. But one town has become famous for a product it can’t sell. Alsatian bees are producing blue and green honey.

There are an estimated 2,400 beekeepers in the region, with 35,000 bee colonies that produce about 1,000 tons of honey a year. This year, in the town of Ribeauville, the bees suddenly began producing honey in shades of blue and green.

Mystified beekeepers eventually traced the odd tints to a biogas plant which processes waste from a Mars-owned plant nearby. Mars is American company that produces the well-known M&Ms candy. Apparently the bees mistook the residue for pollen and snapped it up for their own honey-making operations.

The company that owns the biogas plant says it discovered the problem at the same time that the beekeepers did and quickly took steps to store the waste in airtight (and presumably bee-tight) containers. The honey will not be marketed.

All of this does leave one question in my mind. Why didn’t those bees produce red honey?

Green Eggs and Ham, anyone?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Did Meriwether Lewis Really Commit Suicide?

In 1809, Meriwether Lewis, heroic explorer and co-leader of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, set out for Washington, D.C. He had been appointed as governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory by President Thomas Jefferson, but was plagued by personal and professional problems.

The entire journey was plagued by problems. Lewis fell ill, and temporarily lost his pack horses, which were carrying his journals, but finally arrived at a lonely inn on October 10, 1809. Mrs. Grinder, the owner’s wife, found places for Lewis and the three men accompanying them. Lewis was given a cabin of his own. This is when the story becomes very strange.

At about 3:00 the next morning, two gunshots came from Lewis’ cabin. Mrs. Grinder apparently did not think to check on her guest. Lewis finally managed to crawl to her door. At last, two hours later, Mrs. Grinder notified Lewis’ servants that he had been shot. They found Lewis on his bed, dying.

Jefferson apparently accepted that Lewis had committed suicide, but many questions remain.  How did Lewis manage to shoot himself twice? Contradictory statements by Mrs. Grinder, her husband, and the three men who had accompanied him further complicated the story. And even Jefferson later said that Lewis had been murdered. Numerous conspiracy theories have been put forth, especially since many people stood to gain substantially by his death.

It is said that Lewis’ ghost still haunts the place where he died. A lonely voice is heard to say, “I am no coward.”

For more information on this very strange story, visit here

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Is There a Monster in Sweden’s Lake Storsjöñn?

Lake Storsjön in Jamtland County is Sweden’s 5th largest lake. Its surface area covers more than 287 square miles and it as much as 250 feet deep. Does it harbor a monster? Many think it does, and thousands of people say they have actually seen it, and many say they’ve taken pictures of it. Apparently the creature, called Storsie, is not shy.
Storsie was first reported by a vicar way back in 1635. The creature apparently made its living at the time by raiding farm crops in the area. Since then, though, it has apparently confined its diet primarily to fish.

Most people say that Storzie has a serpentine body with humps on its back. It is grayish in color with a doglike head. But others say the monster is short and very fat with a roundish skull. The reports also disagree on whether Storzie has large flippers or strong back legs and short limbs with feet suitable for walking on land. They do agree, however, that Storzie is about 20 to 30 feet long with big eyes, and a huge mouth. There is such a huge difference between the two descriptions that I wonder if there are actually two different monsters in the lake.

One interesting indication of the possible reality of the Lake Storsjöön monster surfaced in June 1984 when a well-preserved carcass was found on the lake shore. Some researchers think the body may be an embryo. The creature, whatever it is, is now at the Jamtli Museum.

In August 1998 an international expedition under the leadership of Jan Ove Sunbert, founder of an organization known as the Global Underwater Search Team undertook a search for evidence of Storzie’s existence. They came up empty-handed, but the organization has continued its investigations both at Lake Storsjön and other areas and is now considered a world leader in the search for lake monsters. Loch Ness specialist Adrian Shine, a famed monster hunter, led his own expedition in 1998, but it was also unsuccessful.

A total of eight observation platforms were built on the shores of Lake Storsjöön between 2000 and 2001. From these platforms both tourists and locals can enjoy the beautiful local scenery, and watch for Storsie.

There’s a YouTube video purportedly showing film of Storsie here

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Denver, Colorado’s Haunted Brown Palace Hotel

If you happen to be at the Brown Palace Hotel’s Churchill Bar and a man walks in, then leaves through a wall, don’t worry. It’s probably only Henry Brown.

Mr. Brown founded the hotel in 1892 and passed away in 1906. But apparently he is still attached to his hotel, and night watchmen often encounter him pacing the hallways.

Henry Brown isn’t the only ghost haunting the legendary hotel. Another regular is a bellhop who steals newspapers from doorways and walks through walls. Another is a prostitute from Denver’s more colorful days. Then there is the elderly woman wearing a long black dress. She complains that the heat is not working in her room, but vanishes when a repairman arrives to fix it.

Jenna Robbins, who guides tours of haunted portions of the hotel, became a believer while she was guiding a tour devoted to romantic scandals that had taken place there. She recalled talking to her tour group about one particular scandal involving a resident named Louise Crawford Hill, who had lived in Room 904 the hotel during that last 15 years of her life and was found dead in the room. On the day of the tour, staff members reported receiving numerous calls from Room 904, but heard only static on the line. There was no phone in the room at the time, and since the room was being renovated no guests were staying there.

Guests and hotel employees often experience other phenomena, including the usual array events like doors slamming, lights flickering on and off, and sudden chills in rooms and hallways. Papers fly off tables, and children laughing and playing in hallways are also fairly routine occurrences.

The Brown Palace Club dining room is also an active area. Besides frequent complaints that the dining room is too cold, there are also numerous reports of people walking through walls, and the sounds of bartenders clinking glassesare commonly reported.

In one case, a security officer heard the sounds of music coming from the ballroom and went to investigate. He found a trio of musicians playing their instruments. He advised them that it was too late to be making noise. One of the musicians told him, “It’s OK. We live here.” Then all three disappeared.

All the ghosts at the hotel seem to be benign. No real damage or injuries have been reported by witnesses or staff members.

The Brown Palace Hotel is so well known for its ghosts that they make tours available for hotel guests. If you’d like to schedule a tour yourself, visit here for more information.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tiahuanaco: How Did That Big Rock Get There?

The ancient megalithic city of Tiahuanaco, located south of the legendary Lake Titicaca, has kept UFO and ancient conspiracy theory buffs busy for years. It has often been referred to as the “American Stonehenge” or the “Baalbek of the New World,” and it certainly rivals those megalithic sites in terms of its massive stone monuments and advanced stoneworking technology. One gigantic dressed stone found at Tiahuanaco proves the point.

According to engineers, this stone, weighing about 400 tons, was actually transported to Tiahuanaco from a quarry more than 200 miles away. What’s more, this giant was somehow across through a mountain range with altitudes ranging up to 15,000 feet.

Like many other megalithic constructions, including both Baalbek and Stonehenge, local legends tell stories of the giants who created Tiahuanaco. The reality is probably different, but still enigmatic. How many men would it take to push a 400-ton stone up a high mountain pass? The people who built Tiahuanaco did not have the wheel, so either it was pushed and/or pulled up the mountain on great sleds, or they knew of some unknown technique which allowed them to move the great stone, along with the other gigantic monoliths found at the site. Unfortunately, the Tiahuanacans also did not have any known writing system, so there are no records to be found which might shed light on their technology.

For the moment, we can only wonder at the accomplishments of the people who built Tiahuanaco. If you’d like more information about the wonders of this magnificent city, go here

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Planet Mercury is an Alien

NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft is only the second spacecraft to successfully reach orbit around the tiny planet Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. MESSENGER arrived at its destination in March 2001, and after spending a year and a half probing the little planet, the orbiter sent back some startling information. It seems our neighbor may be an alien.

By the way, MESSENGER stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, Geochemistry, and Ranging. Someone must have stayed up very late indeed to come up with that acronym. It was designed to investigate the planet’s composition and magnetic field, what materials could be found at the poles, and the structure of the little planet’s core.

X-ray spectrometer readings show that Mercury has high levels of magnesium and sulfur on its surface, which is quite different from the other planets in the solar system. For example, the concentration of sulfur found on the surface is about ten times as much as that found on Earth.  Its northern volcanic plains formed through upwellings of rocks that are unique to Mercury, with higher ratios of magnesium to silicon, sulfur to silicon, and calcium to silicon, but with lower ratios of aluminum to silicon.

Mercury is also the second densest planet after earth. It has a huge iron core that makes up approximately 75% of the planet’s radius, or about 1,100 to 1,200 miles (1,800 to 1,900 km). Its mantle is believed to be about 300 miles thick.

Despite its surface temperature, which can reach up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, astronomers discovered in 1991 that Mercury may have water at its north and south poles inside perpetually cold craters. Did the planet originally have its own water, or did falling comets or meteoritesbring ice to the planet?

So if Mercury’s basic composition is so different from those of the other planets in the solar system, where might it have come from? Was it a wanderer that came too close to the sun and was captured How did it manage to wind its way through the rest of the planets and the asteroid belt without hitting anything? These questions, among others, are bound to keep astronomers busy for the next several years.

For more information about the peculiar story of this “alien” planet, visit here
  If you’re interested in learning more about Mercury, National Geographic has posted a very detailed article here

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is This Another Sign of a Developing Chimpanzee Culture?

I have often wondered what chimpanzees can teach us about protohuman behavior in our own

distant past. “Lucy” and her kind, and even older human ancestors had brains roughly the size of
modern chimpanzees, and may have behaved in similar ways. Now researchers are studying a
peculiar chimpanzee social behavior that may hold clues to our ancestors’ development of
simple forms of social culture. It seems that a few groups of chimps have developed handshakes
as part of their grooming habits.

Chimps have been observed holding hands, raising them over their heads while they groom one
another with their free hands. Grooming has long been understood to be a way for the animals
to bond with one another as well as a way to remove insects and other matter from their fur. The
hand holding may be an extension of the bonding process.

Not all chimpanzee groups practice handshaking. Some groups hold hands while individuals in
other groups grasp one another’s wrists. These local variations seem to indicate that each chimp
group has developed its own method of handholding, which suggests that genetic or
environmental conditions are not involved in developing the behavior.

Handshaking, or hand holding, was first observed in a group of chimps in Tanzania, and has now
been observed in at least fifteen other groups. The behavior is not confined to Tanzania,
however. For example, four different groups of semi-wild, rescued chimpanzees live at the
Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust in Zambia.

Edwin van Leeuwen and his colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguists
watched the Chimfunshi Wildlife groups between 2010 and 2012. They found that two of the
four groups practiced handholding while the other two did not. Interestingly, one of the two
handholding groups held hands while the other group used the wrist-grasping method.
Interviews with workers at the sanctuary indicate that this behavior has been occurring for at
least nine years.

The handholding behavior is passed down to young chimpanzees, who usually begin by
practicing the handholding behavior with their mothers. In this way, the behavior is being
passed down from generation to generation.

There’s more information on the possible ramifications of this behavior, and pictures showing the
chimps engaging in hand holding, here

Monday, September 3, 2012

This Polish Soldier Was a Real Bear

He stood six feet tall and weighed more than 500 pounds. He joined the Polish II Corps’ 22nd Artillery Supply Company in 1942 while that unit was training in Iran for deployment to Italy. And he was without doubt the company’s favorite member. He was so popular, in fact, that his image was used on the unit’s official insignia. His name was Wojtek. And he was a real bear. Really.

Wojtek was actually a Syrian brown bear. The men of the company traded two cans of meat for the small cub, raising him as their mascot. He grew up to be a very gentle bear who loved wrestling with the men of his unit. He also liked his beer, holding the bottle with his paws and draining it.

Wojtek joined his company on the voyage from Alexandria, Egypt to Taranto, Italy. One story has it that the Poles issued paperwork declaring their bear as an official member of their unit in order to circumvent a British rule prohibiting animals on ships, and he was known thereafter as Private Wojtek.

The 22nd Artillery Supply Company’s insignia shows Wojtek carrying an artillery shell. This image was the result of a joke played on a writer, who was told that the bear had unloaded and carried ammunition during the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. Stanislaw Kroczak, a platoon commander, debunked the story in a recently published book, saying that even though the bear was strong enough to handle the shells, he was unable to actually pick them up. But I suspect the story will persist despite Kroczak’s explanation.
Wojtek remained with his unit throughout the war. He accompanied his unit to a resettlement camp in Scotland in 1947, and remained at the Edinburgh zoo until his death in 1963. The gentle giant was a beloved member of his unit and a symbol of hope and inspiration for everyone who knew of him.

Karen Jensen wrote a great story about the much-loved giant, complete with numerous photographs, which appears in the September/October 2012 issue of the magazine World War II.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Building a 10,000-Year Clock

How do you build a clock that will run for 10,000 years? The engineers and designers of “The Long Now Foundation” think they have the answer. They are now busily building one deep inside a mountain near Van Horn, Texas. And the 10,000 Year Clock isn’t just a clock. It has bells that chime a melody every once in awhile, and the song will not be repeated for at least 10,000 years. Sometimes, if a visitor winds the clock, it will ring out a tune, but at other times, it will ring when no one is around.

The clock is the brainchild of Danny Hillis, an inventor, computer engineer, and designer. He and Stewart Brand, a biologist and cultural pioneer, set up the non-profit Long Now Foundation. The project is being funded by’s founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the property where the clock will be installed. Rock musician Brian Eno named the organization and composed the melody generator that will ring the clock’s chimes.
An 8-foot tall prototype was completed in 1999. At midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1999, the prototype chimed twice before a small crowd in the Presidio, San Francisco. It was later moved to the London Science Museum.

When completed, the real clock will be about 200 feet tall. It is being built primarily of marine grade 316 stainless steel and titanium. Dry-running ceramic ball bearings eliminate the need for lubrication. The parts are being made and assembled in California and Seattle.
It is designed to run on energy captured by changes in air temperature on the mountain top. The power will be stored by a large weight hanging on a rack gear, which can be wound either by visitors, or by the solar winder.

The Texas clock is the first of what its builders hope will be many. They have already acquired a site in Nevada for a second clock, even though there is no scheduled completion date for the first one.

The Long Now Foundation has a phenomenal website devoted to the 10,000 Year Clock. You can find it here

Monday, August 13, 2012

Antarctica’s Ancient Rainforest - What It Might Teach Us About Global Warming

If you think it’s warm now, you should have been here around 52 million years ago. Back then you could have basked beneath palm trees on the coast of Antarctica in an area that’s now under about 1.9 to 2.5 miles (3 to 4 kilometers) of ice.

Rock samples obtained from the seabed off the coast of Wilkes Land, Antarctica were found to contain fossil pollen and spores that included palm pollen and another type of pollen from trees related to today’s baobab trees. They also found evidence of bacteria which would have lived in the soils along the Antarctic coast at the time. They concluded that average temperatures at the time were about 68 degrees Fahrenheit or roughly 20 degrees Celsius. Although they believe that the interior was somewhat colder due to higher elevations and would have been populated with the ancesstors of trees that can be found today in places like New Zealand.

Some climatologists concluded that this warming period, which lasted roughly from 53 to 46 million years ago, was likely caused by high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They estimate that concentrations at the time ranged somewhere between 990 to a few thousand parts per million compared with today’s carbon dioxide level, which is estimated at about 395 ppm. If the warming effects of high carbon dioxide levels are a primary cause of global warming, the earth was much warmer at that time than it is today.
There is an interesting concept here. Human beings weren’t around 53 million years ago to burn fossil fuels, which is currently thought to be behind the current rise in carbon dioxide levels. Therefore, it seems logical that some other mechanism besides man may be at fault. Throughout this planet’s history, there have been both glacial and interglacial periods. Some of the interglacial periods were in fact generally much warmer than those we are experiencing now. And it is likely that local weather conditions during those times were as severe and threatening as those being faced in much of the world today. What does that mean for mankind? Climatologists are still divided, of course. As for the rest of us, it seems that the only thing we can do is wait and see.

There are two interesting articles about the Antarctica findings and their possible significance to climate change. One is here, the other is here.
If you’re interested in finding out about other natural forces that can cause climate change, visit here

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mike, The Headless Rooster

In 1945, in the little town of Fruita, Colorado, Mike the rooster had his head chopped off. Mike didn’t seem to notice.

The young rooster was meant to be his owners’ dinner on September 10, 1945. His owner, Lloyd Wilson, chopped Mike’s head off and the rooster began staggering around, but refused to lay down and die. Instead, he continued to walk around and behave like a normal chicken, pecking for food and trying to preen his feathers, which was not easy to do since he had no mouth. When he tried to crow, he made a gurgling sound.

When Olsen found the rooster sleeping the next morning, he decided to try to keep the five and a half-month old chicken alive for as long as possible. He used an eyedropper to feed grain and water to the rooster. A week later, Olsen took Mike to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He, and researchers at the university, all wanted to know how the rooster had managed to survive being beheaded. They discovered that Mike’s brain stem was largely intact and that the axe blade had missed the jugular vein. A clot had prevented the chicken from bleeding to death.

Mike not only survived the experience, but thrived, going from 2-1/2 pounds to a hefty 8 pounds. He became a celebrity and set out on a national tour, visiting New York, Atlantic City, Los Angeles and San Diego. People gladly paid 25 cents each to see the headless chicken. He was featured in Time and Life magazines, and earned a Guinness World Record that is not likely to be broken. He even became the subject of a PBS documentary. He had his own manager and was ensured for $10,000.

In March 1947, 18 months after he was supposed to have become dinner, Mike began choking on a kernel of corn in an Arizona motel room. Olsen could not find his eyedropper to clear Mike’s throat and the chicken choked to death in the middle of the night. He continued to tour, however, until 1949.

The town of Fruita has not forgotten Mike, the Headless Chicken. The town hosts a festival in his honor and he has his own website.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Tragedy of Tasmania

 Tasmania was first discovered by in 1642 Abel Janszoon Tasman, a Dutch explorer, who called it Van Diemen’s Land. At the time, the island supported some 5,000 to 10,000 hunter-gatherers. They used wood, bone and stone along with bark, grass, seaweed and sinew to make tools and containers, but apparently did not possess boomerangs or nets.

Then the British, led by Lt. John Bowen of the British Royal Navy, established the first settlement at Risdon Cove. The white settlers kidnapped native children as laborers, and took women as “consorts.” They simply killed the men. Martial law was declared in 1828 and soldiers shot any Aborigine unlucky enough to be found in a settled area.

Even that brutal “solution” to the Aborigine problem proved inadequate, and in 1830, the last Tasmanians were gathered up and forcibly transported to nearby Flinders Island. Conditions on Flinders Island were so terrible that most of the transported Aborigines could not survive, and very few infants were able to live more than a few months after birth. By 1833, due to war, persecution, intermarriage, and decimation by infectious diseases introduced by the Europeans, the number of purebred Tasmanian aborigines had dwindled to a mere three hundred.

One Aborigine man, William Lanne, managed to survive until 1869. But he was not to find peace even in death. He was duly buried, but his body was repeatedly dug up and mutilated by scientists. His head, feet and hands were removed for “study.” His ears and nose were removed from the decapitated head. A doctor removed Lanne’s skin and made a tobacco pouch out of it.  

With William Lanne’s death, only one purebred Tasmanian survived. Truganini, a woman, died in 1876.  She had been horrified by the Europeans’ treatment of Lanne’s body, and begged to be buried at sea. Her wish was not to be granted, however, although she was properly buried, at least for a short time. But her skeleton was later dug up and put on display in the Tasmanian Museum. It was only in 1976, a hundred years after her death, that Truganini was granted her final wish. Her bones were cremated and she was buried at sea. 

Is it any wonder that native peoples in Hawaii, the Americas, and the islands of Tasmania and Australia, among others, are suspicious of the intentions of anthropologists and archaeologists? 

For more information about the history of Tasmania, visit this site

Monday, July 2, 2012

Namibia’s Mysterious Fairy Circles

The Namib Rand Nature Reserve, located in southwest Namibia, is home to literally thousands of mysterious spots known as fairy circles.

The circles take the form of round clearings in the red, sandy soil surrounded by tall rings of grass. The smallest rings are about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter, and the largest can reach nearly 40 feet (12 meters) across. They seem to spring up at nearly full size, although some appear to grow a little after they emerge. Eventually, however, they all vanish back into the desert landscape as plants move back into the bare ground, leaving slightly indented areas behind.

No one knows how or why they form, but a new study by biologist Walter Tschinkel of Florida State University has shed some light on how long they last. It seems that the small ones last around 24 years while the big ones can remain for as long as 75 years. Tschinkel estimates that most probably exist for around 30 to 60 years.

Tschinkel has ruled out a few theories about why the circles form. He originally thought they might have marked nests of harvester termites, but no nests were found. The soil inside the circles is not toxic, and there are no obvious differences in soil quality in soil samples from inside and outside the circles.

Unlike more traditional fairy rings which form in areas with high moisture and generally caused by fungi, Namibia’s circles form only on sandy soil, but not on dunes or alluvial fans which are formed by water.

Over the last ten years, the Namib Rand Nature Reserve has found a novel way to raise funds with these fairy rings.  They sell sponsorships to the circles, whose GPS coordinates are recorded while each sponsored circle is marked with a ceramic plaque.

It is not likely that the mystery of these fairy circles will be solved any time soon. They are located more than 110 miles (180 kilometers) from the nearest village in an arid grassland populated by leopards, ostriches, springbock and other animals. With no money to fund studies, it is not likely that researchers will be willing to spend a great deal of time investigating this phenomenon.
If you’re interested in seeing photographs of these mysterious fairy rings, go here

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

One Way to Settle a Dispute

The Aborigines of Australia have a unique method for settling land disputes. And if the evidence of ancient aboriginal bones dated at up to 11,000 years old indicate that this tradition goes back a long, long way.

It seems that when a property dispute arose between two Aborigines, the opponents resorted to heavy wooden clubs in order to settle the quarrel. The men face each other and take turns swinging their clubs at one another’s head, with the other man attempting to parry the blow. The disagreement is considered settled when one of the men is so seriously injured that he cannot continue.

The opponents are usually young adults who are seeking land on which to build homes for themselves and their families. It is interesting that almost half of all Aboriginal skulls found in southern Australia show evidence of deep head wounds, usually on the front or on the left side of the skull. These are often accompanied by healed forearm fractures which may represent attempts to parry blows.

This behavior reminds me of the actions of sheep, goats, and other animals who routinely fight for mates or territory by charging at one another in an attempt to physically overwhelm or overcome their rivals. Perhaps, in some ways, humans aren’t so different from other animals after all.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Ghosts Who Kept Working

I heard this story a few years ago from an eyewitness.  My experiences with ghosts have always been pretty standard.  They wander through rooms (and walls), usually not doing anything in particular.  But these ghosts made themselves useful. 

Read the whole story here

Monday, May 28, 2012

South America’s Animal Shaped Mounds

 Perhaps the most famous effigy mound in the Americas is the gigantic Serpent Mound in Ohio. And it was long thought that these curious structures, constructed by the Adena people, were unique to North America. But a series of mounds has been discovered in several coastal valleys in Peru, and there is evidence that they may be as much as 4,000 years old. And some of them are enormous.

One of the mounds depicts an orca. Another, located in the Chillon Valley, appears to be a condor.  Nearby is a figure that looks like a cross between a cougar and a cayman or alligator. Both seem to be deliberately oriented.  The condor points toward the most extreme orientation of the Milky Way while the cougar-cayman points to where the sun rises on the morning of the June solstice. Two other birdlike figures in the Casma Valley also point toward the June solstice.

The discoverer of the mounds, anthropologist Robert Benfer, formerly of the University of Missouri, found the mounds by studying satellite photographs. He has so far explored only five valleys located along the Peruvian coast. In addition to the large figures, he has found many smaller mounds. He plans to return to the valleys to gather material for radiocarbon dating in order to establish more accurate dates for the sites. He is also eager to explore other valleys along the Peruvian coast in the hope of finding even more effigies.

Here is another interesting fact about these South American mounds. The famous Serpent Mound in Ohio is believed to have been built somewhere between 1000 BC and 1000 AD. If Benfer is right about the age of the Peruvian effigies and they are around 4,000 years old, then they are much older than their North American counterparts. Were these structures built by two different peoples with the same ideas, or was there communication between the two continents? And why would there have been such a lapse in time between the construction of the South American mounds and those built in North America? Hopefully, we’ll find out more sometime in the near future.

There is a photo of the orca mound here

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mysterious Apes in the Republic of Congo

What looks like a chimpanzee, eats like a chimpanzee, seldom climbs trees and makes nests on the ground like a gorilla? The answer is, nobody is quite sure.

Part of the problem in identifying these peculiar animals is that some of their behaviors appear to be more like those of gorillas, which currently do not seem to inhabit the region.

Skulls brought to Belgium’s Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren in 1908 were re-examined in 1970 and anthropologist Colin Groves determined that they were identical to the skulls of western gorillas. A much more recent skull recovered by wildlife photographer and conservationist Karl Ammann had the pronounced forehead ridge characteristic of gorillas while the rest of the skull bore a remarkable resemblance to those of chimpanzees.

Adding to the confusion is the animals’ diet. Unlike gorillas, which generally dine on various types of leaves, analysis fecal material shows that the mystery apes eat a diet rich in fruit.

Efforts are underway to determine whether these animals, known as Bondo mystery apes, are giant chimpanzees, some type of chimpanzee-gorilla hybrid, or an as-yet unidentified new subspecies of great ape. They are reclusive, like gorillas, and no live animals have been captured. Ammann is in the process of habituating a group of these ground-nesting chimps by offering them sugar cane.

The world of the great apes still holds mysteries. Are these animals chimpanzees who have somehow incorporated gorilla-like behaviors into their culture, or are they some completely new type of animal that developed its own unique adaptations to its environment? Karl Ammann is devoting his efforts toward finding answers. It will be interesting to see what he finds out.

For more information visit

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Cincinnati Blob - Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?

Experts are trying to figure out whether a huge fossil found by an amateur palaeontologist in northern Kentucky is an animal or a plant. They’re pretty sure it isn’t a mineral.

The 450-million-year-old fossil is more than 6 feet long and 3 feet wide, and weighs about 150 pounds. Intricate patterns on its rippled surface resemble the skin of a bird, but some parts look more like fish scales. Whatever it was, it apparently had no bones, so it most likely was not a vertebrate, and was undoubtedly a relatively simple life form. Another interesting piece of the puzzle is the presence of small trilobite fossils found on the surface of the fossil, which has been dubbed Godzillus.

So far, suggestions as to what it might have been include a type of huge algae, a jellyfish, or possibly a broken piece of coral or sponge. The Cincinnati area was covered by a 100- to 200-foot deep sea at the time this animal (or plant) lived, so the researchers are concentrating on trying to identify what kind of sea life this unique specimen represents.

As of now, it is much too early to expect any definitive results from the investigation. Photos of the whatever-it-is can be found here, and more information is available here

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tool-Using Monkeys?

Many years ago, it was thought that human beings were different from all other animals because people used tools and animals did not. But new information shows us that we are not alone in using tools.

Many of us have seen how otters float on their backs while breaking open shellfish by hammering them on a stone held on their stomachs. Now, it seems, otters aren’t the only ones who use stones to harvest oysters and other shellfish.

Thai scientists were studying the impact of the tsunami that ravaged the southeast Asian coast in December 2004. They noticed a pair of female long-tailed macaques using some type of object to crack open mollusk shells so they could scoop out and eat the animals inside. Curious, they landed and discovered cracked oyster shells scattered on the beach along with axe-shaped stones that the monkeys had used to break them open.

Further investigation revealed that this behavior was common among the macaques living along this stretch of coast, and that the monkeys were regular visitors to the beach. It seems that the macaques not only cracked shells open with their tools, but they also used them to dislodge their prey from the rocks. They also discovered that the monkeys had a special fondness for crabs, which were also broken open using their stones.

Interviews with local islanders showed that the animals’ behavior was a year-round practice. They also said that when the macaques were foraging in mangrove swamps which did not contain suitable stones, the monkeys used empty oyster shells in their place.

Surprisingly, the long-tailed macaques’ odd behavior had been reported 120 years before by Alfred Carpenter of the Marine Survey Office in Bombay, India. In an article written for the journal Nature, Carpenter described how macaques living on islands of the Mergui Archipelago in South Burma were already using stone ‘hammers’ to crack open oyster shells. He also said that the monkeys frequently carried their stones up to 80 yards, which indicates that the monkeys were very careful in their tool selection. Somehow, though, his observations were either overlooked, or not taken seriously, until the new information was published in 2007.

How many other animals are using tools? Many new examples are coming to light and I’ll be investigating these claims over the next several months.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The World’s Only Venomous Primate

The little primate known as the slow loris, or ‘little fireface’ in parts of Java, was, until recently, a fairly obscure animal known primarily to researchers. It is, without doubt, one of the cutest little creatures you will ever see, and many people are adopting them as pets. As it turns out, not only is this little animal in serious danger, but it can be dangerous to humans as well.

The little lorises suddenly became famous when a video posted on YouTube showing one of the little animals being tickled suddenly went viral. Many viewers commented on how cute they were, with their huge eyes and gentle looking faces, and many expressed a desire to adopt one. But there are a few things potential owners should know about the animals and the way they are treated.

The trade in slow lorises is actually illegal. They are relatively slow-moving and seem to be very docile. But when aroused, they secrete venom from a patch on their elbow, mixing it with their saliva. If they bite, the mixture is injected into the wound, causing an allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can be fatal. Traders know this, and frequently yank the animals’ teeth out using nail clippers, pliers, or wire cutters.

The slow loris is a shy and secretive animal found in a number of countries surrounding Indonesia. They have a few notable peculiarities, such as extra vertebrae and two tongues.

One researcher, Anna Nekaris, is spearheading an effort to help these amazing little animals. You can read her story here

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A New Monster Reported in Africa

Reports have recently been coming out of villages in northern Namibia, located on Africa’s southwest coast, of a new type of monster. It has been described as being mostly white, with a doglike head. Its shoulders and back are said to resemble those of a pig. It is said to have been seen attacking dogs, goats and other domestic animals.

It is not known whether this animal is the same or similar to creatures that reportedly attacked and sucked the blood out of livestock, including goats, in July 2009 in the same region. This story, of course, bears a remarkable resemblance to activities ascribed to chupacabras in South America and the North American southwest. No one reported actually seeing the attackers, although supposedly the creatures left footprints that resembled those of very large dogs. Police attempted to track the animals, only to find that the trail vanished abruptly in an open field.

Not surprisingly, villagers believe the monster is the product of black magic, and some believe it was created by an old man rumored to be a warlock. It seems that many people in the area still believe in sorcery and magic. In recent years there have been several stories of people in various parts of Africa being killed because they were suspected of being sorcerers or witches.

If you are interested in learning more, visit

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Bizarre Story of Composer Franz Josef Haydn’s Head

Austrian composer Franz Josef Haydn died on May 31, 1809 in his beloved Vienna. On June 15, he was laid to rest in Hundsthrum churchyard. Then, only two days later, grave robbers hired by the warden of the local prison dug up the old composer and removed his head. The warden, it seems, had a theory that a person’s intelligence could be determined by the shape of the skull, and he thought Haydn’s skull would make a perfect subject for study.
That was only the beginning of the strange journey of Franz Josef Hayden’s head, which traveled on, passing from one owner to another, for the next 145 years. If you’d like to read the full details of this story, look here

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Grave Creek Stone

The Grave Creek Mound (or Mammoth Mound), located at Moundsville, West Virginia, is one of the two largest mounds in the U.S. It was constructed over a period of 100 or more years by the people of a culture known as Adena, which flourished in the Ohio River Valley between about 800 BCE to 100 CE. It is a gigantic burial mound which began at ground level, with the graves covered by a slight mound of dirt. Over the years, successive graves were laid on top of the original mound, then covered with soil. Eventually the tiny cemetery became a huge gravesite standing approximately 70 feet (21 meters) high, with a diameter of roughly 295 feet (88 meters) and containing more than 60,000 tons (54,400,000 kg) of earth.

The mound apparently was first excavated in 1838 by local amateur archaeologists. They dug two shafts into the mound, one horizontal and one vertical. They found two burial vaults approximately 60 feet (18 meters) down from the top of the mound. In one vault, they found a skeleton wearing copper arm rings, along with other ornaments. In the upper vault, they found a tiny, flat sandstone disk about 1-7/8 inches (4.8 cm) wide and 1-1/2 inches (3.6 cm) long with an inscription on one side. It became known as the Grave Creek Stone, and the inscription was identified by epigrapher Barry Fell as being derived from an ancient Phoenician alphabet which had been used on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula during the first millennium BCE.

The ancient script found on the disk had not been deciphered by scholars at the time of the 1838 discovery. This, of course, makes it unlikely that it was a 17th century forgery, as is the fact that the translation made some sense when it was eventually translated. It read: “The mound raised on high for Tasach - This tile [His] queen caused to be made.” Who was Tasach and who was the queen? And for that matter, where did the Adena people learn to how write in a European Semitic script? Did someone bring this ancient written language to the Adena people, or did they bring it with them?

Other stones marked with ancient Celtic/Punic writings have been found in the area, but none of these can be dated with any certainty. Others may exist still in some of the hundreds of Adena mounds scattered throughout the Ohio River Valley, but the Grave Creek discovery remains unique.

The Delf Norona Museum located in Moundsville, West Virginia contains an exhibit featuring the Iberian translation of the Grave Creek Stone along with numerous other artifacts from the area. If you happen to be in Moundsville, it might well be worth a visit.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Did Mammoths Survive the Great Extinction 12,000 Years Ago?

It seems that some of them did, although they were somewhat smaller than their older cousins. There is incontrovertible evidence that at least a few mammoths were still living long after the pyramids and Stonehenge had been built.
In 1993, mammoth skeletons were discovered on Wrangel Island, which is located about 100 miles north of Siberia. The bones were dated to between 3700 and 7000 years ago, long after mammoths were believed to have gone extinct. Trapped on their island home with limited food resources, the mammoths responded to their environment by growing smaller. They stood only about six feet tall at the shoulder.
Wrangel Island is not the only place where dwarf mammoths have been discovered. The other location is on Santa Rosa Island, one of the Channel Islands located off the southern California Coast near Santa Barbara. Like the miniature mammoths of Wrangel Island, the Santa Rosa mammoths were also about six feet tall. But the youngest pygmy elephants of Santa Rosa to be dated by radiocarbon techniques proved to be around 12,840 years old, meaning that they, at least, did not survive the Great Extinction.
There are also a few more tantalizing stories that, if true, could mean that at least a few mammoths survived until at least 100 years ago. According to one tale, a Russian hunter traveling in the great Siberian forest, followed a trail of immense tracks, piles of dung and broken trees. He caught up with the creatures after several days. He said they were a pair of massive elephants covered with hair and sporting massive tusks.
Stories also persist in the Near East and parts of China about hunters and herders spotting groups of strange animals that may be mammoths. In some of the stories, the beasts are described as being about the size of those found on the Wrangel and Santa Rosa islands.
Both Eskimos and North American tribes have legends that describe mammoths, although these stories may have been handed down for thousands of years. But in at least a few cases, the sightings seem to have taken place within living memory.
Are there still a few mammoths surviving in remote corners of the world? Species are constantly being rediscovered that were once thought to have gone extinct. Perhaps the idea that mammoths may have survived is not really as far-fetched as it seems.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cement Pillars on an Uninhabited Island?

There is a little island called the Isle of Pines about 40 miles south of New Caledonia. And on this little island are about 400 mounds of sand and gravel, each about 8 or 9 feet high and roughly 300 feet in diameter. A curious researcher named L. Chevalier of the Museum of New Caledonia, dug into four of these mounds in the early 1960s. Inside three of the mounds, Chevalier found a single upright pillar, and the fourth contained two pillars.

The pillars are about 40 to 100 inches high and range from 40 to 75 inches in diameter. The mortar, a lime-mortar compound, contained bits of shell which could be dated using radiocarbon techniques. Surprisingly, they were found to date between about 5120 BC and 10,950 BC.

There are several odd things about these cylinders. There are no other signs of human presence at the sites. Excavators found no bones, charcoal, or any other remains. Also, the use of mortar anywhere else in the world only dates back to a few hundred years BC.

Similar mounds have been found in the Paita district of southern New Caledonia. But New Caledonia is believed to have been settled by people arriving from Indonesia only around 4,000 years ago,long after the pillars were created. So who stopped by and left all the concrete cylinders?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Death Valley's Racing Rocks

California's Death Valley is famous for its enduring legends and stories of mysterious events. One of the most remarkable of those events takes place at Racetrack Playa.

Racetrack Playa is a very flat area with no vegetation or water and very few stones. But since 1948 there have been occasional reports of rocks that have moved, seemingly all by themselves, across the sun-baked surface of the playa. Stones weighing as much as 80 pounds have been found at the ends of clearly defined tracks which can range in length up to 200 feet.

Although the stones and their trails have been photographed after the fact, no one has reported seeing them actually move. Some of the theories that have been put forth to account for these restless rocks include ghostly activities, earthquakes, and even strong winds pushing the stones across the level ground. But in the end, no one knows for sure what is actually happening in this intriguing corner of Death Valley.