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.