News Briefs 02-06-2016

Asking the big questions...

Thanks Kat, @Red_Pill_Junkie and @UnlikelyWorlds.

Quote of the Day:

There's a one in billions chance we're in base reality.

Elon Musk

How Long Would It Take for Evidence of Our Civilisation to Disappear?

In discussing the possibility of lost civilisations, the question is often asked: if there was an advanced civilisation in antiquity - say, more than 10,000 years ago - how much evidence would actually be left for us to find? The above video covers this in asking the question, what would happen if humans disappeared from the planet:

After 10,000 years, the only reminiscence that people were here someday, will be the remains of a few stone constructions, among which [would be] the pyramids in Egypt and the Great Wall of China. Mount Rushmore National Memorial will be there almost intact for several hundreds of thousands of years.

(via Gizmodo)

News Briefs 01-06-2016

Rare photo of me at work in the Grail bunker...

Thanks @GrailSeeker and @JohnReppion.

Quote of the Day:

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.

Cicero (43BCE)

King Tut Was Buried With a Dagger of "Extraterrestrial Origin"

King Tut's Space Dagger

In 1922, Howard Carter stunned the world with his discovery of the 'lost tomb' of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun (18th dynasty, 14th C. BCE), still intact with its treasures (and body of the now-famous boy-king) having remained safe from looters over the millennia. Three years into his investigation of the contents of the tomb, Carter found two daggers within the wrapping of Tut's mummy: one on the right thigh, with a blade of iron, and another on the abdomen - this one with a blade of gold.

While for most people the latter might seem the more interesting, it is the dagger with the blade of iron that has been of more interest to archaeologists. In ancient Egypt, minerals such as copper, bronze, and gold were used extensively from the 4th millennium BCE, but - despite the significant amounts of iron ore in the area - iron was very rarely used until the 1st millennium BCE. As such, there has long been a debate as to whether the dagger found on Tut's thigh might have been made out of meteoritic iron, which was highly venerated by the ancient Egyptians.

The dagger, pictured above, is certainly a thing of beauty. At 34.2cm (roughly 14 inches) long, it has a finely manufactured, non-rusted blade of iron, and a handle largely made of fine gold with a rounded knob of rock crystal at the end. Additionally, it was protected by a gold sheath decorated with a floral lily motif on one side and with a feathers pattern on the other side, terminating with a jackal’s head.

But is it from space? Scientists set out to answer that question in a recent study, which has just been published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science under the title "The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade" Lead author Daniela Comelli and her team of researchers (thankfully) used a non-destructive technique known as X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to determine the composition of the dagger at two different places on the surface of the blade.

Their analysis - carried out at the Egyptian Museum of Cairo - demonstrated that the two buik constituents of the dagger's blade were iron (Fe) and nickel (Ni), with minor concentrations of cobalt (Co). And, importantly, they found that the nickel contributed around 10.8% of the full weight of the blade:

Iron meteorites are mostly made of Fe and Ni, with minor quantities of Co, P, S, and C, and trace amounts of other siderophile and chalcophile elements...The Ni content in the bulk metal of most iron meteorites ranges from 5 wt% to 35 wt%, whereas it never exceeds 4 wt% in historical iron artifacts from terrestrial ores produced before the 19th century.

[Additionally] the Ni/Co ratio in the dagger blade is consistent with that of iron meteorites.

Their conclusion: "The blade’s high Ni content, along with the minor amount of Co and a Ni/Co ratio of ~20, strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin".

Location of space dagger on King Tut's body

This finding, along with last year's discovery that a 5000-year-old bead from the beginnings of Dynastic Egypt was also made from the remains of a meteorite, reinforce the idea that the ancient Egyptians attributed great value to iron from meteorites.

In this new paper, the researchers do feel that their finding "provides important insight into the use of the term “iron”, quoted in relationship with the sky in Mesopotamian, Hittite, and Egyptian ancient texts":

Beside the hieroglyphic “bja”, which already existed before the XIX dynasty with a broad meaning (as “mineral, metal, iron”), a new composite term “bja n pt”, literally translated as “iron of the sky,” came into use in the 19th dynasty (13th C. BCE) to describe all types of iron. In the same period, we can note a text at Karnak
probably describing a meteorite. The introduction of the new composite term suggests that the ancient Egyptians, in the wake of other ancient people of the Mediterranean area, were aware that these rare chunks of iron fell from the sky already in the 13th C. BCE, anticipating Western culture by more than two millennia.

I mentioned some fascinating details about the ancient Egyptian veneration of meteorites, sourced from researchers Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert, in my post about the beads last year, so I won't discuss it again at length here. But at the end of that post is an interesting hypothesis that wasn't explored much further: could the sacred Egyptian 'Ben-Ben stone' (like other omphalos stones) have originally been a conical meteorite? And, while we're speculating: could its shape have ultimately given rise to the shape of the pyramids?

This new research at least adds to the collection of very cool artefacts from space, including the Buddhist iron man (stolen by Nazis no less), and this more modern Japanese meteorite sword.

Related stories:

News Briefs 31-05-2016

We're not in Endor anymore...

Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

Watch out for each other. Love everyone and forgive everyone, including yourself. Forgive your anger. Forgive your guilt. Your shame. Your sadness. Embrace and open up your love, your joy, your truth, and most especially your heart.

Jim Henson

Is It Really a Good Idea to Try and Contact Extraterrestrial Species?

Alien attack in the movie Independence Day

While we are all now familiar with SETI - the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, by searching the skies looking for alien broadcasts - in recent years a lesser known aspect to that quest has been generating plenty of debate. A number of researchers - including one of SETI's most well-respected and recognised scientists, Seth Shostak - have been arguing that a comprehensive approach to searching for aliens should include us trying to make contact with them, referred to as both 'Active SETI' and METI (Messaging to ET Intelligence).

But is this really a good idea? Should we be shouting out our location to the cosmos, when we don't know the intentions of any alien intelligences lurking out there? This is one of the major criticisms of Active SETI voiced in a recent paper on arXiv.org, "Reviewing METI: A Critical Analysis of the Arguments".

The author, John Gertz, points out that in the medical sciences, any proposed experiment must pass ethics review boards. Some experiments are deemed to be too dangerous, or unethical, and are rejected. And yet, "astronomers face no such ethical reviews, since theirs is normally an observational science only", he notes. But "when it comes to METI, which is not observational but manipulative, and on which may hinge the very fate of the world, perhaps they should."

In the paper, Gertz lists and critically evaluates the most common arguments in favour of an Active SETI approach, but finds them wanting:

Whenever one hears a “scientist” assert that ET must be altruistic, or that ET surely knows we are here, or that the closet ET civilization is at least 'x light years' away, ask to see the data set on which they base their conclusions. As of today, no such data set exists. In the absence of any evidence whatsoever, whether one believes that the extraterrestrial civilization we might first encounter will be benign, in the fashion of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or ET, or malicious, asin Ridley Scott’s Alien, or robotic, or something else entirely is strictly a matter of one’s personal taste. SETI experiments seek to learn what actually resides or lurks out there in the universe. METI plays Russian roulette without even knowing how many bullets are in the chamber.

It would be wiser to listen for at least decades if not centuries or longer before we initiate intentional interstellar transmissions, and allow all of mankind a voice in that decision. The power of SETI has grown exponentially with Moore’s Law, better instruments, better search strategies, and now thanks to (Russian billionaire) Yui Milner’s visionary investment, meaningful funding. The advances are so profound that it is reasonable to say that the SETI of the next 50 years will be many orders of magnitude more powerful than the SETI of the last 50 years.

[Seth] Shostak, perhaps METI’s most articulate proponent, knows this and has widely predicted that we will achieve Contact within the next two decades. So why can he and his fellow METI-ists not wait at least until then before initiating transmissions?

What do you think? Should we shout out to the cosmos and see if anybody shouts back? Or is it safer not to tempt the fates?

Paper: "Reviewing METI: A Critical Analysis of the Arguments"

(h/t Norman Redington)

News Briefs 30-05-2016

Grammar Nazis - what purpose do they serve anyhow?

Thanks Kat.

Quote of the Day:

Although I think that life may be the result of an accident, I do not think that of consciousness. Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.

Erwin Schrödinger

News Briefs 27-05-2016

”It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well."

Quote of the Day:

“...Everything turns into mathematics.”

R. Descartes

Neanderthals Found to Have Built Mysterious 'Stalagmite Circles' 175,000 Years Ago

Stalagmite Circle

In 1990, cavers in the the south west of France entered a cave that had been sealed from the outside world for tens of thousands of years by a natural rockslide. 337 metres within the cave, they made a curious find: a mass of broken off stalagmites which seemed to have been arranged into ring or circle shapes on purpose.

In the 1990s archaeologist Francois Rouzard set out to determine whether the constructions in Bruniquel Cave were made by the hands of Neanderthals, but after his premature death from a heart attack in 1999 research ground to halt. But 14 years later, a multi-national team finally did a proper scientific analysis of the structures - and their conclusions are mind-blowing.

Using uranium-series dating of the stalagmite calcite, the researchers found that the structures were built between 175,000 and 177,000 years ago! Neanderthals are believed to have been the only human population living in Europe at this time, and so the researchers have attributed the constructions to them.

Here's the description of the structures:

The arranged structures composed of whole and broken stalagmites, here designated as ‘speleofacts’, are located in the largest chamber of the cave. Our study defines two categories of structures: two annular ones, which are the most impressive, and four smaller stalagmite accumulation structures. The largest annular structure is 6.7 × 4.5 m, and the smaller one is 2.2 × 2.1 m. The accumulation structures consist of stacks of stalagmites and are from 0.55 m to 2.60 m in diameter. Two of them are located in the centre of the larger annular construction, while the other two are outside of it. Overall, about 400 pieces were used, comprising a total length of 112.4 m and an average weight of 2.2 tons of calcite... The stalagmites are well calibrated with a mean length of 34.4 cm for the large (A) and 29.5 cm for the small (B) annular structures, thus strongly suggesting intentional construction.

The annular structures are composed of one to four superposed layers of aligned stalagmites. Notably, some short elements were placed inside the superposed layers to support them. Other stalagmites were placed vertically against the main structure in the manner of stays, perhaps to reinforce the constructions.

3D Reconstruction of the Stalagmite Circles

Traces of fire were also found to be present on all six of the structures. Carbonized organic material was found, with some of the fragments being the bones of a bear or large herbivore.

The dating of the constructions within Bruniquel Cave is staggering. In terms of megalithic building, Stonehenge dates back around 5000 years; Gobekli Tepe 10,000 years. Completely preserved archaeological sites are rare before 40,000 years ago. And yet here we have a well-preserved site, with signs of intelligent human construction, dating back 175,000 years:

The attribution of the Bruniquel constructions to early Neanderthals is unprecedented in two ways. First, it reveals the appropriation of a deep karst space (including lighting) by a pre-modern human species. Second, it concerns elaborate constructions that have never been reported before, made with hundreds of partially calibrated, broken stalagmites (speleofacts) that appear to have been deliberately moved and placed in their current locations, along with the presence of several intentionally heated zones. Our results therefore suggest that the Neanderthal group responsible for these constructions had a level of social organization that was more complex than previously thought for this hominid species.

For the researchers involved, questions abound. "What was the function of these structures at such a great distance from the cave entrance? Why are most of the fireplaces found on the structures rather than directly on the cave floor? We could assume that they represent some kind of symbolic or ritual behaviour, but could they rather have served for an unknown domestic use or simply as a refuge? Future research will try to answer these questions."

Link: "Early Neanderthal constructions deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwestern France", in Nature