Friday, May 30, 2008

Saving the "Uncontacted"

Primitive tribesmen in red body paint use arrows to ward off the airplane.

They’re called “uncontacted” tribes and there are about 100 of them left in the world, more than half of them in the dense rainforests of Brazil and Peru. Today a group that fights for protection of the uncontacted tribes – Survival International – released striking photos taken from a plane flying over one of these remote villages.

You can clearly see a couple of tribesmen covered in red paint and pointing their bows and arrows upward at what must be one of the most frightening things they’ve ever seen.

“These pictures are further evidence that uncontacted tribes really do exist,” said Survival’s director, Stephen Corey. “The world needs to wake up to this and ensure that their territory is protected in accordance with international law. Otherwise, they’ll soon be made extinct.”

The danger is extensive logging of the rainforest, driving the tribes from their homes and into territories where they often are killed or decimated by diseases.

“We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist,” said Jose Carlos Dos Reis Meirelles Junior. “This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence.”

Some of the tribe's primitive housing near Brazil's border with Peru.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Fox & Cock in a Tree ~ Aesop Fable #149

A dog and a rooster became friends and made a journey together. When night fell, they came to a place in the woods. The rooster took his seat up in the branches of a tree while the dog went to sleep in a hollow at the foot of the tree. The night passed and day dawned and the rooster crowed loudly, as roosters do. A fox heard the rooster and wanted to make a meal of him, so she ran up and stood at the foot of the tree and shouted to the rooster, “You are an excellent bird and so useful to people! Why don’t you come down and we’ll sing some songs together, delighting in one another’s company?” The rooster replied, “Go over to the foot of the tree, my dear, and tell the watchman to let you wait there for me.” When the fox went to announce herself, the dog suddenly leaped up and grabbed the fox and tore her to pieces, much to the rooster’s relief.

Moral: If you are wise, you take up arms to save yourself whenever you run into trouble.

Stonehenge Update: It was a 500-year burial site

Researchers conducting an important new dig at Stonehenge have concluded that the mysterious Neolithic site served as a burial ground from as early as 3000 B.C. and for the next 500 years. 

“Stonehenge was a place of burial from its beginning to its zenith in the mid third millennium B.C.,” according to Parker Pearson, the archaeology professor from the University of Sheffield who’s heading up the project. “It’s now clear that burials were a major component of Stonehenge in all its main stages.”

Previously, Stonehenge was thought to be a burial site for only about a century, but the new radiocarbon datings of cremated bones unearthed there indicate it was most likely the burial ground for generations of the area’s ruling family. The cremated remains of an estimated 240 people were buried at Stonehenge, which could amount to around 30 generations of the family.

This new information was released this week as part of the large Stonehenge Riverside Archaeological Project funded by The National Geographic Society. Details of the nearby dig at Durrington Walls is discussed in my May 3 blog post below. More details are in this article in today's Washington Post.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A First Glimpse of Polar Mars

Here’s one of the first images of the vast northern polar region of Mars, taken shortly after the landing Saturday of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander. The craft touched down on Mars at 4:53 p.m. Saturday in a spectacular, precision landing.

The approximate-color image shows a flat landscape with polygonal cracking, a pattern common to Martian high latitudes and seen frequently on Earth’s permafrost terrains. Scientists believe seasonal freezing and thawing of surface ice creates the pattern.

The Phoenix spacecraft is equipped with instruments capable of determining if life has existed on Mars, of learning more about the Martian climate and geology ~ all paving the way for human exploration of the planet. Scientists believe enormous supplies of water may exist beneath the polar surface of Mars, something they hope the Phoenix mission can verify.

The image below is an artist’s conception of Saturday’s landing of the Phoenix, with pulsed rocket engines controlling the final moments of descent. Click here for more NASA photos of the Phoenix mission.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Another musical interlude ~ A Patti Smith classic

For your listening pleasure, here's a recent yet classic Patti Smith performance of "Because the Night." She wrote the song in 1978 with Bruce Springsteen and it became her biggest hit. Appearing on her album Easter, it helped move her from hardcore punk rocker to a more mainstream artist.

Patti still exhibits the purity of expression, the poet's presence, and her uniquely gutsy persona after 30 years.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

From the Tao Te Ching

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn't glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as stone.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Fox & Goat at the Well ~ Aesop Fable #113

A fox had unwittingly fallen down a well and found herself trapped inside its high walls. Meanwhile, a thirsty goat had made his way to the same place and asked the fox whether the water was fresh and plentiful. The fox set about laying her trap. “Come down, my friend,” said the fox. “The water is so good that I cannot get enough of it myself!” The billy-goat lowered himself into the well, whereupon the little vixen leaped up on his back and emerged from the hole, leaving the goat stuck in the watery prison.

Moral: As soon as someone clever gets into trouble, he tries to find a way out at someone else’s expense.

Excavations Point to Expanded Stonehenge

Archaeologists keep learning more about Stonehenge and are shedding more light on the Neolithic religion that prompted construction of the mysterious 4,600-year-old monoliths.

Current excavation work is funded mostly by the National Geographic Society and performed under auspices of six British universities. The project began in 2003 and its current focus is excavation of the largest Neolithic village ever found in England. Known as Durrington Walls, the site is less than two miles from the well-known monoliths.

Recent digging has shown that Durrington Walls had earthen banks and ditches enclosing rings of huge wooden posts set in the same pattern as Stonehenge’s giant stones. This is leading archaeologists to believe Stonehenge and Durrington were closely connected and the builders of Stonehenge likely resided in the village at Durrington Walls.

So far, eight houses have been discovered and many more suspected to have existed in the area. Each house was built of woven sticks and crushed chalk, with a hard clay floor, central fireplace, and was only about 16 feet square. Excavators have unearthed messy debris everywhere inside the houses – broken pots, shattered jars and a litter of animal bones. Two houses on the west side of the village, however, separated from the others by a wood fence, are free of debris, leading some researchers to speculate they were shrines or something similar.

While Stonehenge is believed to have been a place of worship of an ancient solar cult because of the astronomical alignment of the giant stones, it’s now clear that even the roads of the period had similar purposes. A road paved with flint at Stonehenge lines up with the summer solstice sunrise. A similar road recently discovered at Durrington (shown at right in National Geographic photo) lines up with the sunset of the summer solstice. Conversely, the giant stones on Salisbury plain are aligned with the winter solstice sunset, while the wooden circle at Durrington lined up with sunrise of the same day.

Radiocarbon dating puts the Stonehenge site as being built between 2600 BC and 2400 BC, while Durrington Walls is from the same epoch, sometime between 2600 BC and 2500 BC.

“The evidence shows us these two monuments were complementary,” Dr. Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield recently told the New York Times. “Stonehenge was just half of a larger complex.”

Friday, May 2, 2008

Aleksei, Maria and Anastasia ... Rest in Peace

Every few years throughout my youth, some eccentric elderly Russian woman would claim she was Princess Anastasia, daughter of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. And that as such, she was the sole surviving member of Russia’s last royal family and had eluded the Bolshevik firing squad that brutally slaughtered her family in 1918.

None turned out to be Anastasia, of course. But the very idea that one of the Romanov children had survived the executions in Yekateringburg remained one of the 20th century’s most tantalizing mysteries. This was because, for nearly 70 years, the remains of the bodies were either missing or inconclusively identified. Most of the conjecture centered on the Princess Anastasia and on her 13-year-old hemophiliac younger brother, Crown Prince Aleksei, royal heir to the throne.

Then, in 1991, the family’s supposed graves were unearthed in Yekateringburg and the remains reburied in St. Petersburg. At that time, the bones were identified as those of Nicholas, Alexandra and three of the couple’s children, including Anastasia.

No remains were found, however, for two of the children, Aleksei and another sister, Grand Duchess Maria.

Last summer, suspicious skeletal remains were found buried in a forest near Yekateringburg and were immediately submitted to laboratories in Russia and the United States for DNA testing, using the latest technology. The findings were announced this week.

“This has confirmed that indeed it is the children,” said Eduard Rossel, governor of the region where Yekateringburg is located. “We have now found the entire family.”

The announcement will no doubt come as a relief to Romanov descendents and historians, but skepticism could still erupt. When the Russian government, using then-new DNA testing procedures, announced in 1998 that the identities of the first batch of bones were conclusive, some  scientists disputed the validity of the DNA testing, saying it was flawed. Though this latest testing utilized state-of-the-art DNA technology, it’ll be interesting to see if the findings are similarly called into question.

It that should happen, the mystery will continue.