Jan 24, 2021


13-foot-long 'Book of the Dead' scroll found in burial shaft in Egypt

A funerary temple belonging to Queen Nearit has been discovered in the ancient Egyptian burial ground Saqqara next to the pyramid of her husband, pharaoh Teti, who ruled Egypt from around 2323 B.C. to 2291 B.C., the Egyptian antiquities ministry said in a statement.

Made of stone, the temple has three mud-brick warehouses on its southeastern side that held offerings made to the queen and her husband.

Near the pyramid, the team of Egyptian archaeologists also found a series of burial shafts containing the remains of people who lived during the 18th and 19th dynasties of Egypt (1550 B.C. - 1186 B.C.), the ministry said in the statement, which was released Jan. 16. These burials were likely part of a Teti-worshipping cult that formed after the pharaoh's death. The cult seems to have remained active for more than a millennium, with people wanting to be buried near the pharaoh's pyramid. So far, the team has uncovered more than 50 wooden coffins in these shafts, along with a wide array of objects.

One of the most fascinating objects found in the burial shafts is a 13-foot-long (4 meters) papyrus that contains Chapter 17 of the "Book of the Dead," a manuscript that ancient Egyptians used to help guide the deceased through the afterlife. The name of the papyrus's owner, Pwkhaef, is written on it; that same name was also found on one of the wooden coffins and on four shabti figurines meant to serve the deceased in the afterlife.

For the First Time in 200 Years, a New Blue Pigment Is Up for Sale

In 2009, researchers at Oregon State University discovered YInMn Blue—the first new blue pigment identified in 200 years—while developing materials for use in electronics. Led by chemist Mas Subramanian, the team quickly realized that it had stumbled onto something significant.

“People have been looking for a good, durable blue color for a couple of centuries," Subramanian told NPR’s Gabriel Rosenberg in 2016.

Eleven years later, in May 2020, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially approved the punchy pigment, which is far more vivid than cobalt or Prussian blue, for commercial use, as Coatings World reported at the time.

The government agency approved YInMn for use in industrial coatings and plastics in September 2017, but because testing for consumer use is far more rigorous, commercial paint manufacturers and artists alike faced a far longer wait. (To help color enthusiasts cope with the delay, Crayola introduced Bluetiful, a crayon inspired by the pigment, that same year.)

Dire wolves went extinct 13,000 years ago but thanks to new genetic analysis their true story can now be told

Thanks to the hit television series Game of Thrones, the dire wolf has gained a near-mythical status. But it was a real animal that roamed the Americas for at least 250,000 years, until it became extinct towards the end of the last ice age around 13,000 years ago. While in popular culture the dire wolf is portrayed as a giant predator hunting in snow-covered, northern landscapes, most scientists instead agree that the dire wolf was a very close cousin of the grey wolf – the living species from which the dog was domesticated.

Our research published in the journal Nature shows that both of these characterisations are mistaken. For the first time, we were able to sequence ancient DNA from remains of the now-extinct dire wolf, providing surprising new insights into its origins and biology.

In addition to the grey wolf there are eight related wolf-like species alive today, including the coyote, African wild dog, and three species of jackal. We originally expected our genetic data to confirm what was already known based on looking at the size and shape of their bones: the dire wolf was just a large grey wolf or a very close relative.

Sorry, Game of Thrones fans: dire wolves probably weren’t white. Ed's Toy Box / flickr, CC BY-NC-SA Instead, by comparing dire wolf DNA to that of living species we found that the dire wolf belonged to an unknown 6 million year-old lineage, which was no more closely related to grey wolves than to jackals or the African wild dog. This suggests that the resemblance between dire and grey wolves may have only been skin deep – or bone deep, strictly speaking.

Massive new dinosaur might be the largest creature to ever roam Earth

The 98 million-year-old remains of what might be the largest animal to walk Earth — a long-necked titanosaur dinosaur — were recently unearthed in Argentina.

The remains of the unnamed dinosaur were first discovered in 2012 in Neuquén Province of northwest Patagonia, but have still not been fully excavated. However, the bones that have been unearthed so far suggest the ancient behemoth was likely a titanosaur, possibly the largest one on record. Titanosaurs were amongst the largest sauropods — long-necked, plant-eating giant dinos — and lived from the late Jurassic period (163.5 million to 145 million years ago) to the end of the Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago).

"Given the measurements of the new skeleton, it looks likely that this is a contender for one of the largest, if not the largest, sauropods that have ever been found," Paul Barrett, a paleobiologist at the Natural History Museum in London who was not involved in the study, told Live Science.

Not enough of the remains have been uncovered for the researchers to declare this dinosaur as a new species or assign it to an already known one. However, the researchers are confident that once the excavation is complete, they'll be able to classify it as a completely new species.

The Earth has been spinning faster lately

Scientists around the world have noted that the Earth has been spinning on its axis faster lately—the fastest ever recorded. Several scientists have spoken to the press about the unusual phenomenon, with some pointing out that this past year saw some of the shortest days ever recorded.

For most of the history of mankind, time has been marked by the 24-hour day/night cycle (with some alterations made for convenience as the seasons change). The cycle is governed by the speed at which the planet spins on its axis. Because of that, the length of a day has become the standard by which time is marked—each day lasts approximately 86,400 seconds. The day/night cycle is remarkably consistent despite the fact that it actually varies slightly on a regular basis.

Several decades ago, the development of atomic clocks began allowing scientists to record the passage of time in incredibly small increments, in turn, allowing for measuring the length of a given day down to the millisecond. And that has led to the discovery that the spin of the planet is actually far more variable than once thought. Since such measurements began, scientists have also found that the Earth was slowing its spin very gradually (compensated by the insertion of a leap second now and then)—until this past year, when it began spinning faster—so much so that some in the field have begun to wonder if a negative leap negative second might be needed this year, an unprecedented suggestion. Scientists also noted that this past summer, on July 19, the shortest day ever was recorded—it was 1.4602 milliseconds shorter than the standard.

DNA hard drives? Scientists hide a coded digital message in bacterial DNA

A new paper by researchers at Columbia University reveals that they were able to modify the DNA of bacteria cells by inserting specific DNA sequences with encoded data that could be translated into the message "Hello world!" Specifically the DNA sequences were modified to represent the 0s and 1s used in binary code (the same code that is used in computers) and then assembled in various arrangements to correspond with letters of the English alphabet. The end result is that the words "hello" and "world" were written and encoded into the DNA of E. coli cells.

Just as the English alphabet has twenty-six letters that comprise it, DNA has four compounds that serve as the basis for the genetic code: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. These building blocks that comprise DNA molecules can be modified to store "bits" of information. Two of the Columbia University scientists behind the new research — Ross McBee, a PhD candidate, and Sung Sun Yim, a postdoctoral fellow — explained to Salon by email that they modified the bacterial DNA code using a technology known as CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors (or CRISPR for short), which allows scientists to directly alter DNA. (The scientists who developed CRISPR technology won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year for their invention.)

"In nature, the CRISPR system basically works as a bacterial immune system, allowing bacteria to 'remember' things like viruses that they have encountered in the past and defend against them," McBee and Yim explained to Salon. "It does this by taking little bits of the DNA of those threatening organisms, and putting it into its own genome. Then, it can use these stored copies to check against, and degrades matching DNA, defending against infection." They likened this to "a kind of information storage."

Microsoft Could Bring You Back From The Dead... As A Chat Bot

Microsoft has filed a patent which raises the intriguing possibility of digitally reincarnating people as a chat bot.

Instead of using the conventional method of training chat bots using conversations and material from a wide sample of users, Microsoft’s patent - as spotted by Ubergizmo - raises the possibility of creating a chat bot from the output of a specific person.

The system would use “social data” such as “images, voice data, social media posts, electronic messages [and] written letters” to build a profile of a person.

. . .

The idea of reincarnating people as chat bots obviously raises all manner of privacy implications that aren’t discussed in the patent, which is, by nature, concerned with the technical workings of the system.

For example, will people be given the right to opt out of such a system? Would the relatives of the dead be able to prevent others from turning their deceased loved ones into chat bots?

Food for thought? French bean plants show signs of intent, say scientists

Research suggests that at least one type of plant – the french bean – may be more sentient than we give it credit for: namely, it may possess intent.

. . .

Together with Vicente Raja at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy in London, Canada, they used time-lapse photography to document the behaviour of 20 potted bean plants, grown either in the vicinity of a support pole or without one, until the tip of the shoot made contact with the pole. Using this footage, they analysed the dynamics of the shoots’ growth, finding that their approach was more controlled and predictable when a pole was present. The difference was analogous to sending a blindfolded person into a room containing an obstacle, and either telling them about it or letting them stumble into it.

“We see these signatures of complex behaviour, the one and only difference being is that it’s not neural-based, as it is in humans,” Calvo said. “This isn’t just adaptive behaviour, it’s anticipatory, goal-directed, flexible behaviour.”

Tony Robbins accused of discriminating against employee who got COVID-19

A woman who works for life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins filed a lawsuit against him on Wednesday, claiming he refused to accommodate her need to work from home after being hospitalized with a severe case of the coronavirus.

Robbins's employee Despina Kosta alleged he made false claims of helping her by asking a doctor who was a friend of his for care when she was placed in a medically-induced coma, according to a report from The New York Times.

. . .

The characterization and description of the employee was allegedly enough for one of Kosta's clients to contact her after listening to the podcast. Kosta told the Times she was "ashamed" after Robbins described her as a "hysterical female, a weakling.”

When attempting to return to work in July, Kosta asked if she could work fewer hours as she recovered, a request she claims was denied, according to the Times.

When Toxic Positivity Seeps Into Schools, Here’s What Educators Can Do

“Look on the bright side” and “it could be worse” are statements we hear all the time, and likely even more so during the pandemic.

On the surface, these remarks might seem to inject much-needed optimism into a tough situation. But rather than motivating students or teachers to push through stressful times, experts say statements like these have the opposite effect.

“Toxic positivity” as it’s known—or the papering over of legitimate feelings of anxiety, stress, or despair with saccharine, out-of-the-box phrases like, “look at the good things you’ve got”—doesn’t promote resilience in children or adults, said Marc Brackett, the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

“You can’t always look on the bright side of things. Sometimes … you have to give yourself permission to feel all emotions,” said Brackett. “Especially as a teacher, if you only tell everyone everything is going to work out fine, a, that’s unrealistic because nothing always works out, and b, … you’re not being a role model for your students that it’s OK to experience the full range of feelings.”

We’ve Got Depression All Wrong. It’s Trying to Save Us.

For generations, we have seen depression as an illness, an unnecessary deviation from normal functioning. It’s an idea that makes sense because depression causes suffering and even death. But what if we’ve got it all wrong? What if depression is not an aberration at all, but an important part of our biological defense system?

More and more researchers across specialties are questioning our current definitions of depression. Biological anthropologists have argued that depression is an adaptive response to adversity and not a mental disorder. In October, the British Psychological Society published a new report on depression, stating that “depression is best thought of as an experience, or set of experiences, rather than as a disease.” And neuroscientists are focusing on the role of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in depression. According to the Polyvagal Theory of the ANS, depression is part of a biological defense strategy meant to help us survive.

The common wisdom is that depression starts in the mind with distorted thinking. That leads to "psychosomatic" symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue. Now, models like the Polyvagal Theory suggest that we’ve got it backward. It’s the body that detects danger and initiates a defense strategy meant to help us survive. That biological strategy is called immobilization, and it manifests in the mind and the body with a set of symptoms we call depression.

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