Notre Dame Cleanup Resumes Amid Fears of Lead Exposure
September 8, 2019
Cleanup work has resumed at Notre Dame Cathedral, the 850-year-old landmark that was damaged by fire earlier this year. Crews fanned out in and around the cathedral and in the streets surrounding the landmark, scrubbing the pavement and rinsing the ground with chemicals, to ensure that it is safe for pedestrian traffic once again. A French environmental protection group estimated that the fire had churned through 440 tons of lead that was in the roof and the spire. Fumes and other residue from that high amount of lead could still cause health risks, the group said. Cleanup crews were wearing haz-mat suits and taking decontamination showers, but pedestrians could still get very close to the plaza, certainly within range of any contaminants still being expelled. Paris city officials had in June done testing in surrounding neighborhoods for lead contamination and had found no cause for concern; subsequent testing in August had found unacceptable levels of lead particles in the air at two nearby schools, forcing authorities to close the schools. School was not in session.
DNA Links Indus River Valley Civilization to People Today
September 8, 2019
For the first time, scientists have found DNA information from a person known to have lived in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. The DNA came from a woman who died about 4,500 years ago was buried in a cemetery near what is now Rakhigarhi, in India, which is not far from the ancient Indus city of Harappa. The DNA showed markers also found in people who live in South Asia today. Further, the scientists said, the genes of the woman were different enough from other nearby cultures like the Fertile Crescent at a time that predates the introduction of agriculture in those regions, suggesting that the woman's civilization had developed farming on its own. This validates what archaeologists had already thought about the Indus River Valley civilization.
SAT Board Abandons 'Adversity Score'
August 27, 2019
The "adversity score" is no more. The College Board, the New York-based nonprofit that oversees the popular college entrance examination the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT), has dropped the idea of adding a score to encapsulate a college or university applicant's economic hardship. David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, said that the information used to determine that score would still be available to admissions officials in the form of a tool called Landscape but that the all-encompassing total number would not. Widespread opposition from parents and university officials played a part in the decision, Coleman said.
Cherokee Nation Nominates Delegate to Serve in Congress
August 26, 2019
The Cherokee Nation will appoint a delegate to the House of Representatives, exercising a privilege set out in an 1835 treaty but not acted on until now. Kimberly Teehee, the tribe's vice-president of government relations, will be that delegate, pending approval by the full tribal council and by Congress. Teehee's experience in Washington, D.C., includes a stint as a senior policy adviser on Native American affairs to then-President Barack Obama. The 1835 Treaty of New Echota was devastating for the Cherokee, who were forced to leave their homes in the Southeast and travel hundreds of miles to what was then Indian Territory and is now Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.
Iceland Memorial Commemorates Death of Glacier
August 20, 2019
It's not every day that people gather to farewell a glacier, but that's what a group of Icelanders did recently, to mourn the loss of a glacier that ended its life after 700 years. Okjokull is the name of the glacier, which was officially declared dead in 2014 and fought bravely on for another five years before becoming just a small bit of ice on top of a volcano near the capital, Reykjavik. Among the more than 100 children and adults attending the ceremony were Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, and Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson. Jakobsdottir addressed the crowd gathered for the ceremony, and then the mourners walked for two hours up to top of the volcano and laid a plaque that doubled as a time capsule in the form of a letter to future viewers.
Rare Dime Nets $1.32 Million at Auction
August 20, 2019
One of the rarest coins in the U.S. sold for $1.32 million recently. An 1894-S Barber Dime, one of only nine known to exist, sold at auction at the World Fair of Money in Chicago. The buyer was Dell Loy Hansen, a businessman whose holdings include the Major League Soccer team Real Salt Lake. The coin was so rare for a number of reasons, not least because only 24 were minted that year by the San Francisco Mint (which is why they're called S dimes).
High-tech Scans Find Ghost Image in Leonardo Painting
August 16, 2019
Scientists using cutting-edge technology have found a hidden image underneath a famous Leonardo painting. It's not some kind of code, though. Instead, it's the original composition. The painting is known as Madonna of the Rocks or The Virgin of the Rocks. Leonardo completed two versions of the painting. The earlier version, done in 1483–1486, hangs in the Louvre in Paris; the later version, done in 1495–1508, hangs in the National Gallery in London. Scientists examined the London version. The researchers used a trio of high-tech scanning techniques to reveal images not visible to the naked eye. The result is a ghostly prototype that, if completed, would have been a significant departure from the earlier version.
Teen Climate Activist Sets Sail on Solar-powered Yacht
August 14, 2019
It was bon voyage for Greta Thunberg, as the 16-year-old climate activist set sail across the Atlantic, on her way to a United Nations summit on a solar-powered yacht. Thunberg, who announced her mode of transport in July, said that she didn't have much sailing in her background but was willing to suffer through whatever seasickness she encountered in order to avoid flying in an airplane because of the carbon emissions generated by such a flight. She has taken a year off school in order to spread her message of climate action and has been traveling around Europe by train. Her journey, aboard the racing yacht Malizia II, is expected to take two weeks.
Track Greta's journey here.
Paris to Open World's Largest Rooftop Farm
August 13, 2019
It's a farm in the sky, almost. Workers in Paris are helping to create what will be the largest urban farm in Europe–on top of a six-story building in the heart of the city. It's part of a redevelopment of the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles, and this part will be the world's largest rooftop farm, covering 150,695 square feet. Officials aim to employ 20 gardeners to help grow more than 30 different species of plant life and aim to produce more than 600 pounds of fruit and vegetables in the height of the growing season. In an effort to cut down on pollutants, arm officials will use aeroponic methods that make use of a closed water system and grow such fruits as vegetables in vertical containers, avoiding the use of soil. Plans are for the farm to open in spring 2020. Near the farm is to be a restaurant and bar that can seat 300 people, all of whom can view menus featuring seasonal produce grown onsite, using organic methods.
Underwater Veterans Memorial Opens
August 8, 2019
Statues of servicemen and servicewomen form an underwater memorial off the Florida coast, believed to be the first of its kind in the country. The 12 life-size concrete statues that make up the Circle of Heroes memorial honor veterans of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. They are on the ocean floor, about 40 feet down, in an area that is 100 miles from the shore of Clearwater. The statues stand in a circle, in the center of which is a 4-foot-high monument containing bronze emblems of the five branches of the military. Another 12 statues are to be added by Veteran's Day next year, officials said. A gathering of divers that included veterans who are amputees were the first to see the memorial after it opened. The ceremony featured a tribute to Vietnam Air Force veteran Dave Thomas, who built the center monument but died before the memorial opened.
Great Train Robbery's Mysterious 'Ulsterman' Identified (Again)
August 8, 2019
Law enforcement officials in the United Kingdom have identified one of the mystery men from the Great Train Robbery, a 1963 theft that netted £2.6 million for the gang of 17 who perpetrated the crime. Ronnie Biggs was perhaps the most well-known member of the gang, primarily for his escape from prison and for his life abroad during which he taunted the detectives who sought his recapture. Biggs and a dozen of the gang were caught, tried, convicted, to sentences ranging from three years to 30. A handful of the gang, however, were never caught and some were never identified. One of those mystery men was referred to repeatedly the rest of the gang only as "the Ulsterman." This man was thought to have been an insider who provided to the gang crucial information about Royal Mail train routes and routines; further, he was assumed to have absconded with his share of the stolen money.
4,000-year-old Yeast Flavors Modern Sourdough Bread
August 8, 2019
The bread isn't 4,000 years old, but the yeast used to make it is. Amateur Egyptologist Seamus Blackley parlayed his breadmaking hobby into an experiment using yeast kept safe in museums. He gained permission to access ceramic containers dating to Egypt's Old Kingdom period that were stored at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard's Peabody Museum. Then, following the advice of microbiologist and friend Richard Bowman, Blackley noninvasively inserted nutrients into the containers, awakened some of the yeast, and then extracted the liquid that resulted. He sent most of what resulted off to labs for analysis but kept one sample for his bread-making.
Man on Hoverboard Crosses English Channel
August 4, 2019
A French inventor has crossed the English Channel on a jet-powered hoverboard. Making his second attempt, Franky Zapata achieved the feat in 22 minutes, flying the 22 miles from Sangatte, near Calais, France, to the United Kingdom, landing in Saint Margaret's Bay, close to Dover. He flew at speeds reaching 106 miles per hour. He stopped once during the trip, landing on a platform in the Channel to refuel. Powering the craft are five small jet engines, contained within a backpack. Zapata's refueling stop mid-flight required a change in backpack. A previous attempt at the cross-Channel flight in July stopped when Zapata missed the landing platform and fell into the sea. The new refueling platform was larger than the old one.
Lost Alexander the Great Sculpture Found during Museum Cleaning
August 4, 2019
Archaeologists in Greece have found an ancient sculpture of the renowned conqueror Alexander the Great in a storage room at a museum. The sculpture had been stuffed between cabinets in the warehouses of the Archaeological Museum in Vergina, a town in the northern part of the country. Archaeologists found the sculpture many years ago near the town and was presumably forgotten about. Staff cleaning the museum's storage rooms found the sculpture, which had been crammed between crates that contained pottery.
Saudi Women Allowed Travel Freedom
August 1, 2019
Women in Saudi Arabia have more freedom to travel, as part of the government's Vision 2030 initiative. Among the changes announced by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman were a relaxing of the requirement that women over 21 have a male "guardian" when traveling, both domestically and internationally. In addition, women over 21 can now apply for a passport without having to be sponsored by a man. The travel changes will take effect by August 31, the government said. Other changes recently announced include these:
- Women can now open businesses by themselves and run them without having to have a man's support or permission.
- Women have the right to equal pay for equal work and cannot be fired because they are pregnant.
- Women can be recognized as a guardian to children who are not of legal age.
- Women can now officially register marriage, childbirth, and divorce.
Solar-powered Yacht to Bring Teen Climate Activist to U.N. Summit
July 29, 2019
The teenage climate activist sensation Greta Thunberg will leave her native Sweden and travel to a U.N. global warming summit in New York, and she will be going by boat. Thunberg, who is now 16, soared to international recognition in 2018 by going not to school but to Parliament in Stockholm to protest. She has since led the charge for events around the world, including a series of Climatestrike days, in which students and adults in cities on most continents followed Thunberg's example and spent school hours protesting against the pace of climate change. She is not attending school this year in order to focus fully on her campaign to raise awareness about climate change. She does not fly as a protest of the large amount of carbon emissions generated by airplanes (the same reason that she refuses to travel on cruise ships). She will be sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in the solar-powered racing boat Malizia II. Underwater turbines also power the 60-foot yacht. Thunberg's seaborne trip, which is to begin in mid-August, is expected to take two weeks. Also on her schedule are events in Canada and Mexico.The New York summit takes place on September 23.She has announced that she will also attend the meetings of the annual U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will occur this year in December in Santiago, Chile. She intends to get there by train and bus.
Roman-era Dig in Britain Unearths Joke Pen
July 29, 2019
A 2000-year-old pen with a joke inscribed on it is part of a find during excavations in London recently. The pen is really an iron stylus–what passed for a writing implement in A.D. 70, to which the stylus dates–and the inscription on stylus is an example of the kind of mirth that would have been common in Roman times but also hasn't lost luster for today's jokesters: "I have come from the city. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me. I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able [to give] as generously as the is way is long [and] as my purse is empty." A team digging on behalf of the Museum of London Archaeology found the pen and many artifacts during excavations on the bank of the river Walbrook. The excavations, which were near Cannon Street station, took place from 2010 to 2014.
Canadian Coin Shaped Like Country
July 15, 2019
Canada has added a new edge–several, actually–to the national currency tradition with a coin shaped like the country. In honor of Canada Day, which is on July 1, the Royal Canadian Mint released a limited edition coin shaped like the geographical outline of Canada. On the face are animals to represent the country's 13 provinces and territories. On the obverse is Queen Elizabeth. The Mint printed only 2,000 of the "Canadian Landscape" coins, which retailed at $339 Canadian (US$260).
Intact Viking Boat Burial Found in Sweden
July 9, 2019
Archaeologists in Sweden have found two Viking-era ship burials in Gamla Uppsala, one of which contains the remains of a person, a horse, and a dog. Crews were digging around the site of a medieval cellar and well in order to create space for a modern building when they discovered the two boat burials. In one grave, the remains of the man were in the stern and were intact. The animal remains were in the bow of the boat. Also accompanying the man were a sword, a shield, a spear, and a large decorative comb. The other grave had been damaged and revealed little. Few of the dead during Viking times were buried in this manner, so the find is unusual, said Anton Seiler, the lead archaeologist. Nearly always, the person so buried was from an upper societal class. Most such burials contained jewelry or precious stones as well. Also unusual was that the man's remains were found intact; it was far more common for Vikings to cremate their dead.
Medieval Chess Piece Bought for $6 Sells for $929,000
July 2, 2019
A medieval chess piece has sold at nearly $1 million at auction; the seller paid $6 for it when he bought it 55 years. The object was the Lewis Warder, part of the Lewis Chessmen set, most of which is in the British Museum. The 3.5-inch-high piece depicts a bearded person wielding a sword and holding a shield. It was the medieval equivalent of a rook, or castle. The seller was a descendant of the person who bought the chess piece for $6 in 1964 and, unaware of its worth, kept it in a drawer. When the owner died, his family asked the auction house Sotheby's to assess the piece and then put the item up for sale. It was the first time that a Lewis piece has gone up for auction. The buyer, who remained anonymous, paid $929,000.