Cannibals & Their Lightning God


Two things the gringa loves most are science and history. When the two collide I believe I am in Paradise.  Add the spice of controversy and there is simply no going back for the gringa. Archaeologists in Greece have made this dream combination come true for the gringa.

Let us travel back 3,000 years to the bleak mountaintop of Mount Lykaion in southern Greece, which some ancient Greeks believed to be the birthplace of Zeus, rather than Crete. This is the revered resting place of an altar featuring a grisly design of sheep bone construction. This is where the religious leaders of Greece hoped to pacify their god of gods, Zeus himself. Offered up are the bloody sacrifices of what one would expect to be sheep or goats, considering what the altar is made of. Think again dear readers.

For those schooled in literature and philosophy, when Greece is mentioned, you hearken back to the days of Plato and Socrates. You believe these sophisticated thinkers of Greece gave birth to civilized society as we know it. As you cruise about town, passing homes with columned porches, you remind yourself that this bit of architecture was passed down from an exceptionally cultured society. Or not. Not when the skeletal remains of a teenage boy near Zeus’ altar indicates that young, human sacrifices were being bled out on top of a table made from sheep bones in efforts to gain favor with a god that might rain down lightning if he got pissed.

But Mount Lykaion is historically linked to Greek athletic festivals, isn’t it? Isn’t it one of the ancient sites with a stadium and hippodrome, all indicators of a culture that appreciated athletic competitions? The gringa wonders, was death the price for losing or, could it have been the price for winning, or, could it have been the “opening ceremony” after which a priest turns around and commands, “Let the games begin!” Who really knows at this time because this is a recent discovery.

And some scholars are not too happy about revelations of human sacrifice as part of ancient Greek religious ceremonies. I mean, after all, Greece way back then liked to call rival foreign nations nasty names like barbarians and cannibals. But, really, who do they think they are fooling? Remember, Socrates asked Adeimantos if he had heard the latest gossip about religious zealouts feasting on the remains of their human sacrifice. Socrates includes a gruesome description of a terrible recipe of mixing the entrails of different victims which, if ingested by some hapless cannibal, transforms them into a wolf. Considering that Adeimantos had already heard the story, it seems that the nasty religious practices going on atop Mount Lykaion were no big secret among the ancient Greeks. It’s just big news to us.

So what kind of science goes into the decision that the remains of this young man belong to a specific era and culture? Scientists have to analyze the composition of the altar itself. Considered an “ash altar”, the gringa’s depiction of it being constructed in the fashion of, say, a dining room table and made completely out of sheep bones is not an altogether clear picture of what scientists are dealing with. Imagine, if you will, that ancient priests led sheep and goats to a sacred place, slit their throat, then burned the remains. Each sacrifice slaughtered and burned atop the ones that went before. Eventually a mound of ash accumulates and becomes a ritual platform. At Mount Lykaion the mound was almost five feet high.

So, the scientists use their handy-dandy equipment to measure remains of bones to see which animal (or human) they belong to. If human, they measure the pelvis to see if it is male or female. Then they need to determine the age of the remains. The first thing that comes to mind is ye aulde carbon dating technique. But there are other methods that can be used on other objects and archaeological sites to determine age:

  • Stratigraphical: The science of geology comes into play with a method that relies on the accumulation of soil to calculate the passage of time. The premise is that the area where people live results in layers of earth becoming deposited. Gives a whole new meaning to the saying that a particular area sure has “built up”.
  • Astronomical Chronology: Astronomers have used their knowledge to study the fluctuations of solar radiation to calculate when ice ages have occurred. The common argument is that 5 have occurred.
  • Dendrochronology: This science was pioneered in 1904 by A.E. Douglass who created the technique of analyzing tree rings to determine not only the age of a tree but to find indicators of drought, disease and hearty growing seasons.

So, if history, science and drama are appealing to someone you know, remind them that there are still exciting discoveries to be made, particularly in Greece. For young people who long for the curiosities that are found in archaeological digs, remind them that not every ancient puzzle has been solved. Along with history, they should also have a strong foundation in STEM studies.  And lucky for me this archaeological site has its own website keeping fascinated individuals like myself up-to-date on their latest discoveries. Because the gringa really wants to know just went on up there.

Sources:

www.greekmythology.com

www.biblicalarchaeology.org

www.oocities.org

lykaionexcavation.org

Image Source: tse4.mm.bing.net

 

 

 

Ceres, Dawn, Pyramids & Craters


NASA’s spacecraft Dawn has been on a mission to the planet Ceres which is located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Compared to Earth’s diameter of almost 8,000 miles, Ceres seems tiny with a diameter of less than 600 miles. It is so small that despite its official designation as a minor-planet, there are still those who will call it an asteroid or a dwarf planet. To put it in perspective, the entire surface of Ceres is about the same size as India or Argentina. Whatever the moniker, the dear reader gets the point. Still, UFO and ET enthusiasts like to believe that Ceres was once home to an intelligent otherworldly species that liked to build pyramids. The gringa can only say, “Um, not.”

Why is the gringa so sure of herself in raining on their parade? Let’s take a look at some of the geographical and geological characteristics of this teensy-weensy little world:

Craters

First of all, just take an up close and personal look at the pitiful pitted little thing. It has more impact craters than an eight-year-old ginger gringa had freckles. It seems pretty obvious to me that with global environmental disasters happening on a regular basis, it is very unlikely that life would flourish in such a place. Not to mention any surviving life having the opportunity to pursue advancements.

Elements

Ceres, in many ways, is pretty much a clone of our desolate moon, an enormous rock with a lot of ice. With no evidence or traces of ever having vegetation, any ETs most assuredly would have starved to death. Unless, of course, it was a civilization that could survive on the nourishment of clay seasoned with ammonia and a splash of salt and iron.

Environment

It’s highly unlikely that water as we Earthlings know it ever existed on Ceres. Although there is alot of ice, enough even to indicate the possibility of an ocean at one time, it wouldn’t have been a salty brine like we are accustomed to, inhabited with sharks and whales and penguins and such. It most likely would have been a caustic sea of ammonia and sulfuric acid. So, unless those ETs had skin of steel and enjoyed a dip in antifreeze, any recreational activities of a Ceres civilization would have been strictly limited to land-lubbing.

Details, Details, Details

If the gringa has sufficiently convinced you that no one was building pyramids on Ceres way back when, let us move on to the details that are still interesting despite lacking any ET spin.

In the late 1700s Johann Elert Bode suspected a planet existed between Mars and Jupiter. However, the official discovery of Ceres is credited to Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801 who first claimed it was a comet. It was later classified as a planet but then redesignated as an asteroid in the 1850s. It seems scientists still haven’t made up their minds because it can be called any number of names when referred to by different people. The gringa doesn’t so much care. It makes no difference to me. Ceres is just Ceres, a planet named after the Roman goddess of agriculture despite the fact that not a single ear of corn or blade of grass has ever been grown on its surface.

Over thousands of years meteors and comets have slammed into Ceres, creating hundreds of craters. A few of them are distinctly bright, containing either minerals with reflective properties or light reflecting off of ice. It is theorized that underneath the crusty and dusty surface of Ceres is a layer of water and ice that, by volume, is more than the fresh water found on Earth. This has led to scientists entertaining the notion that if living organisms once lived in the sea of Ceres, it is possible that through the many cosmic impacts throughout history some biological material may have been ejected into space and made its way to Earth. So, ETs on Ceres? The gringa thinks not. ETs from Ceres on Earth? It’s possible.

Viewing

Ceres is too dim to be seen with the naked eye except on extremely dark sky conditions. The best way to peek at Ceres is through a pair of binoculars or a telescope. The best time to see Ceres is fast approaching, from August through April. Observers in mid northern latitudes should look toward the low southern sky after nightfall. It is best to view on a night when the Moon is in waning stages. Look toward the Sagittarius constellation and Ceres will arc slowly westward and approach the border of the Capricorn constellation.

If you have a fancy telescope you can enter coordinates and the telescope will do the hard work of locating and tracking for you. But if you only have binoculars, it is still easy enough to locate and track Ceres so don’t be discouraged.   For some help in finding Ceres, online astronomy clubs are a great resource.  The gringa wishes you the greatest success in taking a peek at Ceres!

Sources:

www.nasa.gov

ufoholic.com

www.astroleague.org

Image Source:  www.skyandtelescope.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Were Ancient Martians Vegetable Farmers?


If a petrified cauliflower garden was discovered on Mars would that indicate that ancient Martians were vegetable farmers? Again, images transmitted by Mars rover Spirit have ancient alien conspiracy theorists reveling in the possibility. Unfortunately, unless ancient Martians enjoyed a crisp, tasty salad of silica, no, they were not vegetable farmers.

Near what NASA has dubbed “Home Plate”, Spirit took some pictures of interesting mineral formations that looked like cauliflower. Now, just because something looks like something doesn’t mean that it is that something. Think of all the little fishies in the sea that believe they are about to snag a little morsel for dinner only to realize, much too late, it was actually a bio-lure attached to the head of a deep sea angler fish who is about to be enjoying some dinner of his own. See, although that glowing tidbit looked like food, it was actually a dangerous decoy and not at all what it seemed. So, no, the gringa does not believe that these cauliflower looking formations are actually petrified cauliflower. But, still, is there any exciting news attached to their existence?

According to researchers from Arizona State University, although the mineral formations are no indicator of ancient Martian farmers, they could still very well have been created by alien life. Just not the kind of alien life that walks about, flies in spaceships and probes your brain. We are talking about microscopic alien life in the form of microbes. Which, I guess, technically speaking, under the right conditions could get inside a human brain for a “brain probe”, technically speaking, of course.

Now these silica protrusions were first reported to Earthlings by Spirit in 2008. Why has it taken eight years for the media to find something interesting? Well, science takes its own sweet time in research and drawing the right conclusions. Part of this research involves studying similar mineral formations here on Earth to get some local answers. One place to do that is in the high altitude Andean Atacama Desert of Chile which has some shapes that look like a mirror image of what was found on Mars. Could the microbes that created the Martian formations have traveled to Earth and duplicated their work here? Is that a sign of a cosmic connection between our two planets or is it common for microbes to create silica based cauliflower everywhere? Are conditions simply present in lots of places remote from one another for this to happen?

Scientists Steven Ruff and Jack Farmer, who penned an article published by Smithsonian Magazine, believe that the Martian petrified cauliflower may be proof that at one time, way back when, Mars was teeming with the kind of life commonly found in the vicinity of geysers, even living within the geysers themselves. After their investigation of Chile’s cauliflower, the work of artistic microbes who have a penchant for sculptures resembling vegetables, they linked the microbes responsible to some ancient microbes found in New Zealand that were definitely from out of this world. More silica cauliflower cousins have also been found in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

So maybe, just maybe, some space traveling microbes made their way here from Mars aeons ago. And the message they have left behind to get our attention are rock formations that look like cauliflower. Does that sound crazy or what? How would ancient microscopic Martians have ever known humans would ever develop the habit of even eating cauliflower and decide that would be their key way of making first contact or leaving behind a letter of introduction? The gringa appreciates the zeal of scientists but methinks this is all just an accident. Mars probably got slammed by an enormous asteroid, comet or meteor which sent chunks of Mars shooting out into space and one of these chunks happened to make its way to Earth and, bing, bang, boom, a kazillion years later we have cauliflower rocks just like Mars.

If that’s the case, there’s no telling what other bits of Mars may have made their way here and be right under our very noses. It makes rock collecting take on a whole new meaning. That little bit of quartz or gypsum you collect and stuff in a cubby hole or box today may prove to be of galactic origins tomorrow.

More interesting to the gringa than the thought of beings similar to us living on Mars long ago is the implication of space scraps making their way hither and yon from the vast reaches of space to finally land upon Earth. Who knows?! Maybe NOTHING organic on Earth actually originated here. Maybe our planet is a virtual junkyard of the Universe, with little bits from here and there surviving and growing up into what we have today. Hey, stranger things have happened!

Sources:  www.nasa.gov

www.yahoo.news

www.smithsonianmag.com

Image source:  www.americaspace.com

 

 

Biggest Pyramid Scheme Ever – Maybe


Do the gringa’s dear readers remember Sam, the big ball hunter of Bosnia? Well, the gringa found the subject of ancient big balls so fascinating, she continued to do a bit of digging around (pardon the pun) in Sam’s archaeological projects. Ol’ Sam, aka Semir Osmanagic, seems to have made quite a notorious name for himself in the scientific community where geometric relics are concerned. The Indiana Jones of the Balkans has also claimed to have discovered pyramids in Bosnia.

First reported shortly after his announcement of his discovery in 2001, serious archaeologists where quick to label his find nothing short of buffoonery. Sam, true to form, soldiered on despite his naysayers.  He is fully convinced he has discovered Europe’s first ancient pyramids and it begins with Bosnia’s Visocica hill that lies close to Visoko, a Bosnian town almost twenty miles northwest of Sarajevo.

Visoko was once the capital of Bosnia during medieval times. Roman and Illyrian ruins can be found nearby as well as Neolithic relics. Perhaps, then, thousands of years ago, it was a thriving capital city noted by architecture similar to ancient Egypt.

Dubbed by Sam as the “Bosnian Pyramid of the Sun”, excavation began in an official project in 2006. On hand, in addition to Sam’s international archaeological team, were tourists, curious locals, journalists and, interestingly enough, beauty contestants from the Miss Bosnia pageant.

As days and weeks passed, volunteers and crew members removed enough earth to reveal what they claim to be a system of tunnels. Sam reported the tunnels to be constructed of sandstone blocks and man-made mortar. His best estimate on the age of the pyramid and tunnel network is around 2,500 years old. The project had not discovered any bones, pottery, charcoal or other artifacts that might have been linked to any ancient Bosnian civilization.

As tourism to the site increased, Sam increased the size of the site for visitors to explore. Other hills were soon named: Pyramid of the Moon, Pyramid of the Earth, Pyramid of Love and Pyramid of the Dragon. Locals say business is booming with cash laden tourists buying all sorts of souvenirs, eating at the cafes, and staying overnight at the town’s inns. How fortunate for a region that has struggled to recover from the brutalities of the 1990s. Sam thinks this positive turn of events is just what Bosnians not only need, but also deserve after enduring such suffering.

Sam recognizes that the number of archaeologists that scoff at his discovery is legion. Some have even attempted to get his dig shut down. Others worry about how it will harm the integrity of “real” archaeology. Then there are those who worry that there may be true historical value to be studied in the area but that Sam’s “wacky” pyramid scheme could inadvertently destroy the evidence as he focuses on “creating” ancient pyramids.

The press has given him mixed reviews. Among those getting on the Bosnian bandwagon are ABC, Associated Press, Boston Globe, MSNBC, and the Washington Post. Archaeology magazine, however, criticized the press for being gullible. Mark Rose, the editor, attempted to smear Sam’s reputation by poking fun of his claim that Mayans could have been the ancestors of the mysterious Atlantis civilization. Now, the gringa has seen theories bandied about regarding this and language is usually the link. That is a possibility I could find plausible.

However, Rose went further and accused Sam of believing that Atlanteans were space aliens from the star cluster Pleiades. Here, the gringa just shrugs. The problem with such an accusation is that there is no evidence one way or another of the existence of Atlanteans and therefore no way to prove or disprove their ethnic (or planetary) origins. I believe, then, that is an unfair accusation because once accused, a person has no way to defend themselves wrong or right. To me, it is an empty argument. I don’t dismiss the possibility of something I can neither prove or disprove as being a “crackpot” consideration. I just shrug and say, “Who knows? Big deal.”

Despite all of this, Sam remains standing strong against the haters and insists that the pyramids are, indeed, quite real. The Bosnian government also supports him completely and in 2011 gave permission for Sam to thoroughly investigate the hills/pyramids. Their reasoning is that they expect archaeologists to criticize Sam’s discovery. To accept Bosnian pyramids, they have to reject what they have been taught as traditional history. That is a bitter pill many will find too hard to swallow. The gringa understands.

Traditional history attests that 2,500 years ago ancient Bosnians were living in tents or caves and cooking by campfire. Evidence to this effect has been found in ancient tools discovered in exploration of caves and suspected settlement areas. To claim that man-made monuments on the scale of pyramids were being built just seems outrageous. Sam knows he must deliver extraordinary evidence to change the minds of skeptics. The gringa needs to understand the evidence that is available.

As excavation progressed, the “hill” took on the shape of a stepped pyramid. Many geologists, archaeologists and scientists of related studies conducted their own examination of the site. They concluded that the shape of the hill is naturally occurring, despite its resemblance to a stepped pyramid. The formation is called a flatiron formation. The European Association of Archaeologists went a step further and published  a press release claiming the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated for financial and political gain.

In direct contradiction to these scientific professionals are others who have thrown in their support of Sam’s pyramid scheme. The Geodetic Institute, located in Sarajevo, sent out a surveyor. His measurements reported that the Pyramid of the Moon is a step pyramid with three triangular sides and a flat top. The sides are oriented toward cardinals points  making it highly unlikely this is an accidental occurrence of nature. When satellite images were thermally analyzed, they determined that the pyramid structures’ pattern of heat loss showed that it occurred more rapidly than the surrounding natural hills. This gave way to the theory that the hills suspected to be pyramids are man-made and containing voids such as chambers and access tunnels.

Sam theorizes that ancient Illyrians constructed the pyramids between 12,000 – 500 BC and construction could have been ongoing over a period of time spanning multiple cultures and civilizations. A tunnel system spanning over two miles connects the three main pyramids. Sea levels would have been 1,500 feet lower than today so, although the tunnels contain water now, they would have been high and dry thousands of years ago.

During medieval times, a fortress sat atop Visocica. Experts who stand firm as Sam’s critics claim the ruins he is excavating actually belong to this ancient Roman observation post. The gringa leans more toward this theory than an ancient pyramid considering the purported age of the pyramid. If the pyramid was constructed between 12,000-500 BC, this part of Europe would have been covered by a sheet of ice almost one mile thick. Where would they get the stones? If they found the stones and required ingredients for mortar, how would they have been able to make the foundation stones connect with the earth? They would need to excavate nearly one mile of ice over a span of several square miles to construct multiple pyramids. Then they would have to dig a tunnel system into a frozen earth.

Now, I understand the desire for fame and glory. The gringa also understands the desire for a people, impoverished by years of civil war, to take advantage of a profitable project. I’m not convinced these are genuine, man-made pyramids that are thousands of years old. I do think they are newly man-made pyramids constructed atop ancient Roman ruins. And even though archaeological purists would scream at just how wrong that is, the gringa once again shrugs and says, “What’s done is done.” Now I’m more concerned with the humanity factor of the locals who are alive today. They would like to eat well, live comfortably and have the means to educate their children. If a crazy pyramid scheme can do all that and everyone is aware of the controversy, who cares? It can only be a hoax if the criticisms are suppressed. As long as they are openly published, it is buyer beware. Everyone is free to believe what they want to believe. And I still like Sam even if he is off his nut.

Sources: en.wikipedia.org, www.smithsonianmag.com

Image Credit: news.nationalgeographic.com 

 

 

 

 

Suicide Forest


Every weekday the gringa looks forward to 4pm.  That’s when my oldest son calls me as he drives home from work. He is a bit of a political revolutionary, young, passionate, ready to change the world. Although he loves to talk politics, current events and debate solutions, the very first thing he asks me is, “How was your day?” I usually tell him boring, just the way I like it since I am a “no drama mama”.

Although he doesn’t read my blog, he always asks me what I’ve been writing about. In a recent conversation, when I told him about my underwater Japanese mystery city post, he said, “You should write about the Suicide Forest.” I had never heard of such a thing so, of course, it totally piqued the gringa’s interest. Although I usually like to keep my stuff focused on science, mysteries and the interestingly inane, a dark, macabre cultural piece has begun a creative itch that simply must be scratched.

In Japan there is Aokigahara which, roughly translated, means “Sea of Trees”. Sounds romantic, right? Well, it is more commonly known as the Suicide Forest and is situated near the northwest base of Mount Fuji, covering almost 14 square miles of raw woodland. Thick with foliage and set against the backdrop of a majestic volcano, it would seem to be the perfect spot for a picturesque photo safari for a tourist until you realize what the locals do here, the hike of no return.

Why is Aokigahara such a select place for suicide? Perhaps it is because the undergrowth is so dense a corpse can go undiscovered and undisturbed. Local officials estimate that roughly 100 persons kill themselves in this forest annually. However, because many go undetected, the suicide victim count could be much higher. Despite instituting prevention methods such as surveillance cameras  and posting encouraging signs throughout the paths that have messages reminding folks how precious their life is to loved ones, Japanese people determined to take their own lives still succeed in their mission.

The favorite method of self-inflicted death is hanging. However, ingesting poison runs a close second and then there’s option number three, a drug overdose.  But why here? Officials point to a popular romantic tragedy written by Japanese author Seicho Matsumoto. His 1960 novel  depicts a failed love story. The heroine ultimately ends her life in the Sea of Trees. She chose the Sea of Trees, according to the story, because, referenced within the tale by the author, she reads the book The Complete Suicide Manual which describes the forest as the “perfect place to die”. This novel has been found with many of the victims.

Every year volunteers gather to roam the thick stands of old trees and deep undergrowth to search for human remains. Officials have ceased to publicize the results of these grisly corpse hunts. Curious people like the gringa can only refer to earlier published reports that clearly indicate an average of 75-100 bodies returned to families for burial annually.

In the West, suicide is stigmatized. This is greatly due to our religious conditioning. Even if a person is not a practicing Jew or Christian, Western culture still considers suicide as anything but honorable. Some consider it self-murder. In fact, that is how it is considered by much of Western law. It is against the law to kill a human being, including yourself. Many religious sects believe a suicide victim’s remains have been desecrated by the act. Such bodies are not allowed to be buried in hallowed church cemeteries. But suicide is considered very differently in Japan.

In the Japan of old, ubasute was considered an honorable solution to ignoble suffering. In other words, desperate times called for desperate measures. If years of famine or drought rolled around, a head of a household would have to consider the effect it was having on his family. How many mouths were there to feed? How much food was there to go around? In order to survive, the least productive family member with no future, basically the old folks, would be led up into the mountains and abandoned to their natural fate of a slow death by exposure. Whether or not ubasute was ever widely practiced is irrelevant. All that matters is that it is a strong feature of Japanese historical myths and legends which has helped to shape their cultural practices and beliefs. Suicide is noble if it preserves the honor, integrity and prosperity of the family.

Although ubasute may be the stuff of legends, noble Samurai suicides are well documented throughout Japan’s feudal history.  It was the honorable way to go out. Seppuku culture views it as a way of taking responsibility of a situation that has gone bad.

Because suicide is considered a virtuous solution and is not stigmatized the way it is in Western culture, Japan ranks the world’s leader in suicide. When the entire world became mired in an economic crisis in 2008, over 2,000 Japanese chose suicide over living a life of financial ruin.

Should you, like the gringa, find the disturbing allure of Aokigahara irresistible and mark it as a place to visit and satisfy your own curiosity, or perhaps meditate in an effort to bring peace to a place that must be saturated with anguish, there are a few things you may want to know before you arrive:

  • Hauntings – It is said that the Sea of Trees is filled with yurei, or, ghosts. And these are not your average ghosts. They are mourning and vengeful. They desire company, your company. Legends go that they attempt to lure you off the beaten path so that you become lost in the wilderness and die like the ubasute victims of old.
  • Camping – Overnight camping is allowed. Be aware that local forest patrols are trained to consider tents as a sign that someone is taking their time about contemplating suicide. Don’t be surprised if a ranger shows up and begins conversing with gentle words of affirmation and encouragement. If he suspects you are engaged in a mental suicide debate, he will probably urge you to pack up and leave.
  • Tape – As you explore the forest on nature hikes, you may see tape looped in the branches of trees and bushes. These are the signs left behind to mark the path of corpse searchers in their attempt to not become lost.
  • Demons – What is attributed to demonic interference by local legend is more likely the result of geology. The area is rich in iron which affects magnetics. GPS systems, ye olde compasses and cellphone are pretty much useless. If you can’t navigate by the stars, for heaven’s sake don’t get off the trail!
  • Be Prepared – Like a good boy scout who is prepared for anything, mentally brace yourself for the very real possibility that you could stumble across a decomposing body, skeletal remains or personal effects of a victim of the forest.
  • More Than Death – Despite the ghastliness of the Sea of Trees being called Suicide Forest, there is still much more to be appreciated. Don’t let a macabre history put you off as a tourist. There is, of course, the fantastic opportunity to be near Mount Fuji. Great photo opportunities also await on the lava plateau, ancient centuries-old trees and the bewitching ice-scape of the Narusawa Ice Cave.

The gringa would love to go there and contemplate respectfully. Although I am a bit of a prankster and once staged a tragic fall down a rocky cliff when the caveman and I hiked about the Smoky Mountains, I’m certain this knowledge of Aokigahara will keep me in a more subdued state of mind.

Source:  www.mentalfloss.com

image: www.jennyjinya.deviantart.com

 

 

Japan’s Underwater City of the Sea Gods


The gringa’s dear readers may find musings of the lost city of Atlantis as fascinating as the gringa. What if it has actually been discovered off the coast of Japan? Hey, stranger things have happened! Although it is more likely that it is a lost city from Japan’s ancient Jomon civilization, sunk into the ocean thousands of years ago after a cataclysmic earthquake, tsunami or climate upheaval after the last ice age, it is still fun to entertain fantastical theories as well as explore the real science behind this archaeological mystery.

Originally discovered by dive instructor Kihachiro Aratake in 1986, these amazing formations have come to be known as the Yonaguni Monument. This massive underwater complex, dated to have hailed around 8000BC, can be found off the coastline of the island Yonaguni which is part of Japan’s Ryukyu island chain. Extending over an area of almost 1000 feet x 500 feet, the complex consists of ten structures, some appearing to be in the shape of animals as well as to contain glyphs of human characters and animals. Roads and retaining walls can be seen connecting the structure in the pattern of a well designed city.

For decades scuba diving tourists, as well as scuba diving archaeologists, have explored ancient ruins of a castle, majestic archway, five temples, a step pyramid and a massive arena. As the gringa only gets to explore pictures of the ruins, it is still pretty obvious even to my untrained eye that these are man-made. Yet there are still scientists who prefer to believe these are natural formations that were enhanced by ancient people into functional structures. This really aggravates the gringa when scientists wave aside the obvious because they just don’t want to admit that ancient civilizations may have been far more advanced than modern “experts” have traditionally been taught to believe.

Just as the west has Aesop’s fables, Japanese culture has their own popular fables, myths and legends. The Mu civilization is a fabled Pacific people. The ancient tale explains that they disappeared under the waves of the sea. In 1996 Masaaki Kimura, professor of marine geology from Japan’s University of the Ryukyus, began his own research to see if this is the long lost home of the Mu. He, too, was of the belief that Yonaguni was most likely a man-manipulated complex of natural formations. However, he was completely converted after his first dive.

Kimura identified quarry marks on many of the megalithic stones. And, since nature does not normally lay out large stones in symmetrical patterns and create many stones with right angles, the gringa tends to agree with Kimura’s conclusion. He studied carvings that were distinctly human faces and animals. The style was clearly indicative of Asian art. He refers to Egypt’s famous sphinx as he described one underwater sculpture of what seems to be a king. A glyph resembling a horse and a painted relief resembling a cow are still discernible making it apparent that this was not a city of mermaids and mermen living under the sea but was actually a thriving, above-ground metropolis at one time.

This area of the Pacific is famous for earthquakes and tsunamis. In the spring of 1771 the largest tsunami ever recorded struck Yonaguni. With a height of well over 130 feet, a catastrophic oceanic wave such as this would have been powerful enough to blast this ancient city well below the surface of the Pacific. Also, 10,000 years ago the sea level would have been more than 100 feet lower than it is today. The geographical area that the Yonaguni complex sits on would, at the time of its existence, have been well above the sea and on dry ground, a coastal city. A land bridge would have also existed connecting the chain of islands with the mainland making it entirely possible for humans to settle there with their domesticated animals.

Although some experts date the ruins to be about 10,000 years old, Kimura’s estimate gives the complex a much younger age. He suspects it may be a 5,000 year old civilization. Either way, this still places the city’s existence during the time of the Jomon civilization. Evidence to be more specific about the age of the structures is hard to come by. Existing beneath the ocean means that things like pottery or wooden objects have long since decayed and disappeared forever. There is, however, the chance of analysis of the paint used on the cow to get a bit more specific at pinning down a particular century.

Jomon culture during the timeframe considered for these structures can be divided into two separate eras:

  • Incipient Jomon (10,500-8000BC)
  • Initial Jomon (8000-5000BC)

Incipient Jomon civilization has left behind archaeological remains that indicate that the Jomon people were primarily hunter gatherers who produced pottery identified by their pointed bottoms and corded markings.  The following period, Initial Jomon, was noted by rising sea levels and global temperatures. The land bridge between the islands and the mainland would have disappeared. Diet would have transitioned to primarily sea based fare and the development of agriculture and farm production animals since natural resources were limited on the island. Large refuse mounds consisting of large amounts of shells discovered on archeological digs on the islands  attests to this. Remains of stone religious figurines and tools such as knives and axes have also been discovered in island digs and dated to the same period as the underwater city.

Historians describe the culture of the Jomon era to be very complex and in the early stages of organized agricultural develpment. Similarities with Asia’s ancient northeastern cultures as well as the ancient indigenous peoples of the Americas can be detected in many of the artifacts discovered. The Jomon preferred to live in coastal or river communities in homes that were sunken into the earth. Ironic, then, that one of their greatest cities eventually sunk into the ocean.

Although the gringa is unable to scuba dive because of epilepsy, I am certain that at least a few dear readers could join the many tourist divers and send me pictures and a recount of your adventure. During winter months, shark enthusiasts sink beneath the waves to observe the hammerheads that frequent the area.  However, if sharks aren’t your thing, and you prefer the mystery of history, you can always take a detour to the ruins and share your thrills here on the gringa’s blog.

Since the late 90s the underwater city has become increasingly popular among tourists. Famous writers and photographers have braved the waves to record their own bit of history. The Discovery Channel and National Geographic have performed their own expeditions. So, if any dear reader does get the opportunity for a dive of their own, you must drop the gringa a line here and share your own exciting story.

Sources:

National Geographic

www.mic.com

www.news.com.au

Hidden Archaeology

www.yonaguni.ws

www.britannica.com

www.metmuseum.org

Wikipedia

Image source: Source: Hidden Archeology

 

 

 

Pardon Me, Is That An Asteroid On Your Finger?


The oldest rocks on Earth are zircon crystals. These highly refractive gemstones are often used to imitate diamonds or cubic zirconias in jewelry. Geologists have now announced the results of a study that has determined that zircons are quite possibly remnants of an ancient asteroid collision with Earth.

Other than simply having the pleasure of knowing you may have a bit of outer space asteroid glittering on your finger or about your ears, neck or wrist, what good is this information? Well, for one thing it dispels the previous theory that zircons were created by tectonic plate upheavals. But, more importantly, it helps scientists understand climate change. Yes, you heard the gringa right, climate change. A rock’s origins can often indicate what was going on with water on the planet at the time the rock was formed. Since zircon’s are produced by asteroids, Earthlings can also learn about the part of the cosmos that it originated from.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin (Ireland) collected crystals from an impact crater that is considered “young”. Scientists wanted to compare the “young” crystals with older crystals from the Sudbury crater in Ontario, Canada. Sudbury is the best preserved impact crater on Earth and is about two billion years old.

The samples were taken to Stockholm’s “Swedish Museum of Natural History”.  Comparisons  concluded that the older crystals were the same as the younger ones. This then disproved the argument that the ancient zircon crystals could not have formed at the time the impact occurred. So, now we know that they could and probably did, making zircons the oldest rocks on Earth, as old as four billion years old which is the age of the oldest impact crater on our planet. The researchers also believe this supports the narrative that early Earth saw many more asteroid impacts than in its later life.

So, what this new determination tells mankind is that about four billion years ago an asteroid slammed into Earth. The crystals were able to form because water was present. Best estimates place the Earth’s age at four and a half billion years old so logic would assume then that it has always been a watery planet.  And what’s the big deal about an old, watery Earth?

Well, for one thing, water was required for life as we know it today to have evolved. But, the new discoveries about the crystals still does not solve the mystery of how life originated on planet Earth in the first place. And there are many theories on this subject that argue their own merits. Here are a few:

Electrified Primordial Soup – This school of thought believes that in the beginning of Earth’s life as a planet there was a life-giving electrical shock to the planet, such as lightning, that interacted with the ammonia, hydrogen and water on the planet. Lightning would deliver more than just a jolting electrical shock. The atmosphere, being filled with ammonia, hydrogen and water, would react with the electricity and create amino acids and sugars. These are the building blocks of microbial life.

Clay – A Scottish chemist has offered the theory that mineral crystals in clay is where all life began. He believes it is possible that clay, possibly at the bottom of the sea, was the perfect surface for molecules to organize themselves into patterns of amino acids and proteins which would later become DNA. Once the DNA evolved independently it no longer needed the clay medium but could organize itself on its own.

Hydrothermal Vents – Even now ocean biologists discover ecosystems surrounding hydrothermal vents deep within the Earth’s oceans that are teeming with life. Concentrations of molecules and minerals exist with the rocks surrounding these vents interacting with the hydrogen rich molecules provided by the vents action.

Panspermia – The hitchhiking life surviving the impact of an asteroid with Earth is yet one more possibility. If this theory is true, then the puzzle of the origins of life is not really to be worked out here on Earth, but to be solved by traveling the cosmos to find where it came from out there.

Although the many theories of how life originate on Earth are quite varied in their ideas, they all have one common thread… water. That would mean if the original microbes that evolved into humans over billions of years originally came from somewhere in outer space, to discover or “home planet”, Earthlings have to study planets that either have water now or had it at some time in their own history. By understanding this, a person then can understand the inspiration behind every space mission and why the space agencies of the world want to travel ever farther. They are not looking for little green men. They are looking for little molecules of water or ice. And one day, we may all call home a rock that exists in another galaxy or solar system.

 

Sources:  www.redorbit.com

www.geology.gsapubs.org

www.livescience.com

Image credits:  www.en.wikipedia.org

www.alluregems.blogspot.com

Cosmic Spas & Outer Space Mineral Mines


Are NASA and other international space agencies interested in creating colonies on the Moon and various other exotic, cosmic locales? Most certainly. However, not for the nefarious purposes of whisking away the highly educated and financial elite in order to preserve the human race from extinction. What they really want to do is exploit the natural resources of these places.

Humans are a hungry species and their appetites include all sorts of stuff from fruits and vegetables to minerals and ores. Many minerals and ores are not only rare, with few deposits in sundry places around the world, but are also finite in their supply. Once diminished, humans will have to find another source. That’s where asteroids and the Moon come into play.

Asteroids are like one of those grab bags you get as a party favor. You never know what’s inside. Although primarily chunks of ice, tar and dust, they also contain scare minerals and metals. For astronaut mining crews, outer space is full of opportunity, kind of like a mechanic entering an auto junkyard the size of Earth. Best estimates to date believe there are hundreds of thousands of asteroids, some nearly five billion years old, of assorted sizes and shapes from the size of a coffee table to hundreds of miles in diameter (Earth, in comparison, is about 8,000 miles in diameter). With such abundance, if humans can overcome the technological and economical obstacles, we may have a seemingly limitless supply of raw materials available.

The gringa wonders what will happen when that occurs? Will space become filled with flag waving asteroids? Considering even a small asteroid could be valued at many millions of dollars in potential minerals, will countries be zipping about space, hither and yon, planting flags on as many asteroids as possible in a territory game of, “Mine! I found it first!”? The gringa is hoping it will be much more civilized than that.

For mining purposes, asteroid’s are classified according to three groups based on light reflection (spectral) analysis. Since mankind cannot yet land on an asteroid and physically take a geological sample or do so with a robotic satellite, scientists evaluate how light reflects off the surface of an asteroid to determine its primary mineral component.

C-type asteroids are dark and carbon based. They are comprised of clay based minerals that have lots of water trapped within the clay. The gringa thinks these could, perhaps become cosmic spas if we could find a way to generate some kind of thermal reaction within the asteroid. Think of it, “Come visit asteroid XP-247 for its relaxing steam baths and mineralized clay body and facial wraps. Just don’t forget your oxygen mask.”

But what about the carbon and other stuff in the clay? Is that any good for anything? Yep. It makes a garden grow lush, thick and plentiful. C-type asteroids rich in carbon, phosphorous and other elements in the fertilizer spectrum could be very valuable as future garden spots. The gringa can now see the cosmic version of the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” where visitors can also get a soak in the hot springs and a beautifying and detoxifying mineral rich clay body wrap.

I mean, really, we have plenty of clay and carbon and water here on Earth but surely there will be an eager entrepreneur who will see the same potential. Or do we really have plenty of clay, minerals and water on Earth?

The water reserves could very well come in handy. The gringa can see it now – a gravity beam lassos a water rich C-type asteroid and hauls it near Earth’s atmosphere. It then uses transporter technology that has finally been perfected to zap it through the atmosphere, avoiding a friction filled entry that would evaporate up all that precious water. Then, as it approaches fatefully close to a desert region, just before impact a precision laser beam goes, “ZIP, ZAP, ZOOM!” and a lovely shower of water rains down upon the desert with all the pulverized clay and carbon providing rich fertilizer. The desert is soon a fertile oasis. Hey, it could happen. Stranger things already have.

But NASA thinks the real value of water rich asteroids is in using the resource in outer space. By finding a way to mine the water in flight, crews could save billions of dollars by not having to pack this life-support necessity. Interestingly enough, the very thing that humans need to survive, consisting of two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen, are the very elements of rocket fuel. (Wow, humans are 60% rocket fuel, or, water, depending on your perspective!). So, astronauts dock their spaceship at a galactic version of Exxon to fill up the tank and top off the water reserves. And while the service station is checking the engine’s oil level and cabin’s air pressure, the crew is freshening up at the nearby spa. Interesting.

So, C-type asteroids can either be Desert-to-Eden conversion sources, hot spring spas, water wells, or rocket fuel depots. Or all three at the same time.Take your pick.

S-type asteroids shine a little brighter than dark, carbon based C-types. That’s because they are rich in reflective metals like cobalt, iron and nickel. If a mining crew is really lucky they could find one with deposits of rhodium, platinum or gold. Scientists estimate that an asteroid about the size of an average bedroom could be packed with well over one million pounds of metals, a tiny fraction being the exceedingly valuable rare ones. Even if mining crews could extract just one hundred pounds of platinum, at about $1000 an ounce, a $100,000 load of platinum would just be the gravy on top of the wealth accumulated from the remaining predominant minerals.

But it may be the M-class asteroids that wars end up being fought over. The wars for oil that we have raging now could very well become wars for M-class asteroids in the future. These asteroids are expected to contain at least ten times the mineral content of S-types.

To make space mining a reality, the mission has to be profitable. With current missions costing in the hundreds of millions, some even billions, an asteroid would have to be massively rich in raw materials. The other option is to develop technologies that are more economical.

Before any of that even matters, current asteroid knowledge needs to be vastly broadened and fine-tuned. We need cosmic cartographers to accurately map the hundreds of thousands of asteroids in outer space. The world needs space geologists that have the technology and knowledge to analyze what minerals each asteroid actually contains. Young students now, who have an interest in a cosmic career, could really have a geology or cartography degree pay off by landing them their dream job.

NASA’s first effort to test their scientific mettle for determining present mineral resources within an asteroid lie with their OSIRIS-REx mission. The goal of “Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security and Regolith Explorer” is to return with a geological sample from asteroid Bennu. It is set to launch in September and arrive at the asteroid almost two years later. If all goes according to plan, Earthlings can expect an authentic piece of Bennu to arrive on planet Earth around 2020. (Of course, the gringa is reminded of her favorite piece of motherly advice given regularly to her children in efforts to cultivate a more relaxed approach to life, “The plan is that nothing goes according to plan.”)

In addition to geological studies of Bennu’s raw materials, asteroid re-direction technologies will also be studied. The spacecraft is scheduled to perform an interesting experiment. It is going to give Bennu a gentle, solar nudge. Scientists want to know if sunlight can be used to affect the path of travel of asteroids. I guess the reasoning is that asteroids are too valuable to simply blast into oblivion if Earth happens to be in the way. They would rather nudge them aside then attempt to exploit the wealth they contain.

The most important goals of the mission, however, are to further the development of space mining technologies. They plan to scrape together a two ounce and 4.4 pound geological sample. The spacecraft will then use its state-of-the-art instruments to map the surface of Bennu and analyze its composition. These are the on-board technologies and their purposes:

  • OVIRS (OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer) – analyzes visible and near-infrared light to detect minerals, compounds and chemicals within the asteroid.
  • OTES (OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer) – analyzes infrared light to detect surface minerals of Bennu, determine surface temperature and map the location of water-rich clay mineral deposits.
  • REx (Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer) – analyzes X-ray aura of Bennu’s surface in sunlight to calculate amounts and locations of elements like: iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur.

To find out if sunlight can be used as an asteroid diversion technique OVIRS and OTES will combine their abilities to study what is known as the “Yarkovsky effect”. When an asteroid absorbs sunlight much of the heat radiates outward and provides a propelling effect. Observations will be made to see if a “man-made” solar heat saturation could result in changing an asteroid’s trajectory.

Most of what will be recorded by the different spectrometers will only reflect what is on Bennu’s surface and within a shallow depth (about half a millimeter). They are not capable of reaching deep within the asteroid’s core. To get a deeper look the spacecraft has a tool that blows nitrogen gas onto the surface that will force minerals up from a depth of about two inches. Even so, it’s pretty obvious that much about Bennu will remain unknown even if the mission is successful in achieving all of its goals.

But, a successful mission will at least tell the world one thing: can mining asteroid’s work? The gringa believes if great wealth is at stake there will be movers and shakers in this world who will make it work one way or another while pocketing a healthy profit in the process.

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

 

 

Incan Stars


The caveman has Incan blood, a Peruvian transplant to the United States. It is then only natural that the gringa is curious about Peruvian contributions to space related science and technology. After all, considering some of the interesting theories surrounding Nazca, the Incans may have been involved in space travel long before the rest of the world was enjoying  gas lighting.

Peru has an active science industry that has developed and successfully launched nano-satellites. They were developed by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, Universidad Alas Peruanas and Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria. Aside from the academic community, the Peruvian government, in collaboration with the government of France, will be launching a satellite this year of its own production. Individual professional groups are also participating in desert experiments related to the future exploration of Mars.

The majority of space related technology is developed by Peru’s universities with the cooperation of the Peruvian Space Agency, The National Commission for Aerospace Research and Development (CONIDA).  Launches of satellites have been successful in cooperation with NASA as well as ROCOSMOS. CONIDA recently invested over $200 million dollars in a French produced satellite, “Astrosat-300”, more commonly called Airbus. This is the most advanced satellite in Latin America. Peruvian students who were trained in France manage the operations and image capturing.

Peru desires to increase awareness of space among its population. It enthusiastically supports programs that involve active participation of Peruvian youth. It hopes its nation’s international involvement in developing space capabilities will grow. CONIDA’s official decree states it’s intent is to “[P]romote and develop peaceful, research and work aimed at the country’s progress in space”.

One way CONIDA works toward its mission is to develop graduate programs for Peru’s universities as well as create “School Workshop on Space Activities” programs that are designed to motivate interest among Peru’s youth in their final two years of high school. These courses introduce subjects such as data collection from satellites, satellite observation of earth, digital processing of satellite images and how to use supporting software. Specialized courses about geology, agriculture, forestry and mineral exploration are also offered.

CONIDA’s Technical Department of Space Technology Development is actively engaged in the research and development of rockets and probes. They are on the fast track to develop payload delivery systems and become a vital actor in the vigorous international space travel community. “Punta Lobos”, a CONIDA science base south of Lima, houses much of what this department develops. It has been visited by delegates of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) regarding future collaborative projects.

Peru has many interesting and critical areas where satellites are beneficial for the country. They have a landslide monitoring system, flood hazard monitors, tectonic movement assessment, measurements of volcanic flows, as well as seasonal precipitation monitoring of rainfall.

Peru considers space observation for its nation as critical for national security as well as to address many geological issues for the benefit of all of Peru’s people. I anticipate that they will serve the memory of their ancestors well. I believe that my caveman will proudly see the day when the land of his birth boasts about their own astronauts aboard the ISS, arriving there in their own spacecraft. The gringa just wonders if it will be of gold and shaped like a sleeping llama?

 

Source & Photo Credit:  http://www.conida.gob.pe/

 

 

The Real Cassini of the Stars


The name “Cassini” is a bit of a give away that this mission is a cooperative project with NASA and Italy’s space agency. It is actually called the “Cassini-Huygens” mission, involving also the European Space Agency (ESA). And, no it has nothing to do with high space fashion for Hollywood stars in honor of ol’ Oleg. This Cassini is a photographer of the stars, or, I should say, moons, the moons of Saturn to be exact. The mission is managed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA in California although the images for the mission are handled at the Space Science Institute in Colorado. The Cassini spacecraft has returned some fantastic images from Saturn’s moon “Enceladus” this past October. Although this cold, icy moon may look like a dead globe of dust, it actually has an active southern polar region.

The probe passed as close as 30 miles from the moon’s South Pole and transmitted data for several days. What sort of data? Most of it will be geological analysis of gas and dust. Cassini captured samples from a plume of gas and ice particles when it made its close fly by. The above image from Cassini was taken when sunlight was at an angle so as to make some of the spray from the South Pole geysers visible. Scientists know that there is an ocean beneath the frozen surface of Enceladus and these samples should help to determine if there is any hydrothermal activity going on down below.

And, if there is an active ocean on Enceladus, why would that matter? Because Saturn’s moon would then become a candidate for exploration to study its potential as a future habitable environment.  Although it seems incredible enough that NASA has colonization ambitions for Mars, the space agency would love to add other locales to their list.

Scientists have learned that Enceladus is basically divided into two separate geographical hemispheres. The northern hemisphere is pock marked by impact craters with much less being visible in the southern hemisphere. Southern hemisphere terrain features fractured terrain with linear, ropy features.

Scientists believe the moon’s core to be solid rock and enveloped by an ocean that is sealed under an icy, frozen crust. The southern hemisphere has active jets which vent oceanic spray. This hypothesis is based on the finding that the moon has a bit of a wobble when it orbits Saturn. The presence of a global ocean underneath but not frozen to the icy crust would explain this wobble. It would also account for the plumes of icy spray that have been observed venting at the southern pole.

Scientists suspect that the ocean of Enceladus may also experience tidal type activity which could be the reason why the crust has not frozen solid to the surface of the water. If this is the case, it would be an indicator that Saturn’s gravity keeps the core of Enceladus warmer than was expected. Scientists have been studying Saturn and its moons for over seven years. Cassini will have a final close-up photo shoot of Enceladus in mid-December. Its task is to measure the heat emanating from the interior of the moon. The gringa is hoping for a tropical paradise hidden beneath that frigid surface. I can imagine living like a beach mole never seeing the sun but picnicking beach side in a sauna like atmosphere and catching space fish that have no eyeballs.