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October already?

Veverka's Blog for Heritage Interpreters

With so much to discover, learn and experience, keep turning the page then...

29 Septeber 2022- Hi and welcome to my last September 2022 blog. I had a lot going on for September- new courses and working on new textbooks.

Big News - Beginning with my Jan/Feb 2023 issue of InterpNEWS, InterpNEWS will only be available by SUBSCRIPTIONS.
Don't get scared, subcriptions will only be $20.00 a year. You can go to the updated InterpNEWS website for details - and to subscribe early if you'd liike.

October, 2022 Seminars

For each seminar handout materials will be provided. The seminars will allow time for questions and discussions. The seminars are offered via ZOOM and start at 1:00pm - 2:00 pm each Wednesday. Individual seminar details and registrations are provided on the InterpShare website page. The seminars are offered by Prof. John Veverka (Director - The Heritage Interpretation Training Center). Seminar tuitions are only $10.00 and include resource materials sent to you prior to the seminar.


October 5th - 1:00pm - 2:00 pm Eastern Time - Principles of Storytelling and
"The rest of the story".

Interpreting artifacts left behind or created by their owners are often in need of a storyteller
to reveal the secret meaning lock in artifacts, landscapes and cultural sites and abandoned buildings. This seminar will focus on giving you the steps to research and plan your stories and some dramatic storytelling techniques.
Seminar tuition is only $10.00


October12 - 1:00pm - 2:00 pm Eastern Time -Interpreting Cemeteries and Gravestones. Planning and Delivery of Cemetery Tours.

If there's one thing we all have in common, no matter where we live or what country we live in - at some point in time we could probably become an interpretive moment in some cemetery somewhere. It is a huge "universal concept" - thus our attraction to old, historic graveyards and the stones that reach through time to tell us something about their below-ground owners.
Seminar tuition is only $10.00


October 19th - 1:00pm - 2:00 pm Eastern Time -Training for Interpretive Trainers - (How to teach interpretation techniques and principles to docents, volunteers and seasonal staff).

There's more to teaching interpretation principles and techniques, there's also how to coach interpretive staff and to critique their tours or programs. Here are hints on how to do that.
Seminar tuition is only $10.00


October26th - 1:00pm - 2:00 pm Eastern Time -Planning for Interpretive Experiences.

Employing The Experience Economy, Markets of One and Experiential Planning Concepts and Strategies For Heritage Sites and Attractions. Creating Unique stories married with unique experiences.
Seminar tuition is only $10.00


Any questions please feel free to ask:
Prof. John Veverka
Heritage Interpretation Training Center


InterpNEWS Nov/Dec 2022 issue.
Interpreting Rising Sea Levels - Out mid October

Table of Contents

-Antarctica's melting 'Doomsday glacier' could raise sea levels by 10 feet,
scientists say, Julia Jacobo
-Oceans are hotter, higher and more acidic, climate report warns - Jake Spring
-Earth's oceans are getting hotter and higher, and it's accelerating- Rebecca Hersher
-How Fast and How Far Will Sea Levels Rise? Nicola Jones
-NOAA sees sea level rise of up to 6.6 feet by 2100 - Wendy Koch,
-Sea Level Rise Is Inevitable but We Can Still Prevent Catastrophe for Coastal Regions -
Zita Sebesvari
-New Research Affirms Modern Sea-Level Rise Linked to Human Activities, Not to
Changes in Earth's Orbit - Rutgers University
-Climate scientists say building collapse is a 'wake-up call' about the potential impact
of rising seas - Rachel Ramirez,
-Sea Level Rise Projection Map - Miami - Owen Mulhern
-How many people will migrate due to rising sea levels? Why our best guesses aren't
good enough -The Conversation
-Climate Migration: An Impending Global Challenge - Renee Cho
-Climate Change: Global Sea Level - Rebecca Lindsey (NOAA)
-Where America's Climate Migrants Will Go As Sea Level Rises - Linda Poon
-Sea Level Rise to Gobble Up Hundreds of Thousands of US Homes, Buildings by 2050
-Glaciers and "zombie ice": The planet is melting at both ends, research finds.
-How is sea level rise related to climate change? NOAA
-Rising sea levels putting wildlife at risk. Kristen Pope
-Sea-level rise threatens hundreds of U.S. animal species - Doyle Rice
-Rising sea levels are creating 'ghost forests' of coastal trees- PBS
-Oysters at work helping scientists and coastal communities keep the rising waters
from stealing our shores - Sydney Giuliano

This will be the last free issue - starting with the In Jan/Feb 2023 issue, IN will be available by subscription only (subscriptions are ONLY $20.00/year). For issue details and to subscribe visit the InterpNEWS website:


Updated two climate courses for October 2022. Start a course anytime - complete the course at your own pace with live online support via zoom or skype.

-Interpreting the Climate Crisis - 2022
-Interpretive Planning for Programs, Exhibits, Panels and Related Services To Help You to Interpret Climate
Change and Global
Warming Issues to Your Audiences, Communities and Regions.

13 Units, 4 CEU's $250.00. Our Climate Change special resource issues will be included.
Interpretive Planning for Climate Change (

Visit my new Climate Crisis/interpretation Resource Center:

Two of the free climate change resource issues still available.


Is ET Real? - Some say YES!

The answer may be hanging in our art galleries or painted on ancient walls.

With this new "fun" course we'll look at whats been left behind for evidence and watch the US Navy fighter jets chasing one (and video taping it). For more about this unique course check out the web site.


New Interpretive Stories to Share For October

7 million years ago, our earliest relatives took their first steps on 2 feet

By Charles Q. Choi published August 25, 2022

The human-like species walked upright, evidence suggests.

The oldest known human-like species likely walked on two legs as far back as 7 million years ago, a new study finds, and the discovery sheds light on what first set humans apart from our ape relatives.

Researchers analyzed a thigh bone (femur) and a pair of forearm bones (ulnae) from Sahelanthropus tchadensis, which may be the oldest known hominin — a relative of humans dating from after our ancestors split from those of modern apes — according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History(opens in new tab). First unearthed in Chad in north central Africa in 2001, the remains are about 7 million years old.

The examination of the femur and ulnae indicated that S. tchadensis not only walked on two feet but also climbed trees, adding evidence that this enigmatic species was bipedal, as an earlier analysis of its skull anatomy suggested.

Many traits set humans apart from chimpanzees and bonobos, our closest living relatives, such as our big brains, upright postures, opposable thumbs and largely hairless bodies. However, it remains uncertain which of these features began splitting the chimp and bonobo lineage apart from that of hominins, a separation that previous research suggested began happening between 6 million and 10 million years ago.

The partial skull of S. tchadensis that the scientists found revealed that the species was probably close to a chimpanzee in size and structure. Although its brain also appeared chimp-size, its face and teeth more closely resembled those of hominins, suggesting it may have been a close relative of the last common ancestor of humans and chimps, the researchers said.

These 3D models of the arm and leg bones. From left to right: the femur; the right and left ulnae. These remains were found in 2001 by the Franco-Chadian Paleoanthropological Mission (MPFT). (Image credit: © Franck Guy / PALEVOPRIM / CNRS – University of Poitiers)

n the new study, the researchers analyzed three more fossils they associated with S. tchadensis — the femur and two ulnae. The scientists originally recovered these arm and leg bones at the same time and site as the other S. tchadensis fossils. The team associated these remains with S. tchadensis because no other large primate was found in the area, although they said it was impossible to know whether the fossils belonged to Toumaï.

The researchers analyzed both the outside shapes of the bones and their internal microscopic structures. Next, they compared these data with corresponding details from living and fossil species, including chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, extinct apes from the same epoch, modern humans, ancient humans, and hominins such as Orrorin, Ardipithecus and australopithecines (Australopithecus and kin).

The base of the femur's neck appeared to be oriented slightly toward the front of the body and flattened, and the upper part of the thigh bone was also slightly flattened — all traits previously seen in known bipedal hominins. Moreover, the sites at which the muscles of the buttock attach are robust and human-like. And the cross-sectional shape of the thigh bone suggests it could resist the kind of sideways-bending forces seen during walking on two legs.

All of these findings in the femur suggested that S. tchadensis was usually bipedal, perhaps on the ground, or maybe also in the forest canopy.


Are insects edible?
By Lou Mudge published August 25, 2022

Are insects edible and are there any benefits to chowing down on invertebrates? Here's what you might want to consider

My InterpNEWS issue on edible insects.

Many of us would turn up our noses at the idea of edible insects, but they are actually a valuable source of protein and are already eaten by many cultures across the world. Edible insects are generally cheap to feed and raise and take up very little space, making them a more environmentally-friendly alternative to other protein sources such as beef, chicken, and even soy products.

A review in the journal Food Chemistry(opens in new tab) indicates that insects provide an excellent source of dietary protein, vitamins, mineral and lipids, as well as providing a good source of fiber if the exoskeleton is consumed.

Another review in the journal Molecular Immunology (opens in new tab) estimates that around two billion people globally already include insects as a part of their day-to-day diets, with popularity in South America, Asia and Africa. The review also indicates that there is some overlap in insect allergies with seafood allergies and dust mite allergies, which should be considered when eating insects.

Research in the journal Biotechnological Advances (opens in new tab)found that the protein content of insects is 40% to 75% of total dry weight, which is huge compared to even protein-dense fish such as tuna, which comes in at 30%, and chicken breast at 21%. The research also suggests that insect proteins have a high concentration of essential amino acids (46% to 96%) and a high rate of digestibility (77% to 98%). With this in mind, some insect sources may be a better source of complete protein than high-protein foods we commonly eat.

It is also worth noting that insect products already exist in many foods we consume in the west. Cochineal, a red food coloring, is made from crushed beetles, and cereal products contain a certain amount of insect bits that get caught up in the production process.

While you may not be ready to eat a deep fried cricket as a side dish, insects are already very much a part of the human diet.

(If you'd like a free copy of my InterpNEWS issue on edible insects I'd be happy to send it to you -


'Magic mushroom' psychedelic could treat alcohol addiction, trial finds
By Nicoletta Lanese published August 24, 2022

Psilocybin acts on receptors in the brain.

Psilocybin is the psychoactive substance in "magic mushrooms.
" (Image credit: gilaxia via Getty Images)

Psilocybin, the hallucinogen behind the trippy effects of "magic mushrooms," may help people with alcohol use disorder cut down on or stop drinking when they take the drug in conjunction with talk therapy.

In a recent clinical trial, the results of which were published Wednesday (Aug. 24) in the journal JAMA Psychiatry(opens in new tab), people with alcohol dependence received two doses of either psilocybin or a placebo medication — specifically, diphenhydramine (Benadryl), which would not be expected to affect the participants' symptoms. Once considered a distinct condition, alcohol dependence now falls under the broader classification of alcohol use disorder, a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational or health consequences.

In addition to medication, all participants were offered psychotherapy sessions during the trial: four sessions prior to their first medication dose; four between the first and second doses; and four during the month after treatment.

Both treatment groups reduced their drinking during the 32-week trial, but the group given psilocybin improved more dramatically. The rate of heavy drinking in the psilocybin group dropped by about 83% compared with pretreatment levels, compared with a drop of about 51% in the placebo group. Eight months after receiving their first dose, 48% of the psilocybin group had stopped drinking altogether, compared with 24% of the placebo group.

"I stopped drinking right after my first psilocybin session. It worked that quickly for me," Jon Kostas, a trial participant in the psilocybin group, told reporters at a news conference Aug. 24. "This eliminated all my cravings."

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Tubby 'mermaids' vanished from Chinese waters 2 decades ago, now declared extinct
By Mindy Weisberger published August 25, 2022

Dugongs, or sea cows, are thought to have inspired tales of mythical mermaids.

An adult dugong (Dugong dugon) feeds in shallow waters of the Red Sea, near Marsa Alam in Egypt. (Image credit: Sunphol Sorakul/Getty Images)

Dugongs, the pudgy marine mammals that once inspired homesick sailors' fanciful tales of mythical mermaids, are now extinct in China, new research shows.

For hundreds of years, these gentle giants, commonly known as sea cows, have swum in Chinese waters, ripping up seagrasses on the ocean bottom with a flexible upper lip. But with no sea cow sightings confirmed in the region for more than two decades, an international team of scientists recently undertook an in-depth investigation, surveying local fishing communities across four Chinese provinces and searching for evidence of the missing dugongs (Dugong dugon).

Historical records of dugongs peaked around 1960 and then decreased rapidly from 1975 onward. No verified sightings by fishers, for instance, are recorded after 2008, and scientists in China haven't spotted a dugong in the wild since 2000, the researchers reported Wednesday (Aug. 24) in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

"Based on these findings, we are forced to conclude that dugongs have experienced rapid population collapse during recent decades and are now functionally extinct in China," the scientists wrote in the study.

Dugongs have plump bodies, broad, droopy faces and a flattened, fluked tail like a dolphin's. Adults measure up to 13 feet (4 meters) long and can weigh more than 880 pounds (400 kilograms), according to the World Wide Fund for Nature(opens in new tab) (WWF). They resemble manatees (which are also referred to as sea cows), but while manatees inhabit freshwater ecosystems, dugongs dwell in shallow tropical ocean habitats from East Africa to Vanuatu, according to the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web(opens in new tab) (ADW). Sea cows nibble on seagrasses much as terrestrial cows graze in lush meadows on land, and they are the only marine mammals that subsists on an exclusively vegetarian diet, according to ADW.

Neither manatees nor dugongs resemble humans, let alone alluring women with long hair and fishlike tails. But sailors at sea likely glimpsed these animals only very briefly — just long enough to inspire fanciful accounts of mermaids diving beneath the waves, according to National Geographic(opens in new tab).

However, the real-world story of humans and dugongs is no fairy tale. Because dugongs graze near coastlines, they are often struck by boats and caught in fishers' nets, and human activities in recent decades have dramatically reduced or destroyed their coastal habitats, according to ADW.

A handful of people have anecdotally reported seeing a dugong in Chinese waters in the last five years, but those sightings were never verified, the authors of the new study discovered in their surveys. So while it's possible that some individual dugongs may yet survive in the northern South China Sea, it's also likely that the recently spotted animals were misidentified or were stragglers belonging to more stable dugong populations near the Philippines, the researchers reported.

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Why is poop brown?
By John Loeffler published August 23, 2022

And why is fecal matter sometimes a different color?

What does your poop say about you? (Image credit: boonchai wedmakawand via Getty Images)

Everybody poops, but have you ever wondered why, out of all the colors, poop is the color brown?

While this question might seem like a simple biological curiosity, doctors will likely tell you that the color of your poop is no laughing matter. That's because poop isn't always brown, and when it's not, it can tell you a lot about what's happening inside your body.

Poop is brown because the body is typically very good at making sure that no useful food goes to, well, waste. Your body breaks down nearly all of the energy sources it can from what you eat, and one of the key substances your body uses to break down and absorb nutrients is bile.

While bile itself is yellow-green, its role in digestion leads to the brown color of poop. "Bile plays a vital role in the digestion and absorption of intestinal nutrients such as cholesterol, fat, and fat-soluble vitamins," Dr. David Q.H. Wang, a professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, told Live Science. "Bile contains bilirubin, which is secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. During a meal, bile is released into the small intestine. In the intestine, bilirubin is converted to urobilinogen and then reduced to stercobilinogen. Both urobilinogen and stercobilinogen are colorless. Finally, stercobilinogen is oxidized to stercobilin that is excreted in the feces."

Stercobilin is responsible for the brown color of human feces. "It should be pointed out that human feces are usually light to dark brown in color and are composed of a combination of the bilirubin derivatives, mainly stercobilin and some urobilin," Wang explained. "The longer stercobilin is oxidized, the darker the stool will be. The color of feces also depends on the freshness of the stool, the concentration of stercobilin, and the stercobilin/urobilin ratio."

What does it mean if your poop isn't brown?

Doctors are interested in the color of your poop because discolored stools can be a warning sign of gastroenterological problems. However, not all discolored stools are cause for concern.

"In some cases, certain foods can change the color of feces," Wang said. "For example, feces can be green due to eating licorice candy, as it is typically made with anise oil rather than licorice herb. Feces may turn black if a certain amount of the food containing animal blood (i.e., pig blood) is consumed."

These colors, if occasional and tied to a specific food you've just eaten, aren't cause for concern. But sometimes, medical conditions can affect how your body processes or absorbs various nutrients, which, in turn, can affect the resulting color.

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'Merciless' sea monster with broken teeth prowled the seas 66 million years ago
By Patrick Pester published August 26, 2022

The giant mosasaur is called Thalassotitan atrox.

Artist impression of Thalassotitan. (Image credit: Andrey Atuchin)

A giant mosasaur with teeth like a killer whale ruled the oceans around Morocco towards the end of the Cretaceous period, a new study finds.

The extinct predator, named Thalassotitan atrox, grew to about 30 to 33 feet (9 to 10 meters) long and likely fed on any other marine reptiles it came across, including fellow mosasaurs. The name Thalassotitan comes from the Greek words "thalassa" and "titan," meaning "sea giant," and the species name atrox translates to "cruel" or "merciless," according to the study.

Researchers discovered fossilized skulls, jaws and other remains that they used to identify T. atrox near Casablanca in western Morocco, an area that was underwater during the Cretaceous period.

The researchers found that the teeth of T. atrox were often chipped, broken or worn down, suggesting the species damaged them while violently attacking and biting through the bones of prey.

Mosasaurs went extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs after a giant asteroid struck Earth 66 million years ago. The new finds add to a fossil record in Morocco that shows the ocean there was teeming with rich and diverse life before the asteroid hit.

"They tell us how life was rich and diversified just before the end of the ‘dinosaur era’, where animals had to specialise to have a place in their ecosystems," co-author Nour-Eddine Jalil, a collection manager at the Palaeontology Research Center at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, said in a statement. "Thalassotitan completes the picture by taking on the role of the megapredator at the top of the food chain."

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Living fast may have helped mammals like ‘ManBearPig’ dominate
By Maria Temming

SEPTEMBER 8, 2022 AT 6:00 AM

Such a fast-paced lifestyle may have helped early mammals get big fast after the dinos’ demise

The ancient mammal Pantolambda bathmodon (illustrated) looked something like a jumbo red panda, with a bearlike head, stocky build and long tail. Despite its fearsome appearance, P. bathmodon was a gentle, plant-eating giant in its ecosystem.


In the wake of the dinosaurs’ demise, a bizarre beast that some researchers have nicknamed “ManBearPig” lived life in the fast lane. This sheep-sized mammal — which sported five-fingered hands, a bearlike face and the stocky build of a pig — gave birth to highly developed young. And those young grew up much faster than expected for an animal as massive as ManBearPig, new fossil analyses show.

That combination of long gestation and quick aging may have led to many rapid generations of bigger and bigger babies, researchers report online August 31 in Nature. Such an approach to life could help explain how some mammals took over the world after the dinosaur doomsday.

During the age of the dinosaurs, mammals “only got as large as a domestic cat, maybe, or a badger,” says Gregory Funston, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. But after an asteroid wiped out all nonbird dinosaurs about 66 million years ago, “we see this huge explosion in mammal diversity, where mammals start to get really big,” Funston says.

In particular, placental mammals got really big. Those are mammals whose babies develop mainly in the womb while fed by a placenta — unlike egg-laying platypuses or marsupials, whose tiny newborns do much of their development in their mother’s pouch. Today, placentals are the most diverse group of mammals and include some of the world’s largest animals such as whales, elephants and giraffes.

Paleontologists have long wondered why placentals rose to dominance. Researchers suspected that the long gestation period of this mammal lineage was an important factor. But it was unclear how long ago such long gestation evolved.

For clues, Funston and colleagues turned to what they call ManBearPig, or Pantolambda bathmodon. This ancient herbivore, which lived about 62 million years ago, was one of the first large mammals to appear after the dinosaur apocalypse. The team examined fossils from the San Juan Basin in New Mexico, including two partial skeletons and scattered teeth from several other individuals.

Daily and annual growth lines in the teeth sketched out a timeline of each animal’s life. On that timeline, chemical signatures recorded when the creature underwent major life changes. The physical stress of being born left a deposit of zinc on the tooth enamel. Barium in the enamel spiked while an animal was nursing. Other details of the teeth and bones revealed how fast P. bathmodon grew throughout its life and each animal’s age at death.

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Lion-size otters prowled Ethiopia 3 million years ago
By Patrick Pester published 16 days ago

The gigantic otters spent their lives on land.

An illustration of the extinct giant otter called Enhydriodon omoensis. (Image credit: Sabine Riffaut/PALEVOPRIM/Université de Poitiers/CNRS)

The fossilized remains of a gigantic, lion-size otter that lived alongside early humans have been unearthed in Ethiopia, a new study finds.

The species, named Enhydriodon omoensis, lived about 3.5 million to 2.5 million years ago and co-existed with a group of extinct human relatives known as australopithecines, bipedal hominids that lived from 4.2 million to about 2 million years ago. E. omoensis was colossal compared with its cute contemporary counterparts, and the study authors estimated that it weighed more than 440 pounds (200 kilograms).

E. omoensis may have eaten terrestrial and aquatic prey, either by hunting or scavenging, but the researchers think it spent its days on land, rather than in water.

"The peculiar thing, in addition to its massive size, is that [isotopes] in its teeth suggest it was not aquatic, like all modern otters," study co-author Kevin Uno, a geochemist at Columbia University's Columbia Climate School in New York, said in a statement(opens in new tab). "We found it had a diet of terrestrial animals, also differing from modern otters."

Researchers named the new species E. omoensis after the Lower Omo Valley in southwestern Ethiopia where it was discovered. They estimated its weight based on teeth and femur fossils. The researchers also measured the ratios of isotopes — variations of an element with differing numbers of neutrons — of stable oxygen and carbon in tooth enamel, as oxygen values can indicate how dependent a species was on water.

Scientists previously thought that the Enhydriodon genus was semiaquatic, feeding on animals such as mollusks and turtles. However, the researchers found that the isotope values in E. omoensis teeth more closely matched those in fossil teeth of terrestrial mammals, such as big cats and hyenas, in the same rock deposits.

E. omoensis is one of several gigantic otter species that lived across Eurasia and Africa up until about 2 million years ago. For example, Enhydriodon dikikae, also from Ethiopia, may have weighed 440 pounds, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology(opens in new tab). The authors of the 2011 paper wrote that E. dikikae's size was "more suggestive of a bear than of a modern otter."

Researchers named the new species E. omoensis after the Lower Omo Valley in southwestern Ethiopia where it was discovered. They estimated its weight based on teeth and femur fossils. The researchers also measured the ratios of isotopes — variations of an element with differing numbers of neutrons — of stable oxygen and carbon in tooth enamel, as oxygen values can indicate how dependent a species was on water.

Scientists previously thought that the Enhydriodon genus was semiaquatic, feeding on animals such as mollusks and turtles. However, the researchers found that the isotope values in E. omoensis teeth more closely matched those in fossil teeth of terrestrial mammals, such as big cats and hyenas, in the same rock deposits.

E. omoensis is one of several gigantic otter species that lived across Eurasia and Africa up until about 2 million years ago. For example, Enhydriodon dikikae, also from Ethiopia, may have weighed 440 pounds, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology(opens in new tab). The authors of the 2011 paper wrote that E. dikikae's size was "more suggestive of a bear than of a modern otter."

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Did Nero really fiddle while Rome burned?
By Charles Q. Choi published 19 days ago

Everything we know about Nero comes from his enemies.

French artist Hubert Robert (1733 to 1808) depicted the "The Fire of Rome," in this oil painting on canvas. (Image credit: Photo by: Pictures from History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Roman emperor Nero ranks among the most infamous rulers of the Roman Empire for supposedly fiddling while Rome burned. But did that really happen? And does Nero really deserve his bad reputation?

As with all stories, we have to consider the source.

Born on Dec. 15, A.D. 37, Nero became the fifth emperor of Rome and the last of the Julio-Claudians, the dynasty that founded the empire, according to archaeologist Francesca Bologna, who curated the Nero Project at the British Museum(opens in new tab) in London.

Nero was only 2 years old when his mother, Agrippina the Younger — whose great-grandfather was Augustus, the empire's first emperor — was exiled by Emperor Caligula. At age 3, Nero's father, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, died, leaving him in the care of his aunt. When Caligula was murdered in A.D. 41 and succeeded by Emperor Claudius, Nero was reunited with Agrippina, who later married her uncle Claudius, Bologna noted.

Despite having a biological son, Claudius designated Nero, his great nephew and stepson, as his heir, and Nero ascended to power in A.D. 54 at the age of 16. But his reign was short: Nero died in A.D. 68 at age 30 after taking his own life.

Roman historians have contended that Nero killed Agrippina and two of his wives, only cared about his art, and had very little interest in ruling the empire, Bologna said. However, "our sources for Nero are people that hated him," Harold Drake, a research professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Live Science. One always has to keep in mind that much of his reputation "was written for us by his adversaries," he said. Bologna agreed, noting in her post for the British Museum that accounts of Nero "were keen on representing him in the worst possible light."

In July A.D. 64, Nero was vacationing in Antium (what is now the seaside town of Anzio, Italy) when he learned about what later became known as the Great Fire of Rome, Drake said. Before the conflagration burned itself out a week later, 10 of Rome's 14 districts had burned to the ground and thousands in a city of 500,000 to 1 million people had lost everything.

Nero raced back to Rome. He arranged emergency shelter and supplies of food and drink for the public, and opened his own palace and gardens for shelter, Drake noted.

So, if Nero wasn't in Rome when the conflagration started, what's the origin of the rumor that "he fiddled" while the empire's capital burned?

Nero fancied himself a musician. At some point during the relief efforts, a rumor said he consoled himself by singing about another great fire — the fall of Troy, the Homeric tale that's the focus of the Roman poet Virgil's epic poem "The Aeneid," Drake said.

"He had done everything he could to deal with the fire, and he was exhausted," Drake said. "Being of an artistic bent, he consoled himself by comparing this disaster to the fall of Troy, which Romans liked to think they descended from, via the mythical ancestor Aeneas."

But even if Nero did play music while Rome was burning, he would not have used a fiddle, as bowed instruments would not become popular for another 1,000 years, Drake said. Instead, to accompany himself, Nero probably would have used a cithara, a portable harp-like instrument with seven strings, he explained.

There was precedent for Romans acting in such a manner. For example, the historian Polybius wrote that as the Roman general Scipio Aemelianus watched Carthage being destroyed, he quoted Homer's "The Iliad," saying, "'And a time will come when holy Ilium shall fall, and Priam, and Priam's folk of the good ashen spear,'" Drake said. "He was not thinking of Carthage but expressing fear that a like fate awaited the Romans."

In the aftermath of the Great Fire of Rome, Nero offered financial incentives to landlords to clear their property of debris and begin rebuilding, insisted that developers use stone instead of wood, straightened and widened streets, and ensured an adequate water supply for the city, Drake said. "Does that seem like the activity of a madman?" he asked.

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Vanished arm of Nile helped ancient Egyptians transport pyramid materials
By Owen Jarus published 15 days ago

The ancient branch is long gone.

New finds shed light on the Nile's water level at the time the Giza Pyramids were built. (Image credit: JimPix via Getty Images)

When the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids of Giza around 4,500 years ago, the Nile River had an arm — one that has long since vanished — with high water levels that helped laborers ship materials to their construction site, a new study finds.

The discovery builds on previous archaeological and historical findings that the Nile had an extra arm flowing by the pyramids. But now, by analyzing ancient pollen samples taken from earthen cores, it's clear that "the former waterscapes and higher river levels" gave the Giza Pyramid's builders a leg up, a team of researchers wrote in a paper published Aug. 29 in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(opens in new tab).

The research sheds light on how the pyramids — royal tombs for the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure — rose to monumental heights. Their towering stature was achieved, in large part, thanks to the Nile's now-defunct Khufu branch, which "remained at a high-water level during the reigns of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, facilitating the transportation of construction materials to the Giza Pyramid Complex," the team wrote in their paper.

Researchers have known for decades that the long-gone Khufu branch extended up to the Giza plateau in ancient times, but the new project aimed to find exactly how the water levels had changed over the past 8,000 years.

To reconstruct the Nile's past, in May 2019 the team drilled five cores into the Giza floodplain. The researchers measured the amount of pollen found in different parts of the cores to determine how pollen levels had changed over time. Time periods when water was plentiful should have more pollen than periods that were arid, the study authors wrote.

The pollen analysis revealed that at the time the ancient Egyptians built the Giza pyramids, water was plentiful enough that the Khufu branch would have flowed near the Giza pyramids. "It was a natural canal in the time of the fourth dynasty [when the pyramids were built]," study lead author Hader Sheisha, a physical geographer at Aix-Marseille University in France, told Live Science in an email.

Sheisha noted that the water level was important for pyramid construction. "It would be very difficult if not impossible to build the pyramids without the Khufu branch and without it having a good level, which provides enough accommodation space for the boats carrying such heavy blocks of stone," she said. When exactly the branch went extinct is not certain, but the research shows that by 2,400 years ago the water level of the branch was very low.

The finds fit well with previous archaeological finds, which revealed a harbor close to the pyramids, as well as ancient papyri records that detailed workers bringing limestone to Giza via boat, the team noted in their paper.

Live Science contacted several experts not involved with the research to get their thoughts. Most were unable to comment at press time, but one who did, Judith Bunbury, a geo-archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, praised the research.

"The paper is an exciting contribution to our understanding of the dialogue between humans and their environment in Egypt within the context of changing climate," Bunbury told Live Science in an email.


Tardigrades survive being dried out thanks to proteins found in no
other animals on Earth
By Stephanie Pappas published 15 days ago

No other animal is known to use the tardigrade strategy to survive desiccation.

Tardigrades can enter cryptobiosis to withstand temperature and moisture extremes. (Image credit: Nature in Stock / Alamy Stock Photo)

Tiny tardigrades can survive conditions that would kill most other forms of life. By expelling their body's water and transforming into a seemingly lifeless ball called a tun, they enter a state of dried-up suspended animation in which they can survive for decades without food and water and withstand extreme temperatures, pressures and even the vacuum of space. However, little is known about what drives this protective mechanism and what keeps tardigrades from succumbing to the stresses of prolonged desiccation.

Now, a new study reveals how tardigrades survive without any water at all: Unique proteins turn the insides of tardigrade cells into gel, thereby preventing the critters' cell membranes from crinkling and collapsing. This strategy is completely different from those seen in other types of animals that can survive dry periods.

In fact, "no such proteins have been reported in other desiccation-tolerant organisms," said Takekazu Kunieda, a biologist at the University of Tokyo who led the new research, published Sept. 6 in the journal PLOS Biology(opens in new tab).

Surviving desiccation

Tardigrades, also known as water bears or moss piglets, are a group of microscopic animals with plump bodies and eight legs ending in disproportionately delicate claws. They're famously resilient, able to survive exposure to space, freezing temperatures, and boiling for an hour (though they can be killed by longer exposure to hot water).

Scientists have long been interested in how tardigrades do this. Many animals that can survive long periods of desiccation, such as aquatic crustaceans known as brine shrimp, use sugars called trehalose to essentially freeze their cells in a glass-like state that protects their inner workings until the animals are exposed to water again.

But tardigrades don't have much trehalose. What they do have are numerous proteins not found in other animals. These proteins are hard to understand, because in a non-tun tardigrade, they appear disorganized and disordered, though a 2017 genetic study(opens in new tab) found that some of these disordered proteins seem to promote a glassy state in dried-out tardigrades, much like trehalose does in other animals.

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Tenacious 'trash parrots' locked in escalating 'arms race' with humans Down Under

By Harry Baker published 16 days ago

Researchers are unsure who will end up "victorious."

A sulphur-crested cockatoo, or "trash parrot," hangs off a house roof in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Residents in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, are in the midst of an escalating feud with a neighboring population of wild sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) over an unlikely prize: household trash. While this conflict may sound comical, researchers report that it shows all the signs of an "innovation arms race," in which two species become trapped in a cycle of behavioral changes as they continually try to one-up or outthink one another.

The sharp-witted cockatoos have earned the unflattering nickname "trash parrots" after learning to open up flip-top garbage bins to pillage their contents. In 2018, videos shared online showed the resourceful birds grabbing onto the rims of bin lids with their beaks or feet, shimmying down toward the hinge and eventually flipping the plastic covers entirely off the containers. After watching the footage, researchers investigated the behavior and found that the cockatoos were working out how to open the bins by observing one another, which is known as social learning.

Since then, local residents have deployed numerous countermeasures — including bricks, sticks, locks and even rubber snakes — to prevent the cunning cockatoos from inadvertently covering the streets in trash. However, not all these countermeasures have proven to be effective at outwitting the cockatoos, who continue to outsmart the humans and break into bins where they can.

As a result of the parrots' persistence, residents have had to continually switch tactics or try out new methods to protect their bins. And just like the feathery interlopers, it seems that frustrated bin-owners have been looking to their neighbors for inspiration. Data collected from a survey revealed that countermeasures were clumped in certain regions at specific times, suggesting that people were copying the people next door — whether they realized it or not.


Rare fossilized vomit discovered in Utah's 'Jurassic salad bar'
By Jennifer Nalewicki published 15 days ago

Salamander and frog: It's what's for dinner.

An artist's interpretation of a fish regurgitating a frog. (Image credit: Illustration by Brian Engh)

Hundreds of millions of years ago, a carnivorous critter gorged on a feast of prehistoric amphibians — and puked up its meal afterward. Now, paleontologists have unearthed the regurgitation and published their findings of the ancient upchuck.

In 2018, researchers discovered the regurgitalite — fossilized remains of an animal's stomach contents, also known as a bromalite — during an excavation in the southeastern Utah portion of the Morrison Formation. This swath of sedimentary rocks that stretches across the Western United States is a hotbed for fossils dating to the late Jurassic period (164 million to 145 million years ago). This section in particular, dubbed the "Jurassic salad bar" by local paleontologists, typically contains the fossilized remains of plants and other organic matter, rather than animal bones.

So, when a team that included researchers from the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) stumbled upon the "compact little pile" of retched remains measuring no more than one-third of a square inch (1 square centimeter), they knew they had found something special, the scientists reported in a study, published Aug. 25 in the journal Palaios(opens in new tab).

The bones of a frog and a salamander make up a segment of prehistoric vomit found in Utah. (Image credit: John Foster)

"What struck us was this small concentration of animal bones in a relatively tiny area," lead author John Foster, a curator with the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum in Vernal, told Live Science. "Normally there are no animal remains at this site, only plants, and the bones we did find weren't spread out [amongst the rock] but were concentrated to this one spot. These are the first bones we've ever seen there."

Initially, the team didn't know they had found prehistoric vomit. Instead, the scientists thought they had discovered the bones of one critter, until they "realized that some of them looked wrong and weren't all from a single salamander," Foster said. "Looking closer, most of the material is from a frog and at least one salamander. It was then that we started suspecting that what we were seeing was puked out by a predator."

Those remains include amphibian bones, specifically femurs from a frog and a salamander, as well as vertebrae from one or more unidentified species. All told, nearly a dozen bone fragments were found clustered together, along with a matrix of fossilized soft tissues, according to the study. And unlike coprolites (fossilized poop), this regurgitation isn't completely digested, leading researchers to determine that it’s a regurgitalite.

Although there have been a number of recorded findings of regurgitalites around the world, Foster said that this is the first known instance of one at the Morrison Formation, calling the discovery "one of a kind." While there's no way of knowing exactly which species of animal lost its lunch millions of years ago — or why it upchucked in the first place — further analysis could determine other components of the partly digested animals that the predator swallowed.

"We think that there's more to this thing than just the tiny bones of amphibians," Foster said. "By doing a chemical analysis, we can begin to rule things out and determine what exactly the soft tissues are made up of."


Hi folks - well, that's it for this blog. Hope you found something of interest. I'll start looking for more unusual stories to provoke you with. Any comments about my blog please feel free to let me know if you like it.

John Veverka -


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