Crocs Uncover

Bizarre Species

lunes, 9 de noviembre de 2009

Vanished Persian Army Said Found in Desert

Bones, jewelry and weapons found in Egyptian desert may be the remains of Cambyses' army that vanished 2,500 years ago.

The remains of a mighty Persian army said to have drowned in the sands of the western Egyptian desert 2,500 years ago might have been finally located, solving one of archaeology's biggest outstanding mysteries, according to Italian researchers.

Bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones found in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert have raised hopes of finally finding the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II. The 50,000 warriors were said to be buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C.

WATCH VIDEO: Take a closer look at a valley of bones that researchers think may belong to the fabled lost army of Cambyses II.

VIEW A SLIDE SHOW: See some of the remains found in the Sahara Desert.

"We have found the first archaeological evidence of a story reported by the Greek historian Herodotus," Dario Del Bufalo, a member of the expedition from the University of Lecce, told Discovery News.

According to Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun after the priests there refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt.

After walking for seven days in the desert, the army got to an "oasis," which historians believe was El-Kharga. After they left, they were never seen again.

"A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear," wrote Herodotus.

A century after Herodotus wrote his account, Alexander the Great made his own pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun, and in 332 B.C. he won the oracle's confirmation that he was the divine son of Zeus, the Greek god equated with Amun.

The tale of Cambyses' lost army, however, faded into antiquity. As no trace of the hapless warriors was ever found, scholars began to dismiss the story as a fanciful tale.

Now, two top Italian archaeologists claim to have found striking evidence that the Persian army was indeed swallowed in a sandstorm. Twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni are already famous for their discovery 20 years ago of the ancient Egyptian "city of gold" Berenike Panchrysos.

Presented recently at the archaeological film festival of Rovereto, the discovery is the result of 13 years of research and five expeditions to the desert.

"It all started in 1996, during an expedition aimed at investigating the presence of iron meteorites near Bahrin, one small oasis not far from Siwa," Alfredo Castiglioni, director of the Eastern Desert Research Center (CeRDO)in Varese, told Discovery News.

While working in the area, the researchers noticed a half-buried pot and some human remains. Then the brothers spotted something really intriguing -- what could have been a natural shelter.

It was a rock about 35 meters (114.8 feet) long, 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) in height and 3 meters (9.8 feet) deep. Such natural formations occur in the desert, but this large rock was the only one in a large area.

"Its size and shape made it the perfect refuge in a sandstorm," Castiglioni said.

Right there, the metal detector of Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat of Cairo University located relics of ancient warfare: a bronze dagger and several arrow tips.

"We are talking of small items, but they are extremely important as they are the first Achaemenid objects, thus dating to Cambyses' time, which have emerged from the desert sands in a location quite close to Siwa," Castiglioni said.

Hubble’s New Camera Delivers Another Stunner

The Hubble Space Telescope’s new camera is returning incredibly detailed, stunning images of space. This close-up view of an area near the core of the iconic Southern Pinwheel galaxy, or M83, shows very rapid star birth.

pinwheelm83The image to the right of the entire galaxy, taken from the ground by the European Southern Observatory’s 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile, shows the location of the image above. Hubble’s detailed view reveals that the spiral arms of the galaxy, about 15 million light-years from Earth, are lousy with clusters of infant stars, only a few million years old. The clusters show up as red because of the hydrogen gas they emit, and they have blown holes in the brownish dust tracks of the arms.

The image also reveals around 60 supernova remnants, around five times more than had previously been seen. the different wavelengths of light captured by Hubble’s camera, from ultraviolet to near-infrared, gives scientists a look at stars in all stages of formation, which will help them understand the evolution of the Pinwheel galaxy, and give them insight into galaxy formation in general.

Images: 1) NASA, ESA, STScI/AURA. High-Def Version. 2) ESO.

Islands Seen From Space

Islands are some of the most beautiful, peaceful, violent, desolate and unique places on Earth. While experiencing a tropical island from its sandy beaches, or a volcanic island from its towering peaks is wonderful, experiencing them from above can be inspiring as well.

We’ve collected images taken by astronauts and satellites from space of some of the most interesting islands on the planet.

Atafu Atoll, Tokelau, Pacific Ocean

Around 500 people live on Atafu Atoll, mostly in a village that can be seen on the corner in the left of the image above. Atafu is just five miles wide and is the smallest of three atolls in the Tokelau Islands, a New Zealand territory.

Atafu is made up of coral reefs that surrounded the flanks of a volcano that has since become inactive and submerged. Like many tropical atolls, Atafu is very low lying and vulnerable to sea-level rise. This photograph was taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station in January.

Image: NASA

Close Encounter with Saturn Moon’s Fantastic Plumage

Earlier this week, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft took its deepest dive ever through the center of the icy plume shooting out from the southern pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

NASA reports that the spacecraft survived Monday’s flyby in good health, and is now transmitting eagerly awaited data and images back to Earth. At its closest point, Cassini dipped just 60 miles above the surface of Enceladus. Although previous flybys have gotten even closer, this trip included the spacecraft’s deepest foray into the south polar plume, which was discovered in 2005 and is known to contain water vapor, sodium and organic molecules.

As Cassini gathers more and more information about the composition and density of the plume, scientists hope they’ll be able to identify the source of the gas. If the source is a liquid ocean underneath Enceladus’ icy crust, it could harbor life if conditions are right. To fly through the plume safely, however, mission managers had to conduct extensive pre-trip studies and make sure the spacecraft didn’t use too much propellant.

Cassini captured the unprocessed image above using its narrow-angle camera at a distance of about 120,000 miles away from the moon. As sunlight bounces off the moon’s crescent edge, it highlights the mysterious misty plume at the southern pole.

Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

"Extraordinary" Ancient Skeletons Found

This "extraordinary" skeleton of a woman buried in a seated position was discovered during an archaeological survey before the planned construction of a high-speed train track in central Germany, scientists said in a statement.

The woman, who lived in the early Bronze Age (roughly 2200 to 1600 B.C.), was found near the town of Bad Lauchstadt and is one of several burials found so far during the dig, which runs from September 2008 to June 2010.

"From an archaeological point of view, the excavation is a great chance to learn about the development of settlement on the Querfurter Platte," a geological plate between the Saale and Unstrut river valleys, according to Ralf Bockmann, a spokesperson for the Saxony-Anhalt Office for Monument Protection and Archaeology in Saale, Germany, via email.

For example, according to the statement, "the broad range of traces from ancient cultures and the number and quality of the individual finds show how important this region has been for thousands of years not just as a settlement area, but as a transport route."

Bockman added: "The region has fertile soils and has been used for settlement for a very long time. But until now there had been no large-scale excavations in that region."

A worker prepares a skeleton during an archaeological dig in Oechlitz, central Germany, which has revealed more than 55,000 objects, including grave goods and odd burials--hundreds of dog teeth, decorative shells, and metal jewelry, for example--German archaeologists said in October 2009.

Researchers have unearthed settlements and burial sites, most of them linked to the closely related Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures—both named for characteristic pottery types—from the latter part of the late Stone Age (roughly 2800 to 1800 B.C.) and the Unetice culture (named for a site in the Czech Republic) from the early Bronze Age (roughly 2200 to 1600 B.C.)

An early Bronze Age woman is buried with decorative shell beads in the town of Oechlitz--one of several burials found during an ongoing archaeological dig in central Germany, experts said in October 2009.

In addition to the small shell discs--worn as decoration on clothing--copper and amber jewelry with hundreds of dog teeth have been found in the burials, which span several thousand years, according to a statement from the Saxony-Anhalt Office for Monument Protection and Archaeology, translated into English by Spiegel Online.

Ornaments such as shell beads are among the first signs of the shift to modern human behavior, which occurred at least 82,000 years ago, previous research suggests.

A Slavic graveyard in the town of Oechlitz from the ninth or tenth centuries A.D. is one of the more recent discoveries made during the dig, which is the largest of its kind in Germany, according to Spiegel Online.

"Even though the bodies were laid with the head pointed west according to the Christian tradition," the presence of food remains and containers--evidence that physical sustenance was provided for the afterlife--"indicate that heathen traditions were also observed in furnishing the dead," according to a statement from the Saxony-Anhalt Office for Monument Protection and Archaeology, translated into English by Spiegel.

2012 Doomsday Myths Debunked

MYTH: Space Phenomena Will Send Continents Spinning

November 6, 2009--The end of the world is near--December 21, 2012, to be exact--according to theories based on a purported ancient Maya prediction and fanned by the marketing machine behind the soon-to-be-released 2012 movie.

In some 2012 doomsday prophecies, the Earth becomes a deathtrap as it undergoes a "pole shift," courtesy of an asteroid impact (illustrated above), a rare alignment with the center of the Milky Way, and/or massive solar radiation destabilizing the inner Earth by heating it.

The planet's crust and mantle will suddenly shift, spinning around Earth's liquid-iron outer core and sending cities crashing into the sea.
Princeton University geologist Adam Maloof has extensively studied pole shifts, and tackles this 2012 myth in 2012: Countdown to Armageddon, a National Geographic Channel documentary airing Sunday, November 8.

Maloof says magnetic evidence in rocks confirms that continents have undergone such drastic rearrangement, but the process took millions of years--slow enough that humanity wouldn't have felt the motion .

MYTH: Planet X Is on a Collision Course With Earth

This 2002 Hubble Space Telescope picture of the star V838 Monocerotis and surrounding dust clouds has been said to contain evidence of a phantom world--alternately called Planet X and Nibiru--that is on course to collide with Earth in 2012.

But, said NASA astrobiologist David Morrison, "there is no object out there. That's probably the most straightforward thing to say."

The origins of this theory actually predate widespread interest in 2012. Popularized in part by a woman who claims to receive messages from extraterrestrials, the Nibiru doomsday was originally predicted for 2003.

"If there were a planet or a brown dwarf or whatever that was going to be in the inner solar system three years from now," Morrison said, "astronomers would have been studying it for the past decade and it would be visible to the naked eye by now."

MYTH: Galactic Alignment Spells Doom

Some sky-watchers believe 2012 will close with a "galactic alignment," which will occur for the first time in 26,000 years.

In this scenario, the path of the sun in the sky would appear to cross through what, from Earth, looks to be the midpoint of our galaxy, the Milky Way. In good viewing conditions the Milky Way appears as a cloudy stripe across the night sky, as in the above, undated photo taken on Easter Island.

Some fear that the lineup will somehow expose Earth to powerful unknown galactic forces that will hasten its doom--perhaps through a "pole shift" (see first picture) or the stirring of the supermassive black hole at our galaxy's heart.

But, NASA's Morrison said, "there is no 'galactic alignment' in 2012," he said, "or at least nothing out of the ordinary."

A type of "alignment" occurs during every winter solstice, when the sun, as seen from Earth, appears in the sky near what looks to be the midpoint of the Milky Way.

Horoscope writers may be excited by alignments, Morrison said. But "the reality is that alignments are of no interest to science. They mean nothing." They create no changes in gravitational pull, solar radiation, planetary orbits, or anything else that would impact life on Earth.

MYTH: Maya Predicted End of the World in 2012

Don't ask Apolinario Chile Pixtun if the end of the world is coming in 2012. The Maya Indian elder, shown in Guatemala in October 2009, is "fed up with this stuff," he told the Associated Press.

Some archaeologists would agree. The Maya calendar, they say, doesn't end in 2012, as some have said, and the ancients never viewed that year as the time of the end of the world.

But December 21, 2012, (give or take a day) was nonetheless momentous to the Maya.

"It's the time when the largest grand cycle in the Mayan calendar--1,872,000 days or 5,125.37 years--overturns and a new cycle begins," said Anthony Aveni, an archaeoastronomer at Colgate University in New York State.

During the empire's heyday, the Maya invented the Long Count--a lengthy circular calendar that "transplanted the roots of Maya culture all the way back to creation itself," Aveni said.

During the 2012 winter solstice, time runs out on the current era of the Long Count calendar, which began on what the Maya saw as the dawn of the last creation period: August 11, 3114 B.C. The Maya wrote that date, which preceded their civilization by thousands of years, as Day Zero, or

In December 2012 the lengthy era ends and the complicated, cyclical calendar will roll over again to Day Zero, beginning another enormous cycle.

"The idea is that time gets renewed, that the world gets renewed all over again--often after a period of stress--the same way we renew time on New Year's Day or even on Monday morning," said Aveni, author of The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012.

MYTH: Solar Storms to Savage Earth

In 2012, it's rumored, the sun (shown with plasma arching over its surface in a 2000 space-telescope image) will produce lethal eruptions of solar flares, turning up the heat on Earthlings.

Solar activity waxes and wanes according to approximately 11-year cycles. Big flares can indeed damage communications and other Earthly systems, but scientists have no indications the sun, at least in the short term, will unleash storms strong enough to fry the planet.

"As it turns out, the sun isn't on schedule anyway," NASA astronomer Morrison said. "We expect that this cycle probably won't peak in 2012 but a year or two later."

MYTH: Maya Had Clear Predictions for 2012

If the Maya didn't expect the end of time in 2012, what exactly did they predict for that year?

Many scholars who've pored over the scattered evidence on Maya monuments say the empire didn't leave a clear record predicting that anything specific would happen in 2012.

The Maya did pass down a graphic--though undated--end-of-the-world scenario, described on the final page of a circa-1100 text known as the Dresden Codex . It describes a world destroyed by flood, a scenario imagined in many cultures and probably experienced, on a less apocalyptic scale, by ancient peoples (more on the Dresden Codex).

The codex scenario is meant to be read not literally but as a lesson about human behavior, said Anthony Aveni, the archaeoastronomer.

He likens the long cycles Maya calendar to our own New Year period, when the closing of an era is accompanied by frenetic activities and stress, followed by a rebirth period, when many people take stock and resolve to begin living better.

"It's not about a fixed prediction about what's going to happen."

10 Failed Doomsday Prophecies

Just as some people today believe a Maya calendar pinpoints 2012 as the end of the world as we know it, some ancient Romans saw the A.D. 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius (pictured: Pompeiians flee the city in an illustration), as a sign of a coming apocalypse.

That's because Roman philosopher Seneca, who died in A.D. 65, had predicted the Earth would go up in smoke: "All we see and admire today will burn in the universal fire that ushers in a new, just, happy world," he said, according to the 1999 book Apocalypses.

The end never came, but that hasn't stopped people--over centuries and across cultures--from forecasting our collective doom. Click through the gallery for a sampling of end-of-the-Earth scenarios.

Many Christian Europeans entered the year 1666 with trepidation: The Bible describes 666 as the ominous Number of the Beast.

A prolonged plague that had wiped out much of London's populace in 1665 didn't help assuage fears, and when the Great Fire of London (pictured in an illustration) occurred, many believed their time had come.

For instance, Londoners saw the fire as "dreadful judgment--God's wrath visited at last on a sinful Earth," according to the 2002 book The Great Fire of London: In That Apocalyptic Year, 1666.

The appearance of Halley's comet--which is seen from Earth every 76 years--has been seen as an omen of disaster throughout history.

The comet's impending arrival in 1910, for instance, stirred apocalyptic hysteria among Europeans and Americans (pictured, a French cartoon ridiculing the doomsayers), many of whom believed that the comet's tail contained a gas "that would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet," according to French astronomer Camille Flammarion, as quoted in the book Apocalypses.

Some profited from the panic: Sales of masks and "comet pills" skyrocketed, as did oxygen supplies, especially in Rome, where people hoped to keep themselves alive on bottled air until Earth passed through the comet's tail, the book said.

Since its founding in the 1870s, the Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian offshoot, had prophesied that the world would end in 1914 (above, Jehovah's Witness children hand out religious literature in an undated photo).

Though nothing of the sort happened in 1914, ever since then, the religion's followers have been predicting that the world will end "shortly," according to the 1997 book Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah's Witnesses.

The moon and Venus join together in a conjunction over the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse in Florida on February 27, 2009.

Such planetary alignments have inspired many doomsday forecasts, particularly around the May 5, 2000, conjunction, when Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn lined up with the sun and the moon, according to New Scientist.

Author Richard Noone predicted ice would overtake the world (see eighth photo), and "psychic archaeologist" Jeffrey Goodman asserted in his 1977 book We Are the Earthquake Generation that "quakes and volcanoes [will be] set off around the world and a rift [will] open up as the Earth splits in several places to relieve the stress produced by the shift," New Scientist reported.

But doom and gloom can also spark scientific innovation, as occurred in 1774 in Friesland, Germany. A vicar hoping to boost his congregation circulated a "little book of doom" that said the solar system would be demolished during an upcoming conjunction, according to New Scientist

. As townspeople's panic grew, an amateur astronomer built a planetarium in his living room to allay concerns and explain the true movements of the planets--now the oldest working mechanical planetarium in the world.

Television evangelist Pat Robertson (pictured in an undated photograph) preached that sometime in the 1980s, Jesus would return to Earth.

The event--called the Rapture--was forecast based on writings in the Bible, specifically I Thessalonians, which states: "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air," according to The Atlantic.

Under that scenario, unbelievers and Satan will be trapped in a lake of fire, where they will be tormented day and night forever, the Atlantic said. Fire will also destroy Earth and replace it with a new heaven and Earth, where believers--or the redeemed--will live.

The extremely bright comet Hale-Bopp, discovered in 1995, last buzzed Earth in March 1997 (above, the tail seen over Stonehenge on March 28)--but its appearance was met with tragedy.

Thirty-nine people, part of a religious group called Heaven's Gate, committed suicide in California when the comet was at its closest. The group believed that a UFO riding the comet's wake would rescue them from a doomed Earth.

The followers thought that Lucifer controlled the Earth and that humans "were about to perish in apocalyptic flames," according to the book Apocalypses.

n his 1997 book Ice: The Ultimate Disaster, author Richard Noone predicted that on May 5, 2000, the planets would perfectly align--and end life as we know it by sending melting ice (above, the Austfonna ice cap melts during the Arctic summer) barreling toward Earth's Equator.

Noone argued in the book that Earth's previous axis shifts had coincided with tremendous climatic changes--such as ice ages--and that such "almost unimaginable results" would happen again.

No such calamity occurred, and many scientists are now concerned about ice for another reason: Warming temperatures are gradually causing the world's frozen regions to melt away.

The Head family displays survival supplies meant to carry the family through the supposed millennium apocalypse caused by the Y2K computer bug in an undated photograph.

A 1984 computer-trade publication first warned of a cataclysm occurring on January 1, 2000, the Wall Street Journal reported, when a bug caused by a calculation error would cripple computers and other machines and lead to mass chaos. The column described how to purchase an anti-Y2K amulet and lifesaving Y2K-repair tools, the paper said.

Evangelicals also recommended that their followers stockpile food and prepare for the worst, according to the Washington Post. Such leaders as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (see sixth photo) hinted that the turn of the millennium would bring Christ's return, as described in the Book of Revelation, the Post reported.

When the Large Hadron Collider fired up in September 2009, some critics speculated that the world's biggest atom smasher could spawn a black hole that would devour Earth.

A small group of physicists argued that there was a very, very remote chance that a black hole could be created, assume an odd orbit within Earth, and eat up microscopic chunks of matter until the entire planet was gone.

This and other harrowing--and equally unlikely--scenarios prompted a couple of independent scientists to sue in spring 2008 to stop the atom smasher.

However, the concern was for naught: the collider worked--though just once, so far--without disastrous consequences.

lunes, 2 de noviembre de 2009

"Unexpected" Man Found Amid Ancient Priestesses' Tombs

In an "unexpected" discovery, a rattle-wielding elite male has been found buried among powerful priestesses of the pre-Inca Moche society in Peru, archaeologists announced Monday. (See pictures of Moche treasures from the tomb.)

Surrounded by early "smoke machines" as well as human and llama bones, the body was among several buried inside a unique double-chambered tomb that dates back to A.D. 850, said archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, of the Catholic University of Peru in Lima.

The tomb contained a wooden coffin decorated with a copper lattice and a gilded mask, sitting on a raised platform. Inside the coffin "is where we find the main object of the burial, and that fellow is a male," Castillo said.

"After 18 years of excavation in San José de Moro, we were expecting another female," he added. "But this tends to happen [in archaeology]—expect the unexpected."

"Smoke Machines," Llama Sacrifice?

The Moche people were a fragmented society of farmers who occupied the arid coasts of Peru from about A.D. 100 to 1000. (See a Peru map.)

Since 1991 Castillo has led excavations at San José de Moro, a regional ceremonial center and cemetery for elite Moche in the northern coast's Jequetepeque Valley.

The site has so far yielded seven royal priestess burials, an indication of the powerful role of women in Moche society, Castillo said.

This year Castillo's team started excavations on the first known double-chambered Moche tomb. The work was partially funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration.

Artwork painted on known Moche pottery often depicts a ritual ceremony where a coffin is lowered into a tomb like the one that held the rattle-wielding male.

The funerals, Castillo noted, were cause for celebration and allowed for the seamless transition of power from one ruler to the next. Living priestesses probably performed such burials at annual festivals held at San José de Moro.

At the newly explored tomb, the team found a ramp that led into the first chamber, which contained the bones of a young human male on one side and those of a llama in a corner.

The human and the llamas "could have been sacrificed for the purpose of the burial," Castillo said.

Ceramic bowls about 20 inches (38 centimeters) wide crowded the floor along the walls and filled overlying niches. The large bowls were overflowing with smaller, thick-walled ceramic bottles.

These bottles may have been heated up and dropped into liquid-filled bowls to create a steamy, misty effect as bodies were lowered into the tomb during the funeral, Castillo said.

A sealed door closed off the entrance to the second chamber. Inside that second room, painted red and yellow, the archaeologists found the remains of two females and a male in simple burials.

The trio may have been sacrifices, but for now the team is unsure of their exact roles.

Another unidentified young male sat cross-legged in the room, and a lone mask lay out in the open.

The mask is similar to the one found on the elite male's coffin, making Castillo suspect the mask might have been left behind from another coffin that had been mysteriously removed.

Inside the elite male's coffin, his bones, a mask, a long stick with hanging bells, and other metal objects were in disarray. The jumble suggests the coffin had endured a long, bumpy journey before arriving at the tomb complex, Castillo added.

Wrinkle Face's Rattle

The surprise discovery of an elite male burial among the priestesses sent Castillo and his colleagues searching through Moche artwork for an explanation.

For starters, the long stick with bells looked remarkably similar to a rattle held by a well-known archetype in Moche art.

"I think that the guy with the rattle is the guy that we have here," Castillo said.

The archetype is known as Aia Paec, or "Wrinkle Face," a central figure in burial scenes. He's often depicted lowering a coffin into a tomb alongside another human-like character named Iguana.

Alongside Iguana and a female, probably one of the priestesses, Aia Paec is also depicted in some scenes presenting a decorative shell to a leader. According to Castillo, Aia Paec and Iguana were roles that living people would have inherited. When the person who had played a role died, he or she would be buried and a new person in the living world would take on the part.

"It seems then that all of these figures are related and connected," Castillo said.

Transition of Power?

So many of the known Moche elite burials are female that some archaeologists believe women dominated the Moche power structure.

But because both men and women rulers are represented in Moche artwork, it's hard to believe that the civilization was "strictly ruled by women," Castillo said.

"I think it would be more possible to have societies where women power is allowed alongside male power," he added.

"So finding a male elite burial probably goes in that direction."

But anthropologist Steve Bourget, an expert in Moche art at the University of Texas at Austin, suspects the male in the coffin was not the tomb's primary resident.

He cites the fact that the male's coffin was found against one wall of what could be seen as an unusually empty chamber. According to Bourget, it's possible some of the tomb's inhabitants were taken away in Moche times.

"Maybe what you had in there was one of these so-called priestesses along with other people, and then they didn't remove that guy," he said.

The idea of the newfound male as a supporting figure in an important female's burial would better fit Bourget's notion that late Moche society was transitioning to a power structure ruled by kings surrounded by influential women.

"I see that in the iconography, but I also see that in the site of San José de Moro," he said.

The tomb complex's layout, he said, suggests a king's, or kings', tomb surrounded by satellite tombs for priestesses.

Such a power structure was prevalent in coastal Peru's succeeding cultures, the Chimú and later the Lambayeque, he noted.

Excavation leader Castillo, however, said that the newfound male could instead be part of a more complex burial layout that would put the Moche man on equal footing with the priestesses.

The new discovery, he added, may not be the first to support his view of male-female power sharing.

In 2008 his team excavated a priestess from a tomb alongside the one containing the elite male. "They seem to be like a mirror image, [with] the male on one side [and] the female on the other one."

Marine Machines Made in Nature's Image

October 26, 2009--If it looks like a fish and swims like a fish, it could be a robot--such as the University of Bath's Gymnobot (pictured), inspired by an Amazonian knifefish.

Researchers worldwide are developing robots that look and act like aquatic creatures. That's because biomimetic gadgets--bots that take inspiration from nature--are often more efficient than their clunkier counterparts.

"In a fishlike fish, the whole of the animal is muscle--its propeller," said Gymnobot developer William Megill of the University of Bath, U.K. "That's not particularly conducive to putting in circuit boards."

To allow more room for cameras and other electronics, Megill's team took cues from the knifefish, which keeps its body rigid to sense electric currents in the water. In the same way, Gymnobot uses its lower, bladelike "fin" to propel itself through the water while the body remains rigid.

Megill and colleagues hope the bot can be used to study marine life near the shore, where a propeller would kick up too much sediment or get tangled in weeds.

A child watches a jewel-like robotic fish in the London Aquarium on October 7, 2005.

Five similar fish will soon be patrolling the coast of Spain, searching for pollutants in the water.

The 4.9-foot (1.5-meter) long robots, currently being built by the University of Essex, U.K., will be improvements on the model seen above. Longer battery life and more advanced sensors will allow each fish to spend about eight hours at a time exploring the port of Gijon, then automatically report to a charging station to report its data wirelessly.

These robo-lobsters (pictured) are apparently agile enough to track down underwater mines.

Just like the real things, the small machines have antennae to sense obstacles, eight legs that allow movement in any direction, and claws and a tail that keep the robots stable in turbulent water and other environments.

Inventor Joseph Ayers--who's also the author of several lobster cookbooks--has spent the past three decades developing biomimetic robots like these, which were made for the U.S. Navy at Northeastern University's Marine Science Center.

AquaPenguins (pictured) can navigate through a tank without human help and--unlike real penguins--swim in reverse.

Built by Festo, a German engineering company that mostly sells pneumatic equipment to the automotive industry, the AquaPenguin was designed to test new technologies. The robots have inspired Festo's BionicTripod and FinGripper, used to manipulate items--even fragile ones--on an assembly line.

Charlie the Robo-Tuna (pictured)--arguably the world's first robo-fish--took its first swim at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994 after three years of development.

Designed to mimic real fish as closely as possible, Charlie was built with 40 ribs, tendons, and a segmented backbone with vertebrae--just a few of the fish's 2,843 parts and 6 motors.

Later iterations of MIT's fish reduced the moving parts necessary to replicate fishlike movement but remained authentically fishy--not always the main concern of robo-fish fabricators.

The University of Bath's Megill, creator of the Gymnobot (see first photo) said: "I'm on the other end of the spectrum, saying, I see how a fish works, and I appreciate that, but what I want is something that works like a propeller."

AquaJelly robots (pictured) swim with their own kind by blinking at them. The jellyfish-inspired machines communicate with each other via eleven infrared LEDs inside their domes.

German engineering company Festo is using the jellies to test whether large-scale engineering problems can be solved by the cooperation of many smaller systems

Spooky Species Discovered This Year

While he may not vant to suck your blood, this male fish does sport spooky-looking fangs that have earned it the name Danionella dracula—and that's more than enough to qualify as a one of the spookiest new species announced in 2009.

The fangs of D. dracula--discovered in March 2009 in Myanmar (Burma)--aren't actually true teeth. The line of fish that gave rise to the ghoulish species is thought to have lost teeth for good around 50 million years ago.

Instead, researchers think the males use these extralong fangs to spar with each other during aggressive displays.

A bizarre six-foot-long (two-meter-long) fish (species pictured in larval stage), was found floating dead off Brazil's Bahia coast in September 2009. Later examination revealed that it was a rare type of bloblike fish from the deep. Such so-called jellynose fish--known for their soft, blunt noses and scaleless, tapered bodies--are thought to be bottom-feeders, eating whatever they can suck off the seafloor.

This newfound blind cave eel--one of 850 creatures discovered underneath Australia in 2009--has no need for eyes in its dark habitat.

At 16 inches (40 centimeters) long, the rare eel--found in aquifers along the Cape Range mountains--is the longest underground species known on the continent, researchers said.

The newly identified Eastern Pacific black ghostshark haunts waters thousands of feet deep off the coasts of California and Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

The odd fish, which has a club-like sex organ on its forehead, belongs to the mysterious and little-studied chimaeras--perhaps the oldest group of fish alive today, scientists said in September 2009

The fearsome-looking Hickmanolobus linnaei, eats tiny, spineless creatures in the leaf litter in New South Wales, Australia, scientists said in March 2009.

The spider is 1 of 19 new species, including a spider-killing wasp, found on the continent earlier this year.

An oddity among oddities, a new carnivorous sea squirt traps fish and other prey in its funnel-like front section, scientists announced in January 2009. Most of the 2,000 or so known sea squirt species are so-called filter feeders that strain plankton from seawater.

Tethered to the seafloor 13,143 feet (4,006 meters) underwater, the 20-inch (50-centimeter) sea squirt is one of the deepest-dwelling animals ever found in Australian waters (more on the carnivorous sea squirt and pictures of other creatures discovered off Australia).

Tree "Mummies" Found, Traced Back to Viking Era


"Mummified" trees that lived around Viking times have been discovered near a fjord in southwestern Norway, scientists say.

Dated to the early 1200s, the 40 dead Scotch pines were found scattered among living trees in what was once a dense forest that supplied wood for medieval boats and churches.

The trees appear to have died from natural causes after living out their several-hundred-year life spans.

But somehow the dead trees "survived"—they apparently have never rotted. (See a related picture of rare fossil trees found in Hungary.)

The mummified trees are different from petrified wood, a kind of fossil created when wood is replaced with minerals over thousands of years.

Tree "Mummies" Astound Researchers

The find astounded researchers, since most dead trees decay as they are eaten by tiny organisms, said research leader Terje Thun, a biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

"Here on the west coast of Norway, where it rains a lot and [is] always wet, it was a surprise that the wood was in such good condition," Thun said.

With these uniquely preserved pines, he added, "you could touch the same tree that Viking [ancestors] have seen."

(Watch Secrets of the Viking Warriors on the National Geographic Channel, November 11 at 9 a.m. ET.)

Unusually Robust Trees

Thun suspects the trees stayed so fresh for two reasons.

For one, many of the trees had either remained upright or fallen on rocks, avoiding exposure to the wet ground—and thus the water and soil microbes that aid decay.

Also, pines are full of resin, which protects them against wood-eating bacteria. At death, pines release large amounts of resin, which could have helped delay decomposition.

Still, keeping decay at bay for centuries displays unusual hardiness, said Thun, who accidentally found the tree "mummies" while doing research on records of ancient temperatures derived from tree rings.

The Vikings living along the coast of present-day Sogndal in the 12th and 13th centuries apparently favored the robust pines, Thun's study shows.

Timber from a stave church—a distinctive medieval church built by the Vikings—matches wood from the forest that contains the dead trees.

The Norse peoples likely trekked to inland forests to hunt and harvest trees for their buildings, he added.

Giant Squid Eaten by Sperm Whale

Carrying the remains of a roughly 30-foot (9-meter) giant squid in her jaws, a female sperm whale, with a calf at her side, swims near the surface off Japan's Bonin Islands (map)in the northwestern Pacific. Taken on October 15, this and other "absolutely sensational" new pictures offer rare proof of the sperm whale's taste for giant squid, said giant squid expert Steve O'Shea of the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand.

The pictures may also reveal that adult sperm whales, which grow up to 59 feet (18 meters) long, use pieces of their prizes to teach youngsters how to catch their own, O'Shea told National Geographic News.

The group of five adults and one calf kept diving deep in unison, photographer Tony Wu told the Daily Mail. "It seemed as if the adult whales were trying to teach the baby to dive and also to eat squid,"

Eating on the run, a female sperm whale carries the remains of a giant squid off the Bonin Islands, about 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Tokyo, on October 15, 2009.

The whale almost certainly carried the giant morsel up from the dark depths of the nearby Osagawara Trench, a favorite hunting ground of sperm whales. The whales routinely dive for an hour or more to depths of up to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) in pursuit of giant squid, which are thought to rarely venture higher than 1,000 feet (300 meters) below sea level.

Battles between giant squid and sperm whales often leave the whales scarred with sucker marks. Until recently, such wounds--along with analysis of sperm whale stomach contents--were the only proof of the whales' appetite for giant squid.

A female sperm whale, carrying a piece of giant squid in her mouth, leads a gargantuan dinner party in the northwestern Pacific on October 15, 2009. Sperm whales are voracious hunters of squid, and one animal can consume an estimated 110 million tons a year.

Aiding the sperm whale in its hunts is the world's largest brain, which is surrounded by patches of spermaceti. Once used in candles and ointments, the white, waxy substance was long ago mistaken for the whale's sperm, leading to the species' curious name.

An 11.5-foot-long (3.5-meter-long) leftover, this giant squid arm was recovered at the surface from another sperm whale hunt on October 14, 2009, in the same place as feeding frenzy photographed underwater the next day.

At this site in 2006, a Japanese expedition had captured the first ever images of a live giant squid.

During the rare October 15 photo shoot, photographer Tony Wu was "absolutely ecstatic," he told National Geographic News. "But completely focused on making sure I got photos."