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Notebook Science



That's Mr. Queen to you

Lost tooth identifies female pharaoh

It's the long lost mummy of one of Egypt's most famous rulers. Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass says he's identified the remains of Hatshepsut, a powerful female pharaoh who usurped the throne of her stepson in the 15th century b.c. and wore a fake beard and male clothing. The mummy appears to have had diabetes and died from cancer at about 50.

Since it was taboo for a woman to rule ancient Egypt, Hatshepsut portrayed herself as male and initiated building projects, expeditions, and other kingly activities. Some wall carvings depict her as severely overweight. Although Hatshepsut's royal tomb was discovered by the legendary explorer Howard Carter in 1903, her mummy was not inside it and had probably been moved in antiquity to thwart vandalism.

Hawass began a rigorous search for Hatshepsut after the Discovery Channel offered to finance and film the hunt. Hawass' team sought out several mummies to investigate, including an unidentified, obese mummy found in a tomb next to Hatshepsut's tomb. The team subjected the mummies to CAT scanning and also scanned a canopic box carved with Hatshepsut's name, which contained organs and a single molar. Remarkably, the scans revealed that the upper jaw of the obese mummy was missing the same molar found in the box. Precise measurements of the tooth matched it to the jaw perfectly.

Hawass told a press conference his team is "100 percent sure," of the mummy's identity, and he calls the finding the most important discovery since the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. His team is now conducting DNA testing to try to link the mummy with others identified as Hatshepsut's family.

Several archaeologists are not convinced of Hawass' conclusion, citing insufficient evidence and the difficulties of obtaining mummy DNA. It seems controversy has always surrounded the cross-dressed queen: In classic Egyptian style, her name was carved out of monuments to erase the memory of her unusual reign.

Global cooling

Greenland has seen greener days

Eric the Red named Greenland with the hope of attracting more settlers to his icy island, or so it's said. But it turns out Greenland really was green sometime in the past.

An international research team analyzed ice-core samples from the island and found DNA from several species of trees, including pine and spruce, along with that of insects like beetles, butterflies, and spiders. Writing in the journal Science, the team believes the DNA indicates southern Greenland was covered in forests sometime between 450,000 and 800,000 years ago.

In previous fieldwork, fossilized vegetation was found in a northern part of the island-suggesting it too had seen greener days.

Lab Notes

DISCOVERY: Found: a complete dodo. An entire skeleton of the plump, flightless bird hunted to extinction in the 17th century has been discovered inside a cave on Mauritius, the Indian Ocean island where dodos once lived. The rare find may be the best preserved dodo skeleton in existence and could yield the iconic bird's genes.

POWER: A miniscule generator developed by British scientists converts vibrations into microwatts of power. At one cubic centimeter, the generator could be used in pacemakers, where the heart's beating would power the device.

SPACE: The International Space Station may become available in 2011 to American companies who want to conduct space research. If a NASA plan is implemented, a portion of the space station's U.S. segment will be designated a "national laboratory."

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Where the evidence leads

Fossils show dinosaurs had more spine

In recent decades, a dominant portion of paleontologists have taught that birds evolved from dinosaurs. The popular theory of bird origins has been bolstered by fossils showing filamentous patterns interpreted to be "protofeathers," or evolutionary precursors to modern feathers. But a controversial new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B challenges this view.

The hubbub centers on a theropod called Sinosauropteryx, a turkey-sized dinosaur related to Tyrannosaurus rex. First discovered in 1994, Sinosauropteryx was hailed as an ancestor to birds after it was observed to sport a mane of fibrous structures along its spine-rudimentary feathers intended to keep the animal warm, as the theory went. But Alan Feduccia, a University of North Carolina professor and co-author of the Proceedings B paper, argues that a microscopic examination of the alleged "protofeather" fibers shows otherwise.

"We found what I would consider to be definitive evidence-based on the structure of these fibers and their position and so forth-to show that they are in fact degraded skin collagen fibers," Feduccia told WORLD. "[They] have nothing to do with feathers or protofeathers."

Feduccia and his colleagues believe the collagen, a connective protein found in bone, once supported a frill along the dinosaur's back and tail. They say their discovery challenges the idea that dinosaurs evolved into modern birds.

Other scientists disagree, claiming the link between dinosaurs and birds has already been firmly established. And some dispute the Sinosauropteryx study itself: "It is appalling that Proceedings B chose to publish this nonsense," Kevin Padian, curator at the University of California's Museum of Paleontology, told National Geographic News.

But Feduccia is sticking by his guns. "There are too many problems with the current dogma of the dinosaurian origin of birds," he said. "I'm willing to go wherever the evidence leads us."

Missing the rain for the trees: Global-warming models fail to account for moisture

Computer models that predict climate changes due to global warming are flawed, according to a study published in the journal Science. The study examined two decades' worth of satellite climate data and found that actual rain and snow precipitation was much higher than current models predict. In fact, precipitation increased with temperature at a rate three times higher than expected. Most global warming models forecast a much slower rise in precipitation that would mean drought for many already dry areas of the globe.

The study determined that while many models accurately predict temperature rise, they fail to show long-term changes in moisture levels, or the effects of weather patterns like El Niño.

This summer an internationally supported experiment will study the persisting mysteries of rain cloud formation around Germany's Black Forest-an area where rainfall is often forecast incorrectly.

-Daniel James Devine is a writer in Indiana and editor of

Not magic, it's 'WiTricity'

A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has successfully illuminated an unplugged light bulb from 7 feet away. It's not magic, it's "WiTricity"-a short name for the wireless electricity technology the team hopes will eventually be used to power devices like laptops and MP3 players. Incorporating two antenna-like coils of wire, one hooked to a power source and another attached to an appliance (in this case a 60-watt bulb), the technology uses low-frequency electromagnetic waves to create "magnetic resonance" between the coils. The resulting transmission is strong and efficient, even when obstructed, and should be harmless to people.

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Dover disruption

The democratic blow to the ID movement is likely to reverberate in school boards nationwide

Judge John E. Jones III has yet to rule in a lawsuit against Dover, Pa., school board officials who added a statement mentioning Intelligent Design (ID) to their ninth-grade science curriculum. But citizens within the district made their decision on Nov. 8, narrowly voting to replace members of the board with a pro-evolution panel committed to keeping ID out of science classrooms.

The new board members have said they will wait for Judge Jones' decision before removing the ID statement from the curriculum. They have also expressed openness to teaching students about ID in philosophy or social studies classes.

But the democratic blow to the ID movement is likely to reverberate in school boards nationwide. In Dover, outgoing board member David Napierskie proposed revoking the curriculum change and filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit-perhaps realizing board members had acted outside the will of their constituents. National polls show a small majority of Americans support teaching ID alongside evolution in public schools, but such numbers vary widely from state to state and district to district.

Even as Dover voters delivered a potential chill on future ID advancements from school boards across the country, Pat Robertson sought to deliver a counterbalance. The "700 Club" TV minister warned the citizens of Dover that in case of a "disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected Him from your city." The remarks drew massive scorn from secular and Christian sources alike, further diminishing the near absent credibility of a man who recently called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Neither Mr. Robertson nor Dover voters had any impact on the Kansas State Board of Education, however. On Nov. 8, Kansas adopted a science curriculum that includes well-established challenges to the theory of evolution. The new standards will not propose alternate theories, such as ID, but will refrain from teaching Darwinism as unchallenged fact. School districts will evaluate whether to add alternate theories in 2008.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the intellectual engine behind ID, has praised the Kansas board for its measured approach. Discovery Institute officials did not support the Dover school board's bolder strategy, believing it could ultimately harm perceptions of ID.

The Kansas development is unlikely to draw similar legal action to that in Dover, where litigating parents characterized ID as thinly veiled creationism. Proving that religious motivation is behind a more thorough teaching of evolution would be a far more slippery noodle.

Kansans who support the teaching of Darwinism without challenges are more likely to chase after the lead of Dover voters, pegging the school board as creationists in the court of public opinion. That campaign is underway: "What the board has done is impose its religious beliefs on schoolchildren," University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway told the Associated Press. But such rhetoric may struggle to gain political traction in a state where polls suggest a majority of people not only support the board's decision, but advocate the next step-teaching ID.

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