Popular Science Round-up: Mummy soup, Snakes in amber, climate-driven behavior
This is not your regular Abbreviated Science Round-up. Don’t worry, that one is coming. But each week, there are a number of science, environment, energy, and technology stories that escape the pages of journals—or were never there in the first place—and appear in the mainstream press. Since I started Abbreviated Science Round-up with the specific purpose of bringing some attention to articles while they were fresh on the pages of peer-reviewed journals, I’ve always felt a bit off when it came to hitting the articles from Discover, or National Geographic, or the science pages from the BBC, NY Times, or elsewhere.
So here’s the obvious solution: Abbreviated Science Round-up is splitting in two. ASR will remain doing it’s job of covering articles that have just hit the pages of Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (yes, people do call it PNAS) and other reputable journals. But Popular Science Round-up will bring you a look at some articles that made it into the papers, television, and twitter feeds over the last week, even if they don’t come with an attached author’s CV and numbered charts.
And, entirely emblematic of what happens when science gets tossed into the popular press, story number one is something you’ve probably seen, and winced about, several times in the last few days.
Secret tomb turns out to contain a trio of mummies in blood red broth
When a massive granite sarcophagus turned up near the city of Alexandria in Egypt, speculation began immediately that it might be the long-sought tomb of Alexander the Great. Alexander, a Macedonian warlord who spent the bulk of his short life conquering every damn thing he could find, died in 323 BCE after a bought of racking pains and a severe fever. The nature of Alexander’s death has always been a bit suspect. There has long been a theory that he was poisoned, possibly by his own soldiers who—having traveled all the way to India—were just so damn tired of marching.
In his illness, Alexander was hauled back to the palace of of Nebuchadnezzar, in Babylon, Iraq. He apparently wanted to be buried back in Macedonia, where he had started before all that conquering, but his body was fought over, stolen, and buried in at least a couple of other places, before fans dug him up and brought his body brought back to his namesake city in Egypt somewhere around 274 BCE. And they built him a tomb on the outskirts of the city.
Alexander’s tomb was apparently quite real, because a visit to the place appears in a lot of ancient travelogues. Caesar dropped by. So did Cleopatra and, later, Augustus. But by 400 AD the location of the tomb seemed to be something of a mystery. Arabic scholars reported having a small building pointed out to them as late as the 15th century, but it’s description doesn’t seem to match the rather grand descriptions from earlier visitors. Since that time, more than 100 attempts have been made to locate the tomb without success.
So gigantic granite sarcophagus weighing 30 + tons … it seemed like an interesting find, even if it wasn’t exactly where there ancient texts predicted. But after a week in which people alternately cheered on the idea of opening the thing, and recited every scrap of mummy-related lore picked up from expert Egyptologists Boris Karloff and Rachel Weisz, archaeologists in Egypt peeled back the lid to find, as The Gaurdian recounts …
… three mummies and a red liquid he identified as sewage water, believed to have entered the sarcophagus through a crack on its right side, causing the decomposition of the mummies.
So far, the world has not been hit with a curse. Well … the world has not be hit with a new curse. But, people being intrinsically awful, it has been hit with a online petition to allow someone to turn the blood-red mixture of decades-old sewage and centuries-old mummy rot into an energy drink. And no, I am not linking that petition.
Come on, let’s look at something else ...