Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category


Who was Cervantes? BBC News has the essential facts
1547: Born near Madrid
1571: Shot and wounded at Battle of Lepanto
1575: Captured and enslaved for five years in Algiers
1605: Publishes first part of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, second part in 1615. Don Quixote is man obsessed with chivalry who sets out in search of adventure on his ageing horse Rocinante and with his faithful squire Sancho Panza
1616: Cervantes dies aged 68, with six teeth remaining. Buried at Convent of Barefoot Trinitarians
Grave lost when convent rebuilt

Forensic scientists say they have found the tomb of Spain’s much-loved giant of literature, Miguel de Cervantes, nearly 400 years after his death.

They believe they have found the bones of Cervantes, his wife and others recorded as buried with him in Madrid’s Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians.

Separating and identifying his badly damaged bones from the other fragments will be difficult, researchers say.

The Don Quixote author was buried in 1616 but his coffin was later lost.

When the convent was rebuilt late in the 17th Century, his remains were moved into the new building and it has taken centuries to rediscover the tomb of the man known as Spain’s “Prince of Letters”.

“His end was that of a poor man. A war veteran with his battle wounds,” said Pedro Corral, head of art, sport and tourism at Madrid city council.

The team of 30 researchers used infrared cameras, 3D scanners and ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint the burial site, in a forgotten crypt beneath the building.

Inside one of 33 niches found against the far wall, archaeologists discovered a number of adult bones matching a group of people with whom Cervantes had been buried, before their tombs were disturbed and moved into the crypt.

“The remains are in a bad state of conservation and do not allow us to do an individual identification of Miguel de Cervantes,” said forensic scientist Almudena Garcia Rubio.

“But we are sure what the historical sources say is the burial of Miguel de Cervantes and the other people buried with him is what we have found.”

Further analysis may allow the team to separate the bones of Cervantes from those of the others if they can use DNA analysis to work out which bones do not belong to the author.

Investigator Luis Avial told a news conference on Tuesday that Cervantes would be reburied “with full honours” in the same convent after a new tomb had been built, according to his wishes.

“Cervantes asked to be buried there and there he should stay,” said Luis Avial, georadar expert on the search team.

The convent’s religious order helped pay for his ransom after he was captured by pirates and held prisoner for five years in Algiers.

The crypt will be opened to the public next year for the first time in centuries to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death.

Mr Corral told the BBC that the project had not just been about finding the bones of the author but of honouring his memory and encouraging people to learn more about him.

Many people may be rediscovering Cervantes because of the search, he said.

Born near Madrid in 1547, Cervantes has been dubbed the father of the modern novel for The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, published in two parts in 1605 and 1615.

The book is thought to be one of the most widely read and translated books in the world.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31852032

meditation

With evidence growing that meditation can have beneficial health effects, scientists have sought to understand how these practices physically affect the body.

A new study by researchers in Wisconsin, Spain, and France reports the first evidence of specific molecular changes in the body following a period of mindfulness meditation.

The study investigated the effects of a day of intensive mindfulness practice in a group of experienced meditators, compared to a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After eight hours of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a range of genetic and molecular differences, including altered levels of gene-regulating machinery and reduced levels of pro-inflammatory genes, which in turn correlated with faster physical recovery from a stressful situation.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice,” says study author Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Most interestingly, the changes were observed in genes that are the current targets of anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs,” says Perla Kaliman, first author of the article and a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona, Spain (IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS), where the molecular analyses were conducted.

The study was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Mindfulness-based trainings have shown beneficial effects on inflammatory disorders in prior clinical studies and are endorsed by the American Heart Association as a preventative intervention. The new results provide a possible biological mechanism for therapeutic effects.

The results show a down-regulation of genes that have been implicated in inflammation. The affected genes include the pro-inflammatory genes RIPK2 and COX2 as well as several histone deacetylase (HDAC) genes, which regulate the activity of other genes epigenetically by removing a type of chemical tag. What’s more, the extent to which some of those genes were downregulated was associated with faster cortisol recovery to a social stress test involving an impromptu speech and tasks requiring mental calculations performed in front of an audience and video camera.

Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers say, there was no difference in the tested genes between the two groups of people at the start of the study. The observed effects were seen only in the meditators following mindfulness practice. In addition, several other DNA-modifying genes showed no differences between groups, suggesting that the mindfulness practice specifically affected certain regulatory pathways.

However, it is important to note that the study was not designed to distinguish any effects of long-term meditation training from those of a single day of practice. Instead, the key result is that meditators experienced genetic changes following mindfulness practice that were not seen in the non-meditating group after other quiet activities — an outcome providing proof of principle that mindfulness practice can lead to epigenetic alterations of the genome.

Previous studies in rodents and in people have shown dynamic epigenetic responses to physical stimuli such as stress, diet, or exercise within just a few hours.

“Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression,” Davidson says.

“The regulation of HDACs and inflammatory pathways may represent some of the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic potential of mindfulness-based interventions,” Kaliman says. “Our findings set the foundation for future studies to further assess meditation strategies for the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions.”

Study funding came from National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (grant number P01-AT004952) and grants from the Fetzer Institute, the John Templeton Foundation, and an anonymous donor to Davidson. The study was conducted at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the UW-Madison Waisman Center.

http://www.news.wisc.edu/22370

Thanks to Dr. D for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

skull

An unusual cluster of Stone Age skulls with smashed-in faces has been found carefully separated from the rest of their skeletons. They appear to have been dug up several years after being buried with their bodies, separated, then reburied. Although collections of detached skulls have been dug up at many Stone Age sites in Europe and the Near East – but the face-smashing is a new twist that adds further mystery to how these societies related to their dead.

Juan José Ibañez at the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona says the find may suggest that Stone Age cultures believed dead young men were a threat to the world of the living.

No one knows why Neolithic societies buried clusters of skulls – often near or underneath settlements. Some think it was a sign of ancestral veneration. “When people started living together [during the Neolithic period], they needed a social cement,” says Ibañez. Venerating ancestors might have been a way of doing this. But the violence demonstrated towards the skulls in the latest cluster suggests a different story.

The 10,000-year-old skulls were found in Syria. Like those found in other caches, they have been cleanly separated from their spines, suggesting they were collected from dead bodies that had already begun to decompose. Patterns on the bone indicate that some had been decomposing for longer than others, making it likely that they were all gathered together for a specific purpose.

Most of the skulls belonged to adult males between 18 and 30 years old. One – belonging to a child – was left intact; one was smashed to pieces; the remaining nine lacked facial bones. “There was a pattern,” says Ibañez. “The top of the skull and the jaw were there, but they were missing all of the bones in between.” His team believes the facial bones were smashed out with a stone and brute force. “There were no traces of cutting,” he says (American Journal of Physical Anthropology, DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22111).

Ibañez reckons Stone Age people believed they would receive some benefit – perhaps the strength of the young men the skulls once belonged to – by burying them near or beneath their settlements. Why the faces were smashed in invites speculation.

It may have been an act of spite or revenge, says Ibañez. Or the skulls may have been brought together to create a “community of the dead”, perhaps in order to spiritually interact with the living.

“The post-mortem violence suggests young men were seen as carrying a particular threat,” says Stuart Campbell at the University of Manchester, UK. Destroying their facial structures may have been a way of destroying the individuals’ identities, he says.

Liv Nilsson Stutz at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, says the act could have helped deal with grief. “Taking away facial identity could be a way of separating the dead from the living,” she says.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528784.400-stone-age-skullsmashers-spark-a-cultural-mystery.html

mayan-king-120510

The ancient Maya used a vivid, remarkably durable blue paint to cover their palace walls, codices, pottery and maybe even the bodies of human sacrifices who were thrown to their deaths down sacred wells. Now a group of chemists claim to have cracked the recipe of Maya Blue. Scientists have long known the two chief ingredients of the intense blue pigment: indigo, a plant dye that’s used today to color denim; and palygorskite, a type of clay. But how the Maya cooked up the unfading paint remained a mystery. Now Spanish researchers report that they found traces of another pigment in Maya Blue, which they say gives clues about how the color was made.

“We detected a second pigment in the samples, dehydroindigo, which must have formed through oxidation of the indigo when it underwent exposure to the heat that is required to prepare Maya Blue,” Antonio Doménech, a researcher from the University of Valencia, said in a statement.

“Indigo is blue and dehydroindigo is yellow, therefore the presence of both pigments in variable proportions would justify the more or less greenish tone of Maya Blue,” Doménech explained. “It is possible that the Maya knew how to obtain the desired hue by varying the preparation temperature, for example heating the mixture for more or less time or adding more of less wood to the fire.”

American researchers in 2008 claimed that copal resin, which was used for incense, may have been the third secret ingredient for Maya Blue. Their research was based on a study of a bowl that had traces of the pigment and was used to burn incense. But Doménech’s team didn’t buy those findings. “The bowl contained Maya Blue mixed with copal incense, so the simplified conclusion was that it was only prepared by warming incense,” Doménech said in a statement.

The Spanish researchers say they are now investigating the chemical bonds that bind the paint’s organic component (indigo) to the inorganic component (clay), which is key to Maya Blue’s resilience.

Among the more remarkable discoveries of the paint in context was a 14-foot thick (4 meters) layer of blue mud at the bottom of a naturally formed sinkhole, called the Sacred Cenote, at the famous Pre-Columbian Maya site Chichén Itzá in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. When the Sacred Cenote was first dredged in 1904, it puzzled researchers, but some scientists now believe it was probably left over from blue-coated human sacrifices thrown into the well as part of a Maya ritual.

The research was detailed this year in the journal Microporous and Mesoporous Materials.

http://www.livescience.com/28381-maya-blue-paint-recipe-discovered.html

snow-rabbitNeanderthals1

Neanderthals became extinct as they were unable to adapt their hunting skills to catch small animals like rabbits, a new study has claimed.

For the study, John Fa of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Trinity, Jersey, and his colleagues counted skeletons of animals that were found in three excavation sites in Spain and southern France.

The team found that up until 30,000 years ago, the skeletons of larger animals like deer were plentiful in caves.

But around the same time, coinciding with Neanderthals’ disappearance, rabbit skeletons became more abundant.

The team postulated that humans succeeded far more at switching to capturing and eating rabbits than Neanderthals, New Scientist reported.

Fa said that it is still not clear as to why Neanderthals had trouble changing their prey.

He said that maybe the Neanderthals may have been less able to cooperate and rather than using spears, early humans probably surrounded a warren and flushed out rabbits with fire, smoke or dogs.

http://www.phenomenica.com/2013/03/inability-to-catch-rabbits-may-have-led-to-demise-of-neanderthals.html

 

According to Spain’s El Mondo newspaper, the unnamed man lost consciousness after being struck by lightning in the groin on Thursday night, with the bolt travelling down his leg and striking the ground.

His son called paramedics who later treated him for burns to the scrotum and feet at the scene in Madrid’s suburb Tres Cantos.

He was then taken to Madrid’s Hospital de la Paz where tests showed his heart and brain functions were not affected by the lightning strike.

The man is said to be in a stable condition in hospital.

Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/898280-man-in-madrid-survives-being-struck-by-lightning-in-the-scrotum#ixzz1utrdpvEN