Posts Tagged ‘Michael d’Estries’


The pages of the Voynich Manuscript, estimated to have been written between 1404-1438, have puzzled researchers for over a century.

by Michael d’Estries

The 600-year-old book no one can read has been fascinating us for decades, but we’re only recently starting to learn more about it.

Named after the Polish-American bookseller Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912, the Voynich Manuscript is a detailed 240-page book written in a language or script that is completely unknown.

Some folks have labelled the Voynich Manuscript as nothing more than an ancient hoax, including Gordon Rugg of Keele University in the U.K., who has spent more than a decade studying the manuscript. Rugg writes in a 2016 paper that the text would be easy to fake if the author was familiar with simple coding techniques. “We have known for years that the syllables are not random. There are ways of producing gibberish which are not random in a statistical sense,” he told New Scientist. “It’s a bit like rolling loaded dice. If you roll dice that are subtly loaded, they would come up with a six more often than you would expect, but not every time.”

But other researchers don’t necessarily agree. In a 2013 study published in the journal PLoS One, Dr. Diego Amancio, a professor at University of São Paulo’s Institute of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, explained how the book’s beautiful gibberish is likely an actual language.

“We show that it is mostly compatible with natural languages and incompatible with random texts,” he writes. “We also obtain candidates for keywords of the Voynich Manuscript, which could be helpful in the effort of deciphering it.”


Deciphering it with artificial intelligence

More recently, Greg Kondrak, an expert in natural language processing at the University of Alberta, used artificial intelligence to try to crack the code. With the help of his grad student, Bradley Hauer, Kondrak used samples from “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which was written in nearly 400 languages, running algorithms to identify the language of the text. Although they hypothesized it was written in Arabic, it turned out the most likely language was Hebrew.

The researchers hypothesized the manuscript was created using alphagrams, where the letters of a word are replaced in alphabetical order. With that assumption, they tried to create an algorithm to read the text.

“It turned out that over 80 percent of the words were in a Hebrew dictionary, but we didn’t know if they made sense together,” said Kondrak, in a statement.

After being unable to find Hebrew scholars to confirm their findings, the researchers turned to Google Translate. “It came up with a sentence that is grammatical, and you can interpret it,” said Kondrak, “she made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people. It’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense.”

Without historians of ancient Hebrew, Kondrak said that the full meaning of the Voynich manuscript will remain a mystery.


The beautifully illustrated plants that fill up the pages of the Voynich Manuscript have never been accurately identified.


Bringing the puzzle to the people

It may seem far-fetched, but this famous manuscript could become a bestseller.

Siloe, a small publishing house in Spain specializing in handcrafted replicas of ancient manuscripts, in 2016 was granted the exclusive rights to create 898 facsimiles of the Voynich.

“It’s a book that has such an aura of mystery that when you see it for the first time, it fills you with an emotion that is very hard to describe,” Juan Jose Garcia, the editor of Siloe, told AFP.

No ordinary scan-and-print project, the Voynich replicas will be meticulously crafted to match every “stain, hole, and sewn-up tear in the parchment,” according to the news agency. The publishing house has even created a secret paste and aging process to make the more than 200 pages of the book appear and feel indistinguishable from the real thing. The process is expected to take a full 18 months to complete.

Siloe had reportedly been petitioning the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale, which took possession of the Voynich in 1969, to publish a replica for the last 10 years. The library finally acquiesced after both an increase in scholarly interest in the Voynich and quality assurances from experts associated with previous rare manuscript copies completed by Siloe.

“We thought that the facsimile would provide the look and feel of the original for those who were interested,” Raymond Clemens, curator at the Beinecke library, told the AFP. “It also enables libraries and museums to have a copy for instructional purposes and we will use the facsimile ourselves to show the manuscript outside of the library to students or others who might be interested.”


A work of curious art

Besides its indecipherable characters, the manuscript is also crammed with illustrations of astronomical charts, human figures, and plants, the latter of which have never been positively identified as anything found on Earth. These puzzles have led to the manuscript being classified as everything from the work of aliens to the musings of an inter-dimensional Medieval sorcerer.

Whatever the true answer, you don’t have to shell out the expected $8,000 to $9,000 cost for an exact replica. In addition to offering high-res digital scans of the Voynich pages online, Yale is selling hardcover copies for $50 that include accompanying research on the manuscript.

You can also view a digital overview of the 250 pages of the Voynich Manuscript in the video below.

https://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/blogs/publisher-replicate-600-year-old-Voynich-manuscript

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An iron arrowhead, possibly dating back a millennia or more, emerging from an ice patch in the mountains of Norway.

by MICHAEL D’ESTRIES

Ancient artifacts preserved in snow and ice over thousands of years in Norway’s mountains are emerging at an unprecedented rate, and archaeologists are scrambling to collect them all before it’s too late.

The finds are truly remarkable: iron arrowheads dating back to 1,500 years, tunics from the Iron Age, and even the remains of a wooden ski complete with leather binding left behind sometime in the year 700 A.D. Some of the oldest objects were dropped more than 6,000 years ago.

The catalyst behind the sudden emergence of these ancient relics is climate change, with lower winter precipitation and warmer summers dramatically reducing the alpine ice that acts as a time capsule for lost treasures.

“The ice is a time machine,” Lars Pilö, an archaeologist who works for the Oppland County council told Archaeology in 2013. “When you’re really lucky, the artifacts are exposed for the first time since they were lost.”


A ski with leather binding recovered from an ice patch in the Norwegian mountains. Analysis later determined that the artifact dates back to 700 A.D.

Unlike glaciers, which tend to crush and grind objects as they move down a mountain, the majority of artifacts coming out of Norway are being recovered from ice patches. These isolated non-moving accumulations of ice and snow are significant to the archeological record because of their extreme stability, with many containing layers of seasonal snowpack dating back thousands of years.

In 2017, a study of the ice of the Juvfonne snow patch in Jotunheimen, Norway was discovered to be an astounding 7,600 years old.


An Iron Age tunic recovered from the Lendbreen ice patch in August 2011.

Despite their remote setting and scarce visits from modern day humans, ice patches for thousands of years were veritable hot spots for ancient hunters. In the summer, reindeer herds often crowd together on the islands of snow and ice to escape pesky, biting botflies, which have a strong aversion to the cooler temperatures. In the past, hunters would follow, losing or forgetting precious equipment along the way that was later buried and preserved in the winter snows.

Some items, such as the 1,600-year-old knife shown in the video below, look as if they were lost only a few decades ago.

Because ice patches in the past have contracted and expanded due to temperature shifts, many of the objects recovered have likely one time or another been exposed and then reburied by snow and ice. They also have a tendency to be carried by meltwater. As explained on the Secrets of the Ice Facebook page, the 2,600-year-old arrows shown in the image below were washed downslope far from the place they were originally lost.


Arrows discovered in the scree of an ice patch were later determined to date back to 600 B.C.

Some of the most exciting finds are those objects found emerging from the surface of the ice, a sign that they have previously been untouched by melting, according to researchers from the Oppland County Council. These artifacts are generally exceptionally preserved, with organic materials such as leather and fabric still present. It’s also an indication of the severity of anthropogenic global warming, with certain ice patches in Norway estimated to have retreated to levels last seen during the Stone Age.

“It’s very impressive when you can say this melting ice is 5,000 years old, and this is the only moment in the last 7,000 years that the ice has been retreating,” Albert Hafner, an archaeologist at the University of Bernsays Hafner, told Archaeology. “Ice is the most emotional way to show climate change.”


The preserved remains of a 3400-year-old hide shoe discovered on an ice patch in 2006. Over the last 30 years, some 2,000 artifacts have been recovered from Norway’s melting ice fields.

Unfortunately for archaeologists, the rate of ice loss coupled with the extremely small annual windows of opportunity to scour the alpine patches, means some newly exposed items will break down and disappear before anyone has a chance to study them.

“This material is like the library of Alexandria. It is incredibly valuable and it’s on fire now,” George Hambrecht, an anthropologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, told New Scientist.


Archaeologists are in a race against time to discover and preserve ancient artifacts exposed to the elements. Here, a team member searches the edge of a retreating ice patch for potential relics from the past.

Right now you might be thinking, “I want to help find and preserve these incredible artifacts!,” and we agree, it sounds like quite the adventure to take a romp into the Norwegian wilderness and possibly stumble upon a well-preserved Viking Sword (see below). The reality, however, is that field work can sometimes be laborious and uncomfortable, with every day at the mercy of Mother Nature’s fickle moods.

That said, the Oppland County Council did accept volunteers last spring and it’s possible, especially with so many finds emerging from the ice each year, that others may be called upon to assist.

“We may not find much (or we could strike the jackpot, who knows),” Lars Pilø wrote last April in the Secrets blog. “It all depends on the melting conditions, and they develop over the summer and during fieldwork. If we are unlucky, the scenery and the team spirit make up for the lack of finds.”

To learn more about the work underway at Norway’s precious ice patches, visit the Secrets of the Ice blog here: http://secretsoftheice.com/


A Viking sword discovered in 2017, and dating back to c. AD 850-950.

https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/climate-weather/blogs/ancient-artifacts-are-emerging-norways-melting-ice

by Michael d’Estries

Mankind’s future exploration of other planets may come to depend on the very thing we all flush away every day.

Researchers from Clemson University, in collaboration with NASA, are studying ways to take advantage of human urine sweat, and carbon dioxide to create everything from polyester to nutritional supplements. The key to making this possible is a strain of yeast called Yarrowia lipolytica, which would feed off collected waste and convert it into useful oils and fats.

“One of the yeast strains produces omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to heart, eye and brain health,” the team reported ahead of a presentation at the American Chemical Society. “Another strain has been engineered to churn out monomers and link them to make polyester polymers. Those polymers could then be used in a 3-D printer to generate new plastic parts.”

Similar to how Mars habitats will likely be created using resources already present on the Martian surface, spare tools and parts for long spaceflights will need to be sourced during the mission. According to Clemson University’s Mark Blenner, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, this conversion of waste will give birth to a new kind of economy.

“If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,” he said in a statement. “Atom economy will become really important.”

While taking advantage of urine and sweat may sound justifiably gross, keep in mind that astronauts on the International Space Station today already convert their urine into clean drinking water. Using it for tools and other beneficial products won’t be much of a leap.

“It tastes like bottled water,” Layne Carter, water subsystem manager for the ISS at Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center told Bloomberg. “As long as you can psychologically get past the point that it’s recycled urine and condensate that comes out of the air.”

Despite only having managed to produce small amounts of polyesters or nutrients from Y. lipolytica in the lab, the Clemson researchers are hopeful that further studies will lead to increases in output.

“We’re learning that Y. lipolytica is quite a bit different than other yeast in their genetics and biochemical nature,” Blenner added. “Every new organism has some amount of quirkiness that you have to focus on and understand better.”

by Michael d’Estries

In 1963, Col. Gordon Cooper, one of NASA’s original seven astronauts, spent a record-setting 34 hours in orbit around the planet. While the official purpose of his mission was to study the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the human body, the U.S. government was also interested in what his eyes could tell them. To that end, they tasked Cooper with taking thousands of photos using long-range detection equipment to search for possible Soviet nuclear sites near U.S. shores.

“Man, all I do is take pictures, pictures, pictures. I’m up to 5,245 now,” Cooper told Mission Control from space.

Long before online programs like Google Maps could give us all eyes on the planet, Cooper’s perspective on Earth afforded him an unprecedented opportunity to see objects not possible otherwise. And this is how, while cruising over the clear waters of the Caribbean, he started noticing some strange underwater anomalies. In fact, during his time in space, he photographed over a hundred of these shallow water sites, later deducing that they could only be shipwrecks.

In the decades that followed, using the notes and images from his orbital mission, Cooper created a treasure map pointing the way to some of these sites — a treasure map, that by all accounts, came from space.

Cooper, who passed away in 2004, never acted on the map he created. In the years before his death, however, he shared both his research and the map with a longtime friend, Darrell Miklos. A professional treasure hunter by trade, Miklos decided to honor the memory of his boyhood idol and hero and see if Cooper’s space map really could point the way to sunken riches. To help fund the expedition, he smartly pitched the hunt to a production company and subsequently managed to catch the attention of the Discovery Channel.

“I get to pay homage to a hero whom I considered to be my surrogate father,” he said during a television press panel. “I get to tell a story and finish a project or several projects that we were never able to finish together.”

Premiering on Discovery this month, the series “Cooper’s Treasure” follows Miklos and his team as they comb through Cooper’s documents and scour the Caribbean to reveal first-hand the locations spotted from space. According to executive producer Ari Mark, watching the puzzle pieces fall into place has been a fascinating experience.

“It starts to unravel and when you learn about who Gordon was … it starts to connect, and it did for us,” he said.

While Miklos has yet to reveal if any of wrecks on Cooper’s map have led to sunken treasure, his Gemini Marine Exploration company, founded in 2014, does mention that the firm is currently engaged with “several promising projects in the Caribbean.” Some of those wrecks, he tells ABC, could even turn out to be part of a lost fleet belonging to Christopher Columbus.

“This one wreck site right here would be worth well over $500 million,” he says in a clip.

You can tune in on April 18 on the Discovery Channel to see if the first treasure map from space delivers on potential riches.

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/blogs/astronauts-treasure-map-space-may-lead-untold-riches


The cultural phenomenon of ‘unhurried television’ is now available to stream in more than 190 countries.

By Michael d’Estries

Need a break from the superhero trials and tribulations of “Jessica Jones” or the dark and twisted politics of “House of Cards?” If you’re addicted to Netflix but need a cleansing respite from the drama du jour, perhaps a little Slow TV is in order.

Netflix recently became the first streaming service to tap into the “unhurried television” phenomenon that has taken Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden, and Iceland by storm. The concept revolves around spotlighting a particular activity or trip through the countryside for hours on end. Examples of marathon broadcasts in the past have included a two-hour canal rides through Norway, a 24-hour car trip around Iceland, and a soul-stirring 60-hour broadcast of the “Hymn Book, minute by minute” involving more than 200 choirs and 4,000 singers.

“Slow TV is very different from the way everybody — including myself, to be honest — has always thought that TV should be made,” Norwegian broadcast producer Rune Moklebust remarked in 2014. “TV has mostly been produced the same way everywhere with just changes in subjects and themes. This is a different way of telling a story. It is more strange. The more wrong it gets, the more right it is.”

Introducing its 83 million subscribers in 190 countries to the concept, Netflix has decided to start off with a mix of programs ranging from less than an hour to about seven hours long. Among the more intriguing are Norway’s six-hour “National Firewood Night,” which covers chopping, and stacking firewood, a seven-hour beautiful “Train Ride Bergen to Oslo,” and the 3.5-hour “National Knitting Evening,” in which a group of knitting enthusiasts attempt to break the speed record for “shearing, spinning and knitting wool into a men’s sweater.”

Of course, if you’d rather just grab a cup of coffee and watch some wood burn, Netflix has you covered there too. The two-hour “National Firewood Morning” is just a bunch of logs slowly burning into glowing ash. For those who wait long enough, there’s even some marshmallow roasting. Sure, it’s no “Stranger Things,” but if you need a break from the world and can’t escape to somewhere green and quiet, Slow TV may just offer a relaxing getaway from the comfort of your couch.


While studying the ocean floor off California’s Channel Islands, researchers found this mysterious species.

By Michael d’Estries

While researching previously unmapped regions of the Channel Islands off the California coast, the research vessel Nautilus came across an unusual purple mass peeking out of a coral crevice. As the scientists zoomed in on the beautiful creature, they began wondering aloud what it could possibly be. After guesses of everything from a species of plankton to a colorful egg sack, the team decided to use their deep sea rover’s vacuum tube to grab the mystery species and bring it to the surface.

“This unidentified purple orb stumped our scientists onboard,” Nautilus posted to its website. “After sampling, it began to unfold to reveal two distinct lobes. This could possibly be a new species of nudibranch.”

Nudibranchs are a group of soft-shelled mollusk comprised of some 2,300 species and noted for their varied and striking colors. They can be found at nearly all depths and feature chemical defenses that make their bodies both distasteful to predators and, in the case of the acid-secreting variety, painful.

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/beautiful-deep-sea-purple-orb-has-scientists-baffled

by Michael d’Estries

Back in 1986, during surveys for the location of a power plant near the Black Sea in Romania, construction workers digging more than 60 feet underground broke into a bizarre, previously untouched ecosystem.

Called the Movile Cave, this subterranean wonder has been sealed for an estimated 5.5 million years. The air is warm and deadly, with noxious gases and little oxygen, the tunnels narrow, the pure and utter darkness the stuff of nightmares. But what has shocked the few scientists who’ve entered this underground Middle Earth of Horrors is that the place is absolutely teeming with life.

More specifically, creepy-crawly life.

Water scorpions, worms, spiders, predatory leeches and previously unknown microbes are just a few of the creatures in Movile. In fact, of the 48 species that have been identified, a remarkable 33 are new to science.

“All the creatures we saw are completely white,” Microbiologist Rich Boden, one of only 30 people to have entered Movile, said in an interview. “None of them has any pigmentation in their body as there is no sunlight — you can see right through them.”

Most of the species also have no eyes, evolution having done away with that sense long ago in favor of longer antennae and arms.

“I thought it was odd that the spiders still spin webs down there because there are no flies, but then you see there are these little insects called spring-tails, which bounce into the air and are caught by the webs,” added Boden. “It really is the stuff of science-fiction.”

Because no organic matter from the surface makes its way into Movile, scientists were at first puzzled as to how an entire world could possibly flourish under such harsh conditions. The answer lies in vast “mats” on the surface of the cave’s waters and walls. These mats contain millions upon millions of tiny bacteria called autotrophs. Instead of photosynthesis, these autotrophs use a process called chemosynthesis, which obtains chemical energy from the oxidation of sulfur compounds and ammonia in the cave waters, explains the Murrell Lab, part of the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences. The resulting milky film of microorganisms serves as the foundation for the rest Movile’s ecosystem.

“It’s very likely that the bacteria have been there a lot longer than 5 million years, but that the insects became trapped there around that time,” microbiologist J. Colin Murrell of University of East Anglia told the BBC. “They could have simply fallen in and become trapped when the limestone cast dropped, sealing the cave until it was discovered again in 1986.”

Movile’s unique conditions for life are so alien that the Romanian press quoted one scientist as saying that “if a nuclear war swept out life on Earth, that ecosystem would be a survivor.”

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/55-million-year-old-alien-world-hiding-under-romania