Tag Archives: Europe

Two New Mayan Cities Were Just Uncovered in the Jungles of the Yucatan

From about 2000 BC all the way up until the arrival of Europeans in the 16th and 17th century, the Mayan civilization thrived in the Yucatan peninsula of Central America.

The Maya were an extremely advanced society with a deep knowledge of science, mathematics and astronomy.

They had charted the movements of the moon and planets accurately enough to predict predict celestial events like eclipses hundreds of years before the heliocentric model was even accepted in Europe (in the 16th century).

A map of the two largest ancient civilizations in Central America. Click to enlarge

Now, a team of archaeologists from the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts has uncovered the ruins of two new Mayan cities buried deep in the thick vegetation of the Yucatan jungle.

The first is technically a re-discovery. In the 1970s, American archaeologist Eric Von Euw stumbled upon the ruins of the ancient city of Lagunita while journeying through the Yucatan.

The city was marked by a massive facade entrance designed to look like the opening jaws of the traditional Mayan “earth monster”.

The facade entrance: “It represents a Maya earth deity related with fertility. These doorways symbolize the entrance to a cave and, in general, to the watery underworld, place of mythological origin of maize and abode of ancestors,” said expedition leader Ivan Sprajc. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Von Euw documented the facade along with a number of other stone monuments in a series of sketches, but unfortunately he didn’t keep an accurate log of his travels. Once he left, nobody was ever able to locate Lagunita again.

That is, until Ivan Sprajc (who led the recent expedition) and his team of archaeologists came upon a facade that seemed to match the one in Von Euw’s sketches.

After comparing the facade as well as other stone monuments in the area, the team confirmed that they had indeed re-discovered Lagunita.

Expedition leader Ivan Sprajc. Click to enlarge (Photo: INAH)

At the Lagunita site, the team found the remains of massive, palace-like buildings arranged around four courtyards. The site also included,

“A ball court and a temple pyramid almost 65 ft high also stood in the city, while 10 stelae (tall sculpted stone shafts) and three altars (low circular stones) featured well-preserved reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions,”

according to Discovery News.

Lagunita covered 54 acres across what is now the Mexican state of Campeche. Its large size suggests that the city served as a seat of government between 600-900 AD.

The remains of the temple, now overrun by vegetation. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Unlike Lagunita, the second city was a brand new discovery. The city was called Tamchen, which means “deep well” in the ancient Yucatec Maya language.

The name is fitting. Tamchen is pock-marked with more than 30 bottle-shaped underground chambers known as chultuns, used main to collect rainwater.

The opening to one of the chultuns. Click to enlarge (Photo: Ivan Sprajc)

Though Tamchen may have been founded a few years earlier, archaeologists say that both cities were probably thriving around the same time, making it likely that they regularly interacted with one another.

“Both cities open new questions about the diversity of Maya culture, the role of that largely unexplored area in the lowland Maya history, and its relations with other polities,”

said Sprajc.

Hopefully these new discoveries will give us a better understanding of what life was like in one of history’s most advanced ancient civilizations.

Read the full story from Discovery News here.

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Deaths That Don’t Have to Happen: The Relationship Between Knowledge and Health

Editor’s note: As part of  a writing class I took this summer, I had to do a group project addressing a social issue within our society.

Part of that assignment was writing an essay that promotes activism to address the issue.The research inspired me, so I decided to share that essay with you. Hope you enjoy! 


Knowledge, and the desire to use it to better our own lives, as well as the lives of everyone else. This is what has made our species so great.

Fire, the wheel, internal plumbing, electricity, refrigeration. All of these creations were the result of intelligent people with an insatiable drive to solve major problems that affected everyone within their communities.

As the world progressed into the modern era, more and more of these advancements came from the realm of medicine. For thousands of years, smallpox was a scourge that regularly plagued populations all over the world.

A close-up of the smallpox virus. Click to enlarge. Magnification: x28,500

In the 19th century, the disease was killing 400,000 Europeans every year. In the 20th century, it accounted for an estimated 300 million deaths worldwide.

Now, consider this: the vaccine for smallpox was discovered, by a man named William Jenner, in 1796. However, it took more than 160 years for the World Health Assembly to pass a worldwide resolution to eradicate the disease in 1959, and another 20 years for the disease to be completely eradicated.

There hasn’t been a single documented death from smallpox since 1980, but it took nearly 200 years to make that happen.

Click to enlarge

Our modern world is no different. Every year, 3 million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases, half of that being children 5 years old or younger.

Other preventable diseases, like diarrhea and pneumonia, claim the lives of another 2 million children who are simply too poor to afford things like clean water and basic treatment.

If you’re keeping track, that’s 3.5 million children dying every year from basic problems that we solved ages ago. Another way to think of it: imagine every kid enrolled in public school in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston dying this year. Imagine, just for a second, all the human potential that we are losing along with these children.

I know you may be thinking that it’s somewhat inevitable that developing countries lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to new vaccines, treatments or procedures, so chew on this for a second: out of a list of 18 developed countries, the United States was at the very bottom when it came to deaths from preventable causes.

For people under the age of 75, these preventable causes account for 23% of total deaths for men and 32% of total deaths for women.

Preventable disease per 100,000 citizens. Click to enlarge

How many more people are we going to let die simply because they lack access to resources that are so plentiful that they are taken for granted by the rest of us?

We have to always remember that the position of privilege we find ourselves in only exists because someone at some point in history fought for our right to good healthcare.

So now, it is our responsibility, our duty, to use this position of privilege to extend this same basic human right to health to the countless people still living without it, not only in our country but across the globe.

Biologists Are Training Bomb-Sniffing Bees to Clear Landmines Left Over from the Bosnian War

Bees are known for having one of the best olfactory systems in the entire animal kingdom, and are said to have as strong of a sense of smell as the dogs we use to sniff out bombs our trails made by fugitives. Here’s Rebecca Nesbit, a researcher at the insect technology firm Inscentinel:

“Bees are at least as good as sniffer dogs but are cheaper and faster to train, and available in much larger numbers. It is dependent on the specific odour, but bees can detect some odours that are present in parts per trillion – that’s equivalent to detecting a grain of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”

A team of biologists from France and Croatia have come up with a creative and ingenious way to take advantage of this extraordinary sense of smell: using bees to locate approximately 120,000 unexploded landmines left over from the million that were planted during the Bosnian war (1992-95).

A de-miner searching for unexploded landmines in central Croatia (Photo: AP/Darko Bandic)

Although the Bosnian government has done its best to carefully mark all of the active minefields, the region was just hit with the worst floods on record. Many fear that the floodwaters and resulting landslides may have moved many of the landmines to new locations.

Yves Le Conte is the director of the bee and environment unit at INRA, an agricultural research body in southern France. Four years ago, he was approached by a Croatian scientist who was worried about the danger the unexploded mines posed to Bosnian farmers.

Yves Le Conte at his research facility in Avignon, France (Photo: Kathy Hanin)

So Le Conte set about training bees to locate TNT. To do this, he took TNT and buried it underneath sand coated with a sugary syrup to attract the bees. The bees quickly learned to prefer the pots with TNT in them, since they contained the sugary treat as well.

When the bees are sniffing out actual landmines, they lose interest after about half an hour, since there is no sugary syrup on top of the TNT in the mines. However, they can be easily and quickly re-conditioned to seek out TNT by repeating the original process. The scientists track the bees movements using heat-sensitive infrared photos taken every 10 seconds.

The EU has approved funding for a large scale test of the process next month, using a full colony of 30,000 bees.

Read more from The Telegraph here.

21 Amazing Pictures From The Copenhagen Zoo in 1955 (Picture Gallery)

The Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark is one of the world’s most famous zoos. Founded all the way back in 1859, it is one of Europe’s oldest zoos as well. Imgur.com user Skieller posted these awesome photos of the zoo from back in 1955. Click an image to enlarge.

The zoo has gotten some bad publicity lately after killing a healthy giraffe and four lions. However, the zoo’s staff says it was just doing what was necessary to prevent inbreeding, and they seem to have the support of the locals. Read more about that story from The Guardian here.

Why Are American Eggs Illegal In Britain and British Eggs Illegal In America?

It all comes down to the debate over whether or not it’s a good idea to wash eggs before putting them on the shelves. In the United States, USDA standards require that all eggs must be washed before being sold to consumers.

The standards specify that American eggs must be washed with an odorless detergent and water that is at least 90°F and a minimum of 20°F warmer than the internal temperature of the egg. The eggs must then be thoroughly dried.

This last step is where a lot of the controversy arises. A completely dry egg is almost completely impervious to bacteria, but even a thin layer of moisture facilitates the flow of bacteria into the egg.

Eggs being washed

Health officials in Europe are worried that washing eggs may do more harm than good, fearing that the drying process won’t be meticulously carried out every single time.

They also fear the possibility that some eggs could end up soaking in cold sanitizing water that hasn’t been changed out in a while. Cold water causes eggs to contract inwards- this contraction pulls liquid from the shell’s surroundings into its interior. If this liquid happens to be old, cold water, there is a high chance it contains bacteria.

Then there’s a little something known as the cuticle. As a hen is laying an egg, she applies a thin, mucous-like coating to the outside of the shell. It is wet for the first few minutes, but it quickly dries and creates a protective layer that keeps out carbon dioxide and moisture which can spoil and contaminate the egg.

Anatomy of the egg (cuticle is in the SHELL section)

The EU’s egg regulators say that the egg’s natural cuticle provides,

“an effective barrier to bacterial ingress with an array of antimicrobial properties.”

This is one of the main reasons why they oppose the washing of eggs, which often removes part or all of the cuticle layer.

Finally, there’s the issue of refrigeration. In Europe eggs are on non-refrigerated shelves and stay close to room temperature from the time they are collected to the time they are bought and consumed.

This is because when you take a cold, refrigerated egg out into warmer air, moisture in the air condenses on it. According to the EU regulations, this facilitates the growth bacteria both outside and inside the shell.

So why would we refrigerate eggs in the United States? The answer in related to another major difference between American and British eggs: salmonella vaccination.

Salmonella is the main bacterial culprit of contaminated eggs. It can come from feces getting on the egg,  but it can also come from feces getting into the hen’s reproductive tract before the shell even forms. When this happens, the salmonella is inside the egg from jump- no amount of washing can de-contaminate it.

During an outbreak in the late 90s, thousands of people in the UK got salmonella poisoning in a very short period time. Ever since then, British farmers have been vaccinating their hens against salmonella to avoid the costs of being the source of a health crisis. While hen vaccination is not required by law, farmers must do it if they want their eggs certified by Britain’s official Lion Quality Mark.

Today, 90% of all eggs in the UK are from vaccinated hens, and most of the remaining 10% come from small farmers who don’t sell their eggs to retail chains. Reported cases of salmonella poisoning in the UK dropped from 14,771 in 1997 to just 581 in 2009.

Here in the United States, there’s no vaccination requirements. Consequently, we have about 142,000 cases of illness from consuming salmonella-contaminated eggs every year.

So back to refrigeration. A study in the early 90s showed that non-refrigerated eggs didn’t experience any significant salmonella growth in the first 21 days. After that, however, the eggs quickly became contaminated. More research has shown that storing eggs in colder temperatures inhibits the growth of bacteria over a much longer period of time.

So, to keep eggs from our unvaccinated American hens on the shelves longer, we refrigerate them. What do you think?

Read more from Forbes here.

Is Forcing Parents to Vaccinate Their Children A Good Thing or A Government Overstep? (Poll)

Earlier this week, Croatia became the first country to mandate that all children be vaccinated for for measles, hepatitis, pertussis, diphtheria and a number of other diseases. After carefully weighing the pros and cons, the Croatian government decided that,

“The child’s right to health is more than the rights of parents to the (wrong) choice.”

Back in late January, The Higher Learning reported on how the anti-vaccination movement has led to a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases in recent years, with measles and pertussis being at the top of that list. The movement has also aided the comeback of polio, which was almost completely eradicated just a decade ago.

Child being given a dose of the oral polio vaccine (Photo: CNN)

I understand that many parents are suspicious of the government as well as the health industry, and a parent is totally justified in being very cautious when it comes to injecting their children with various chemicals and substances that the parents tend to have little knowledge on.

But I also understand that this suspicion is often unfounded or taken to the extreme, resulting in children contracting serious, often life-threatening diseases that are easily preventable with a vaccine.

So what’s your take?

How Responsible Are the United States and NATO for Russia’s Recent Actions? (Poll)

Jack Matlock was the last American ambassador to the Soviet Union, serving in that office from April 6, 1987 until August 11, 1991, as the Soviet Union dissolved.

He recently spoke to Democracy Now! about the current turmoil in eastern Europe. Here’s some of what he said:

“I think that what we have seen is a reaction, in many respects, to a long history of what the Russian government, the Russian president and many of the Russian people—most of them—feel has been a pattern of American activity that has been hostile to Russia and has simply disregarded their national interests.

“They feel that having thrown off communism, having dispensed with the Soviet Empire, that the U.S. systematically, from the time it started expanding NATO to the east, without them, and then using NATO to carry out what they consider offensive actions about an—against another country—in this case, Serbia—a country which had not attacked any NATO member, and then detached territory from it—this is very relevant now to what we’re seeing happening in Crimea—and then continued to place bases in these countries, to move closer and closer to borders, and then to talk of taking Ukraine, most of whose people didn’t want to be a member of NATO, into NATO, and Georgia. Now, this began an intrusion into an area which the Russians are very sensitive.

“Now, how would Americans feel if some Russian or Chinese or even West European started putting bases in Mexico or in the Caribbean, or trying to form governments that were hostile to us? You know, we saw how we virtually went ballistic over Cuba. And I think that we have not been very attentive to what it takes to have a harmonious relationship with Russia.”

I think a lot of Matlock’s points are pretty valid, but when it comes to trying to find causes for major political changes, it will always be somewhat unclear how responsible certain past events were.

So what do you think?

Here’s the full video of the interview if you’re interested.