The world is such a place

For a few years I stopped blogging. But I have rejoined the world of the semi-living.

The world is such a disgrace I hardly know were to begin. Trump running for President well that’s just a mixture of comedy and profound sadness. How far have we lowered the bar? I mean really. Nothing surprises me anymore. I’m past desensitized.

 

Warning Signs That Your Child’s Behavior Is Dangerous To Pets

Children are naturally interested in interacting with—and getting a reaction from—the family pet. It’s not uncommon for them to hide food, play a little too rough, play dress up with the pet or put makeup and hair products on her. In these situations, parental guidance is needed, as a pet may feel uncomfortable or suffer harm if dangerous substances are ingested.

More serious, however, is when a child intends to hurt an animal. Whether the cause is peer pressure or a cry for help, true malicious animal cruelty is not a behavior that children outgrow by themselves. Professional intervention may be needed to prevent behavior problems that can stay with a child into adulthood, and even be acted out on other human beings.

The following behaviors may indicate that intervention is needed to guide your child away from cruel behaviors toward animals:

  • Chasing a fleeing pet
  • Locking a pet in a closet
  • Leaving a pet outdoors
  • Knowingly or unknowingly feeding a pet harmful human foods.
  • Feeding human medications that are dangerous to pets to see what effect the pills will have
  • Placing a tight rubber band around a paw
  • Painting a pet’s body
  • Putting a small animal in a washing machine, microwave or other appliance
  • Staging fights between dogs or letting one animal chase another
  • Deriving pleasure from seeing a frightened or suffering pet
  • Responding to adult reprimands by engaging in secretive, hostile acts toward the pet
  • Burning an animal
  • Teasing an animal with firecrackers
  • Repeatedly showing off the inhumane handling of a pet to others
  • Putting an animal in dangerous situations, such as dangling her outside a window or bringing her into the road

Taking Actionlittle-girl

If you discover your child repeatedly putting an animal into dangerous situations, act swiftly to teach him that these behaviors are not acceptable. The following guidelines may help:

  • Do not ignore or dismiss pet-unfriendly actions. Most children, when dealt with as though they’ve committed a serious offense, will think twice before repeating the behavior.
  • Use the same serious tone of voice that you would use if you saw your child running across the street without stopping to look for oncoming traffic.
  • A simple, clear statement such as, “We don’t hurt animals” is far more effective than lecturing.
  • If your child persists in hitting, kicking, pinching or teasing your pet in spite of your repeated corrections, consult with your pediatrician or an expert in child development.
  • You set the example. Never hit, shake, jerk or yell at your family pet—your child may imitate you and go too far.
  • If you overreact in anger toward your pet, show your child that it’s all right to apologize to the pet, just as you would apologize to a person.
  • If your teenager involves the family dog in high-risk activities such as dog fighting, not only should you intervene, but check in to see if your child is being influenced by alcohol, drugs, gambling or other unhealthy behaviors that involve peer pressure.
  • Remember that for most children, learning empathy and respect toward animals is part of the normal socialization process. These values are instilled the same way as learning not to hit friends or tease mercilessly.
  • http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/kids-and-pets/warning-signs-that-your-childs-behavior-is-dangerous-to-pets.html#action

“MISSING LINK” FOUND: New Fossil Links Humans, Lemurs?

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Meet “Ida,” the small “missing link” found in Germany that’s created a big media splash and will likely continue to make waves among those who study human origins.

In a new book, documentary, and promotional Web site, paleontologist Jorn Hurum, who led the team that analyzed the 47-million-year-old fossil seen above, suggests Ida is a critical missing-link species in primate evolution (interactive guide to human evolution from National Geographic magazine).

(Among the team members was University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich, a member of the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

The fossil, he says, bridges the evolutionary split between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans and their more distant relatives such as lemurs.

“This is the first link to all humans,” Hurum, of the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway, said in a statement. Ida represents “the closest thing we can get to a direct ancestor.”

Ida, properly known as Darwinius masillae, has a unique anatomy. The lemur-like skeleton features primate-like characteristics, including grasping hands, opposable thumbs, clawless digits with nails, and relatively short limbs.

“This specimen looks like a really early fossil monkey that belongs to the group that includes us,” said Brian Richmond, a biological anthropologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study, published this week in the journal PLoS ONE.

But there’s a big gap in the fossil record from this time period, Richmond noted. Researchers are unsure when and where the primate group that includes monkeys, apes, and humans split from the other group of primates that includes lemurs.

“[Ida] is one of the important branching points on the evolutionary tree,” Richmond said, “but it’s not the only branching point.”

At least one aspect of Ida is unquestionably unique: her incredible preservation, unheard of in specimens from the Eocene era, when early primates underwent a period of rapid evolution. (Explore a prehistoric time line.)

“From this time period there are very few fossils, and they tend to be an isolated tooth here or maybe a tailbone there,” Richmond explained. “So you can’t say a whole lot of what that [type of fossil] represents in terms of evolutionary history or biology.”

In Ida’s case, scientists were able to examine fossil evidence of fur and soft tissue and even picked through the remains of her last meal: fruits, seeds, and leaves.

What’s more, the newly described “missing link” was found in Germany’s Messel Pit. Ida’s European origins are intriguing, Richmond said, because they could suggest—contrary to common assumptions—that the continent was an important area for primate evolution.

MORE: National Geographic magazine’s Chris Sloan on the controversy over the “missing link” and its media blitz >>

The Codex Gigas- Repost

Dita Asiedu at Radio Praha writes:

The Codex Gigas, also known as the Devil’s Bible, is the biggest book in the world. Made at the start of the 13th century in a Bohemian monastery, it was one of the country’s most prized works of art. In medieval times, its uniqueness was even put on a par with the wonders of the world. . . . Why, how and by whom the Devil’s Bible was made has remained a mystery until this day. But legend has it that the book was written by a monk, who faced being walled up alive for breaching a monastic code, and promised to create the biggest manuscript in the world in just one night in return for being spared from punishment. But when he realized that he would not be able to deliver on his promise, he asked the devil for help and his prayer was answered. The devil, to which the monk sold his soul, is depicted in the Penitential – a chapter that takes the form of a handbook for priests, listing various sins and the corresponding forms of repentance. “The book contains the Old Testament, the New Testament, a necrology of the Podlazice monastery, a list of Podlazice fraternity members, a script on natural history, the oldest Czech Latin chronicle – there are eleven contents items in all. It is estimated that skin from some 160 donkeys had to be used to provide sufficient writing material for the book. Written in Latin, it also includes mystical medical formula to treat epilepsy and fever but also solve unusual problems like finding a thief, for example. One of the most valuable chapters is the Chronica Bohemorum – a copy of the Bohemian Chronicle, drawn up from 1045 to 1125, that is considered one of the oldest and best transcripts of the Chronicle. The very end of the codex includes a list of the days on which Easter falls in the coming years.

Info links:

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Gigas

Photos of the Book:

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“Dark Age” Temple Found in Turkey

Mati Milstein for National Geographic News April 29, 2009

An ancient temple in Turkey has been found filled with broken metal, ivory carvings, and stone slabs engraved with a dead language. The find is casting new light on the “dark age” that was thought to have engulfed the region from 1200 to 900 B.C. Written sources from the era—including the Old Testament of the Bible, Greek Homeric epics, and texts from Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III—record the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age as a turbulent period of cultural collapse, famine, and violence. But the newfound temple suggests that may not have been the case, say archaeologists from the University of Toronto’s Tayinat Archaeological Project, led by Timothy Harrison. “We’re beginning to find new archaeological evidence that there was a continuation of writing traditions, as well as cultural and political continuity from the Bronze Age into this Iron Age period,” Harrison said. “We are filling in a cultural and a political history of this era.” Extinct Language Harrison and colleagues found the temple in 2008 at the Tell Ta’yinat site, an archaeological settlement on the Plain of Antioch in southeastern Turkey. The site, near the present-day Syrian border, served as a major cultural crossroads for thousands of years. The temple appears to have been built during the time of King Solomon, between the 10th and 9th centuries B.C. It was likely destroyed with the rest of Tell Ta’yinat during the 8th century B.C. (Related: “King Solomon’s Mines Rediscovered?”)

Researchers initially examined the remains of the temple’s southern entrance, which includes a stone-paved courtyard, a wide staircase, and a doorway once supported by an ornately carved column. The team also found the smashed remains of massive stelae—commemorative stone slabs—carved with hieroglyphs in Luwian, an extinct language once spoken throughout what is now Turkey. The temple’s main room was long ago damaged by fire, but it was found littered with the remains of bronze and ivory wall or furniture fittings, along with gold and silver foil and the carved eye inlay from a human figurine. Solid Evidence Although excavations have yet to reach the earliest parts of the temple, researchers plan to continue digging this summer in the hopes of finding the temple’s inner sanctuary. Harrison believes the Tayinat temple might provide scholars with new evidence to help them understand similarly constructed temples from the same time period, as well as the temple rituals of the day. “The textual record has very much informed our perception of the past,” noted Gunnar Lehmann, an archaeologist with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, who was not involved in the find. “But there is now increasing archaeological evidence for a complex scenario of considerable cultural and political continuation and innovations during this [dark age] period.”

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The remains of a temple (above) in southwestern Turkey may cast new light on the “dark age” that was thought to have engulfed the region from 1200 to 900 B.C., researchers announced in April 2009.

Ornate decorations and stone slabs carved with hieroglyphs suggest that, despite the written record, the time period might not have been marked only by cultural collapse, famine, and violence.

A near-perfect frozen mammoth resurfaces after 40,000 years

Waking the Baby Mammoth airs April 26 at 9P on the National Geographic Channel.

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A near-perfect frozen mammoth resurfaces after 40,000 years, bearing clues to a great vanished species.

By Tom Mueller
Photograph by Francis Latreille

The mammoth herd approaches the rushing river. A calf ambles close to her mother’s huge legs, brushing their long, glossy hair now and then with her trunk. The sky is brilliant blue, and a dry wind hisses through the grasses, which billow like oceanic swells across a steppe 1o,ooo miles wide, spanning the northern arc of the Ice Age world. The long winter is over; birdsong and the scent of damp loam fill the air.

Perhaps the warmth of the sun makes the mother careless, and for a moment she loses track of her calf. The baby wanders toward the water. She stumbles on the slippery riverbank and slides into a slurry of clay, sand, and fresh snowmelt. She struggles to free herself, but every movement drags her deeper. The mud gets in her mouth, her trunk, her eyes; disoriented, she gasps for breath but gets a mouthful of muck instead. Coughing, gagging, caught in a riptide of panic, she makes a dreadful high-pitched shriek that brings her mother running. Inhaling with all her force, the calf sucks the mud deep into her trachea, sealing her lungs. By the time her mother reaches the bank, the baby is partially submerged in the ice-cold mire and flailing feebly, rapidly sliding into shock. The mother screams and mills on the soft bank, drawing the rest of the herd. As they watch, the calf sinks beneath the surface.

Night falls. The herd moves on, but the mother lingers. Yellow moonlight throws her humpbacked shadow across the glistening mud. The moon sets, and stars glow in the chill heavens. Just before dawn, she takes a last look at the spot where the earth swallowed her baby, then turns and follows the herd north, toward summer pastures.

On a May morning in 2007, on the Yamal Peninsula in northwestern Siberia, a Nenets reindeer herder named Yuri Khudi stood with three of his sons on a sandbar on the Yuribey River, holding council over a diminutive corpse. Though they’d never seen such an animal before, they knew it well from stories their people sang on dark winter nights in their storytelling lodges. This was a baby mamont, the beast the Nenets say wanders the frozen blackness of the underworld, herded by infernal gods just as the Nenets herd their reindeer across the tundra. Khudi had seen many mammoth tusks, the honey-colored, corkscrew shafts as thick as tree limbs that his people found each summer. But he had never seen an entire animal, let alone one so eerily well preserved. Apart from its missing hair and toenails, it was perfectly intact.

Khudi was uneasy. He sensed this was an important discovery, one that others should know about. But he refused to touch the animal, because the Nenets believe that mammoths are dangerous omens. Some Nenets even say that people who find a mammoth are marked for early death. Khudi vowed to placate the infernal powers with the sacrifice of a baby reindeer and a libation of vodka. But first he traveled 150 miles south to the small town of Yar Sale to consult with an old friend named Kirill Serotetto, who was better acquainted with the ways of the outside world. Serotetto listened to his friend’s story, then bustled him off to meet with the director of the local museum, who persuaded the local authorities to fly Khudi and Serotetto back to the Yuribey River in a helicopter.

When they arrived on the sandbar, however, the mammoth had vanished.

Mammoths are an extinct group of elephants of the genus Mammuthus, whose ancestors migrated out of Africa about 3.5 million years ago and spread across Eurasia, adapting to a range of woodland, savanna, and steppe environments. The best known of these proboscideans is the woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius, a close cousin of living elephants and about the same size. It first appeared in the middle Pleistocene more than 400,000 years ago, probably in northeastern Siberia. The woolly mammoth was highly adapted to cold, with a dense undercoat, guard hairs up to three feet long, and small, fur-lined ears. Immense curving tusks, used primarily for fighting, may have also been handy for foraging beneath the snow. Because mammoths often died and were buried in sediment that has been frozen ever since, many of their remains have survived into modern times, particularly in the vast deep freeze of Siberian permafrost.

In fact, the Nenets’ underworld tales are right: The Siberian subsoil teems with woolly mammoths. At ice-out each summer, hundreds of their tusks, other teeth, and bones appear on the banks of rivers and lakes and along the seacoast, freed by erosion from the frozen ground where they have lain for tens of thousands of years. Since the botanist Mikhail Ivanovich Adams recovered the first woolly mammoth carcass in Siberia in 1806, about a dozen other soft-tissue specimens had been found, including several calves ranging in age from newborn to about a year. Yet no carcass of any age was as complete as the creature Yuri Khudi had found—and now lost—on the Yuribey River.

In the time of the mammoths, the landscape over most of their range looked very different than the barren heaths and boggy tundra surrounding the river today. The air was drier, cloud cover was limited, and strong winds swept the electric blue skies. In place of tundra grew a vast, arid grassland that paleobiologist R. Dale Guthrie has called the mammoth steppe, stretching from Ireland to Kamchatka and across the Bering land bridge to Alaska, the Yukon, and much of North America. The grasses, broad-leaved herbs, and low shrubs of the steppe provided nutritious food, and in addition to mammoths, nourished a profusion of other outsize, exuberantly hairy mammalian megafauna—woolly rhinoceroses, enormous long-horned bison, and bear-size beavers, as well as the fearsome carnivores that hunted them: saber-toothed cats, cave hyenas, and giant short-faced bears.

Then, between 14,000 and 10,000 years ago, the mammoths disappeared from most of their range, along with most of the other large mammal species in the Northern Hemisphere—as many as 70 percent in some regions. These extinctions were so sweeping that scientists have evoked a number of cataclysmic events to explain them—a meteorite strike, killer fires and droughts, and a virulent, cross-species hyperdisease. Since the extinctions coincided with the end of the most recent ice age, however, many researchers believe that the primary cause of the great die-off was the sharp rise in temperature, which dramatically altered the vegetation. A recent computer simulation of landscape changes during the late Pleistocene suggests that 90 percent of the mammoth’s former habitat disappeared. “We have strong evidence that climate change played a significant part in their extinction,” says Adrian Lister, a paleontologist and mammoth expert at the Natural History Museum in London. “In Eurasia, the timing of the two events matches closely.”

The extinctions also coincided, however, with the arrival of another ecology-altering force. Modern humans arose in Africa about 195,000 years ago and spread into northern Eurasia some 40,000 years ago. As time went on, their expanding populations brought increas­ing pressure to bear on prey species. In addition to exploiting mammoths for food—a big male killed in the autumn would see a band of hungry hunters through many lean winter days—they used their bones and ivory to make weapons, tools, figurines, and even dwellings. Some scientists believe that these human hunters, using throwing spears fitted with deadly stone points, were as much to blame as climate change for the great die-off. Some say they caused it. The debate over the megafaunal extinction is one of the liveliest in paleontology today, and not one likely to be resolved by a single specimen, no matter how complete. But Khudi was right that the now missing baby—its flesh, internal organs, stomach contents, bones, milk tusks and other teeth, all intact—would be of enormous interest to the outside world.

He also suspected that a person willing to handle such a thing would probably turn a nice profit—ivory traders regularly visited the region to buy mammoth tusks, and who knows what they’d pay for an intact mammoth? Khudi’s suspicions soon fell on one of his own cousins, whom some local Nenets had seen on the sandbar and later, riding away on his reindeer sled toward the town of Novyy Port.

Khudi and Serotetto set off in pursuit on a snowmobile. When they arrived, they found the little mammoth propped up against the wall of a store. People were taking snapshots of it on their cell phones. The shop owner had bought the body from Khudi’s cousin for two snow­mobiles and a year’s worth of food. Though it was no longer quite perfect—stray dogs had gnawed off part of its tail and right ear—with the help of some local police, Khudi and Serotetto managed to reclaim the infant. The body was packed up and shipped by helicopter to the safety of the Shemanovsky Museum in Salekhard, the regional capital.

“Luckily there was a happy ending,” says Alexei Tikhonov, director of the St. Petersburg Zoological Museum and one of the first scientists to view the baby, a female. “Yuri Khudi rescued the best preserved mammoth to come down to us from the Ice Age.”

Grateful officials named her Lyuba, after Khudi’s wife.

Tikhonov knew that no one would be more excited by the find than Dan Fisher, an American colleague at the University of Michigan. Fisher is a soft-spoken, 59-year-old paleontologist with a bristly white beard and clear green eyes who has devoted much of the past 30 years to understanding the lives of Pleistocene mammoths and mastodons, combining fossil studies with some very hands-on experimental research. Curious to know how Paleolithic hunters managed to store mammoth meat without spoilage, Fisher butchered a draft horse using stone tools he’d knapped himself, then cached the meat in a stock pond. Naturally preserved by microbes called lactobacilli in the water, the flesh emitted a faintly sour, pickled odor that put off scavengers even when it floated to the surface. To test its palatability, Fisher cut and ate steaks from the meat every two weeks from February until high summer, demonstrating that mammoth hunters might have stored their kills in the same way.

Tikhonov invited Fisher to Salekhard in July 2007, along with Bernard Buigues, a French mammoth hunter who had helped arrange scientific study of several previous mammoth discoveries. Both Fisher and Buigues had examined several other specimens, including infants. But they were in relatively poor condition, and little hands-on work was possible. Lyuba was another story entirely.

“When I saw her,” Fisher says, “my first thought was, Oh my goodness, she’s perfect—even her eyelashes are there! It looked like she’d just drifted off to sleep. Suddenly, what I’d been struggling to visualize for so long was lying right there for me to touch.” Other than the missing hair and toenails, and the damage she’d sustained after her discovery, the only flaw in her pristine appearance was a curious dent in her face, just above the trunk. But her general appearance and the healthy hump of fat on the back of her neck suggested the baby had been in excellent condition at the time of her death. A deeper examination into her teeth, internal organs, stomach contents, and other features promised to reveal a wealth of new information on normal mammoth biology and lifeways.

Fisher was particularly excited about one specific part of Lyuba’s anatomy: her milk tusks. Tusks are modified incisors that grow continuously in layers throughout an animal’s life. Over 30 years of studying mammoth tusks, Fisher had figured out that these deposits were laid down in yearly, weekly, and even daily increments, and that, like the rings of a tree, they contained a detailed record of the animal’s life history. Thick layers represented rich summer grazing, while thin ones indicated sparse winter fare. From a sudden narrowing of the strata around the 12th year, Fisher could discern when a young male became sexually mature and was driven away by its mother from the matriarchal herd; some years later came signs of the ferocious musth battles that adult males waged to determine who would win the opportunity to mate. Finally, in the layers at the root of the tusk that are the last to form, Fisher found clues to how an animal died—a slow dwindling caused by injury, illness, or environmental stress, or the sharp break of sudden death. He also found that the levels of certain chemical elements and isotopes in the tusks provided data on the animal’s diet, climatic situation, even major changes in location such as migration.

Through his career Fisher has taken hundreds of tusk samples, and he believes they suggest an answer to the vexing question of the great extinction in the late Pleistocene. At least in the Great Lakes region of North America, where the bulk of his samples were unearthed, mammoth and mastodon tusks show that these animals continued to thrive, despite late Pleistocene climate change. On the other hand, to Fisher, the tusks often revealed telltale evidence of human hunting. His samples from late in the mammoth’s reign frequently came from animals that had died in the autumn, when they should have been at their physical peak after summer grazing and less likely to die of natural causes—but also when human hunters would have been most eager to stockpile food for the coming winter. These tusks often came from males, who, like living elephants, probably lived alone and would have made easier targets for hunters than females traveling in matriarchal herds. Many remains were found in peat bogs and bodies of water, where according to Fisher early hunters may have submerged them to preserve the meat. The North American specimens also appeared to show a decline through time in the average age of maturation, which Fisher believes might also be caused by hunting pressure. He had done limited work in Siberia, but his measurements of tusks from Wrangel Island, off the coast of northeastern Siberia, where the last mammoths died out 3,900 years ago, suggest similar conclusions.

One problem with interpreting mammoth tusks, however, was that they almost never came with mammoths attached, making it hard for Fisher to test his inferences about health and age. Lyuba’s superb state of preservation promised to change that. By giving direct evidence of her diet and state of health, her stomach and intestinal contents and the amount of fat on her body could provide an independent corroboration of the brief dietary “journal” recorded in her still unerupted milk tusks. “In this case we don’t need a time machine to see how accurate our work is,” Fisher says. Moreover, since the milk tusks grow from early in gestation to around the time of birth, Lyuba could shed new light on a critical period in a mammoth’s life: the time in the womb (estimated to be 22 months, based on an elephant’s gestation length), followed by birth. A traumatic event for any mam­mal, the moment of birth is recorded in tooth microstructure by a distinct neonatal line. By comparing her milk tusk development with that of elephants, the scientists initially estimated her age at death to be four months. Counting the increments of ivory laid down after the neonatal line would provide a much more accurate age.

Fisher was also intrigued by the forensic mystery of how and why such an apparently healthy young life had been cut short—and whether it had anything to do with the odd deep dent in her face. “That feature immediately leaped out, though at the time I had no idea what to make of it,” Fisher says.

To begin the analysis, tissue samples from Lyuba were sent to the Netherlands, where carbon-14 dating revealed she had died some 40,000 years ago. For scientists to probe deeper into her life, however, she would have to travel herself. In December 2007 Buigues arranged for the specimen to be transported to Japan by refrigerated container to undergo a CT scan by Naoki Suzuki of the Jikei University School of Medicine. The test confirmed her skeleton, teeth, and soft tissues were undamaged, and her internal organs seemed largely intact. The end of her trunk and her throat, mouth, and windpipe were filled with dense sediment, which suggested to Fisher that she had died by asphyxiation in mud. The scan also revealed some odd x-ray-opaque blobs in her soft tissues and a distortion of certain bones. These anomalies underscored another conundrum: After 40 millennia in the ground—and who knows how long exposed on the surface—why was she so well preserved?

Lyuba’s remarkable condition appeared all the more mystifying in May 2008, when Fisher and Buigues visited the Yuribey River. Just upriver from the sandbar where she’d been found stood a high, sheer bluff, which was being steadily under­cut by the river. Blocks of permafrost, some as big as houses, hung out over the rim of the bluff. Perhaps Lyuba had been frozen in such a block that had collapsed into the water during the previous thaw, floated downstream, and come to rest on the sandbar when the thaw-swollen river had briefly risen to that level. There was only one problem: Yuri Khudi’s sons had found her there in May 2007, before the spring ice-out. Unless she had risen from the underworld and walked up onto the bar on her own, the only explanation was that she had broken out of the permafrost and come to rest there nearly a year before she was discovered, during the ice-out of June 2006. To Fisher, standing on the spot two years later, it just didn’t make sense.

“She’d have been lying on this riverside all that time,” he said to Buigues, “including an entire summer exposed to the sun. So why hasn’t she decomposed or been scavenged?”

Fisher and Buigues had done what they could to understand the circumstances of the calf’s death and mysterious preservation. Further answers would have to come from Lyuba herself.

On June 4, 2008, in a genetics laboratory in St. Petersburg, Russia, Fisher, Buigues, Suzuki, Alexei Tikhonov, and other colleagues, dressed in white Tyvek suits and surgical masks, began a marathon, three-day series of tests and surgical procedures on Lyuba. As she lay on a Plexiglas light table in the middle of the room, Suzuki inserted an endoscope into her abdominal cavity, to explore an open space he’d seen during the CT scan. Other scientists used an electric drill to take a core sample of the hump of fat on the back of her neck, searched for mites in her ears and hair, cut into her abdomen, and removed sections of her intestine to study what she had been eating. Finally, on the third day, Fisher cut into Lyuba’s face and extracted a milk tusk, as well as four premolars.

Initially the researchers kept her frozen by surrounding her with plastic tubs of dry ice. Later, to facilitate the more invasive procedures, they allowed her to slowly thaw out, carefully monitoring her for signs of putrefaction. As her flesh warmed, Fisher noticed an odd, slightly sour smell, which he found familiar but couldn’t quite place. “Like everybody else, I was suffering from sensory overload,” he remembers. “We had to cram so much work into so little time. I just made a mental note and moved on.” He also noticed that the mammoth’s teeth were not held in their sockets by the usual connective tissue, and her muscles had separated from the bone in places where, in a normal specimen, they would have been firmly bonded. “That totally blew me away,” Fisher says. “I kept asking myself, What’s going on here? What does this mean? But there wasn’t much time for reflection.”

The x-ray-opaque areas visible on the CT scan turned out to be brilliant blue crystals of vivianite, probably formed from phosphate leached out of her bones. Fisher noted a dense mix of clay and sand in her mouth and throat, which would support the hypothesis from the CT scan that she’d suffocated, probably in river�bank mud. In fact, the sediment in Lyuba’s trunk was packed so tightly that Fisher saw it as a possible explanation for the dent in her face. If she were frantically fighting for breath and inhaled convulsively, perhaps a partial vacuum was created in the base of her trunk, flattening its soft tissues against her forehead.

To Fisher, the circumstances of Lyuba’s death were clear. (Suzuki would later propose a different interpretation, seeing more evidence for drowning than asphyxiation.) At the end of the autopsy, while Fisher and his colleagues were suturing up her little body, he also had a revelation about her peculiar smell. His mind at last relaxing after the intense effort of the past three days, he suddenly remembered his experiment with the draft horse and the smell that its bloated chunks of flesh, naturally pickled by lactobacilli, emitted as they bobbed on the surface of the pond. Lyuba had the same smell. Finally, her superb state of preservation made sense. She had literally been pickled after she died, which protected her from rot once her body was exposed again, thousands of years later. The lactic acid produced by the microbes also could have caused the odd bone distortion and muscle separation that Fisher had noticed during the autopsy, and perhaps even encouraged the formation of vivianite crystals by freeing phosphate from her bones.

So Lyuba was probably killed by a misstep in or near a muddy river, and preserved for science by a combination of biochemical seren­dipity and the singular resolve of a Nenets herder. Though studies are ongoing, she has also begun to shed the secrets of her short life and some clues to the fate of her kind. Her healthy, well-fed state was echoed in the record of her dental development, a gratifying confirmation for Fisher that such dental records are a faithful proxy for evaluating health on the basis of teeth alone—and thus key to investigating the causes of mammoth extinction. Analysis of her well-preserved DNA has revealed that she belonged to a distinct population of Mammuthus primigenius that, soon after her time, would be replaced by another population migrating to Siberia from North America. On a more intimate scale, Lyuba’s intestine contained the feces of an adult mammoth, probably her mother’s: evidence that mammoth calves, like their modern elephant cousins, ate their mother’s feces to inoc­ulate their guts with her microbes in preparation for digesting plants.

Finally, Lyuba’s premolars and tusk revealed she had been born in the late spring and was only a month old when she died. The last layers of her tusk matched the pattern that Dan Fisher associates with accidental death: a series of even, prosperous days, coming to an abrupt end.

More Amazing Pictures of the Mammoth

Scientists could try to clone a mammoth. Should they?

Hunter S Thompson: our crazy gonzo life

Hunter S Thompson: our crazy gonzo life

The wife of the notoriously wild author Hunter S Thompson, Anita, shared his world of drink and drugs. She tells our correspondent of their fiery marriage and the rift with his son after the writer’s suicide

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Anita Thompson tosses back her blonde hair, pours herself another cup of tea and rolls her eyes. “I’m going to get hell for this interview,” she says. Since her husband Hunter S Thompson, the king of gonzo journalism, shot himself with a .45calibre pistol in February 2005, her life has been tricky. According to her, his family no longer speak to her and important factual details about her husband’s death are only now emerging.

Anita and Thompson had been married for just two years when he killed himself. They were an unlikely pairing: 35 years his junior, Anita was a snowboarding nanny from Colorado when she met the scourge of American polite society. She had confessed to a friend that she did not know much about American football. “My friend said, ‘I have the perfect person to introduce you to the game. He is a sports writer and his name is Hunter S Thompson’.”

She had vaguely heard of him but had never read his work. Not his chronicle of living with the Hell’s Angels or any of his various pieces of journalism; not even his masterpiece, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – that seminal 1972 novel in which Thompson, thinly disguised as crazy hack Raoul Duke, goes with his Cuban attorney on a drug-and-booze-fuelled jaunt to the gambling capital of Nevada.

Perhaps her ignorance was just as well. Through his writing, Thompson comes across as an alarming figure, capable of living above all known limits of excess. In the event, she says, “we became instant friends. I fell in love with his voice on the phone even before meeting him”. Although eloquently aggressive on the page, Thompson was apparently every inch the gent: “He was a gracious and a beautiful man. I was very comfortable with him.”

He hired her as his “researcher, editor, photocopier and cook” and she moved into his sprawling home – Owl Farm in Aspen, Colorado – a year later in 2000. Although he continued to be gentlemanly in his ways, it was clearly a feisty relationship.

“We were always fighting,” Anita admits. “We started fighting almost the day we met, but the fights were pretty dramatic towards the end.” She pauses. “We had pretty loud fights. We were pretty intense people.

“We had to make a living, so my job was to get him to write, and his job was to write so we could pay the bills. So there was tension there. We were always on deadline.”

That must have been rather tricky, what with all the booze and drug-taking, both synonymous with the Thompson lifestyle. Anita has admitted that she had a serious drug problem for a while – but she knocked that, and her boozing, on the head after her entry into the wired, weird world of friends and hangers-on that was Owl Farm.

“I remember looking around one day and I thought, I can’t keep up with this lifestyle and these people – I have to sober up,” she says.

In 2003 she and Thompson got married. Rather a bourgeois move for a dyed-in-the-wool hell-raiser, one would think – but Thompson, then 65, was no idiot. He had just witnessed the chaotic goings-on after a close friend had died intestate. Without the benefit of a will or a marriage certificate, the friend’s bereaved girlfriend had been left high and dry while the family had grabbed everything. Thompson did not want this to happen to Anita.

“Hunter was having back surgery,” she explains, “and he said, ‘If anything happens to me during the operation, they [his former wife and son] will eat you alive’. So we had a civil ceremony, very small and private. Just for that piece of paper.”

At the time Anita thought it was all rather unnecessary: “The way it’s been put to me since is that every second wife will always be attacked by the children of the first wife. And not to take it personally.” And that is precisely what she says happened.

On the day of Thompson’s death, the scene unfolded thus: his only son, Juan, from his former marriage, was down from his home in Denver and staying at Owl Farm with his wife and son Will, 7. The night before, Thompson – who loved to perform pranks and adored anything to do with guns, had decided to combine both passions.

“He was pointing a pellet gun around the house and aimed it at a gong next to my head,” says Anita. Although the image of Thompson capering around with an air rifle could have come straight from the Fear and Loathing archive, Anita was not amused: “I had never seen him act that crazy around the house. He was very careful and responsible with guns. This was the first time I had seen him be so sloppy – particularly with Will in the room.”

His behaviour provoked a huge row. “We had been in a fight over that, and the next day I was still angry about the night before,” she says. It was at that point that she went off to her yoga class at the gym, 26 minutes away by car.

When she arrived at the parking lot, she called Thompson. “We had a private, sweet conversation. Thank God. We had a really beautiful talk on the phone. He said, ‘Come home, everything’s fine, don’t worry, I love you more than ever. Come home and we’ll write a column tonight’. I thought it was his way of making up. Because if we wrote together, the fighting would stop.”

Anita’s brown eyes are full of tears. “While he was writing,” she goes on, “he would like to have a beautiful dinner, me nicely dressed, flowers. He liked beauty around him. It helped him work.”

After their reconciliatory chat, something odd happened. “He didn’t hang up. He put the phone on the counter. I heard some clicking. And I thought he was tapping on his typewriter. What he was doing, of course, was cocking his gun.”

Their conversation had lasted from 5.16pm to 5.26pm. The official time of death was 5.42pm: “So he did it almost straight away.”

Not that she had any inkling of his intention. She did her yoga and then had a shower. “I had all this conditioner on my hair,” says Anita, now openly weeping. “And a friend came over and said, ‘Is Hunter okay?’ And I said, ‘Yes, judging from our last conversation’. But she was pale, her lips were white. And she said, ‘I’ll stay with you while you check your messages’. And there was a message from Juan. He said, ‘Come home, Anita. He’s dead’.”

Thompson had put one of his favourite guns in his mouth and shot himself through the head while sitting in his chair in the kitchen. That night, in a scene worthy of a David Lynch film, close friends apparently came over to pay homage to the great writer while his corpse was still in the chair. Chivas Regal (his favourite drink) was flowing and a blank piece of paper was put in his typewriter.

Does Anita think he was drunk when he shot himself? She shakes her head. “Hunter was never drunk. He would be drinking from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to sleep, but you would never see him drunk. He had a remarkable constitution, which was why so many people couldn’t last in the kitchen with him because they would try to keep up and they couldn’t.”

That night Anita cut off her foot-long ponytail, which she placed on his body prior to its cremation. The ashes of Hunter S Thompson were eventually fired over Owl Farm in a rocket during a memorial service attended by guests including Sean Penn, Bill Murray and Johnny Depp (star of the movie version of Fear and Loathing).

If that all sounds perfect, it was anything but. Anita claims that Hunter’s family turned on her almost before his body was cold.

Three days after the death, Juan issued a press release announcing that the family had been expecting his father to kill himself. “I was like: what do you mean we expected this?” says Anita. “And Jennifer, Juan’s wife, said, ‘Yeah, we knew he would do this within six months’.”

Then Juan announced to the press that he was going to take over the Thompson literary reins from his father. Anita recalls Juan saying: “My dad told me, ‘Don’t kid yourself, son, I passed on the gift’.” She is most tactful about whether or not Juan did indeed inherit Thompson’s considerable gifts. But she does add: “At the time, Juan was working as a computer technician at Chipotle, a Mexican chain restaurant.” Ah.

There was also the thorny question of Thompson’s “legacy”. Juan was burning to handle the Thompson myth in a bookish, reverent manner, which would no doubt have pleased the legions of undergraduates who now take Hunter S Thompson courses. But this idea did not find favour with Anita.

“Juan believes Hunter’s legacy is for the scholars. But Hunter loved his readers. When he died, I got boxloads of letters – hundreds and hundreds – and at the memorial I wanted there to be a place for Hunter’s fans. Juan said, ‘No, we’ll invite the fans to the next memorial’. But then again, six months later, his readers were excluded.”

Anita now wants to turn Owl Farm into a writers’ residence and a place where adults and children can come to learn about Thompson. She has kept it just as he left it – even down to the bizarre knickknacks: old pairs of spectacles, stuffed animals and the handwritten notes that plaster the kitchen walls (“Let’s get stoned and have orgasms and laugh a lot” is a typical example). Juan, however, wants the items left to him and the family in the will removed from the house and distributed. “Technically, he has the right to do this, but I want to keep it frozen in time,” says Anita.

She claims that, in happier times, “Juan and I were very close”. Not now. These days, she says, the Owl Farm trustees act as a bulwark between them.

Three years on from Hunter’s death, Anita is obviously still distraught and emotionally vulnerable. She has come to Europe for a respite from what must be a lonely life in the ramshackle building that is still saturated with reminders of her husband.

But she is definitely going back: “I feel safe at Owl Farm. It’s thanks to Hunter and his wishes that I am there.”

Thompson’s will makes it clear that the farm and its 45 acres of beautiful Colorado land are Anita’s rightful home until her death. It is probably the largest single asset that he left behind (she claims that he did not die a wealthy man).

Does she wonder whether his family suspect her of influencing what Thompson wrote in his will? “People didn’t think I had a hand in it,” she says.

She then goes on to recount a bizarre tale involving a piece of paper which Juan said that Hunter had dictated to him as he was dying. It appeared to be a codicil to the will – but it was eventually held to be invalid.

So what did it say? “Oh, something about one trustee . . . and some other issues.”

Crucially, she says, there was no investigation directly after the death. “Maybe the sheriff didn’t want to upset Juan by asking too many questions,” Anita speculates. But there were some anomalies.

“The gun that Hunter shot himself with was a semi-automatic. Normally, when you shoot a weapon like this, the next bullet goes into the chamber; but in this case there was no bullet in the chamber.” She shrugs. “I don’t think about this all the time.”

Where was Juan when Thompson shot himself? “In the other room. He said it sounded like a book dropping.” She obviously has questions that she wants to ask him about the evening his father died. But, she says, “Juan and I don’t speak any more so I can’t get answers from him.”

Recently, the local coroner sent her photographs of the scene of death which she claims have fundamentally changed her understanding of that evening. She refuses to be drawn on what they show, but insists that they are crucial, demonstrating that something she was told at the time was incorrect.

However, she has no doubt that Thompson committed suicide. In the note he left for her, she says, “he wrote that it wasn’t fun any more, that he wasn’t fun any more. And that he had lived 50 years longer than he needed or deserved to. It wasn’t so much an apology as an explanation”.

Does she feel she failed him? “Oh, I did. The job of a wife is to protect your husband when there are dark forces around, or when he is feeling dark and depressed. I failed at it.”

The biggest problem was his health; after an operation on his back, Thompson fell over and broke a leg while on a faintly improbable assignment to cover the Honolulu marathon. This reignited the back problems and raised the spectre of yet another operation – which he dreaded.

“But he had so much more work ahead of him. He was so much fun,” says Anita. Still in thrall to him, despite all the arguments, she has just written a book called The Gonzo Way – a thoroughly readable account of Thompson’s philosophy and final years.

“The best thing about our marriage was that it was like being married to a teenage girl trapped in the body of an elderly dope fiend,” says Anita. “Which was also the hardest thing about our marriage.”

She sighs and wells up again: “As of January 1 this year, I thought I’d start dating again. But I miss him. I’ve realised it’s going to be a challenge finding anything interesting in life after his death. But the last thing he would want me to do is to spend the rest of my days simply mourning.”

She’s right. It’s not the Gonzo Way.

The Gonzo Way: A Celebration of Dr Hunter S Thompson, by Anita Thompson, is published by Fulcrum Publishing

Song lyrics worth reading

Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam


Jesus don’t want me for a sunbeam. ‘Cause sunbeams are not made like me.
Don’t expect me to cry for all the reasons you had to die. Don’t ever ask your
love of me.

Don’t expect me to cry.
Don’t expect me to lie.
Don’t expect me to die for thee.

Jesus don’t want me for a sunbeam. ‘Cause sunbeams are not made like me.
Don’t expect me to cry for all the reasons you had to die. Don’t ever ask your
love of me.

Don’t expect me to cry.
Don’t expect me to lie.
Don’t expect me to die for thee.

Jesus don’t want me for a sunbeam. ‘Cause sunbeams are not made like me.
Don’t expect me to cry for all the reasons you had to die. Don’t ever ask your
love of me.

Don’t expect me to cry.
Don’t expect me to lie.
Don’t expect me to die.
Don’t expect me to cry.
Don’t expect me to lie.
Don’t expect me to die for thee.

________________________________________________

Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” is a song originally recorded by Scottish alternative band The Vaselines for their EP Dying for it. It is a parody on the children’s hymn, “I’ll Be a Sunbeam”, which has the opening line “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam”.

The song was a hit only in indie-pop and twee circles until in 1992, The Vaselines re-released the song with a slight title change (“Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam“) which altered the entire meaning of the compilation album The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History.

Nirvana released a cover of “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam” on their live acoustic album MTV Unplugged in New York. Nirvana also released two more versions of this song on their 2004 box set With the Lights Out. This included an acoustic version recorded in Europe in 1994, along with a live electric performance on the DVD section of the box-set.

Despite popular misconception, The Vaselines’ altered version of “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” came out before American rock band Nirvana’s and their cover was directly of The Vaselines version. ( Wiki)