Chilling Crusader discovery: Trove of coins and 900-year-old earring found at massacre site

Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered a trove of rare gold coins and a 900-year-old gold earring at the site of a Crusader massacre. Officials announced the discovery earlier this week, explaining that the artifacts were found at the ancient city of Caesarea on Israel’s coast. A small bronze pot, which contained 24 gold coins and … Continue reading “Chilling Crusader discovery: Trove of coins and 900-year-old earring found at massacre site”

Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered a trove of rare gold coins and a 900-year-old gold earring at the site of a Crusader massacre.

Officials announced the discovery earlier this week, explaining that the artifacts were found at the ancient city of Caesarea on Israel’s coast. A small bronze pot, which contained 24 gold coins and the earring, was found hidden between two stones in the side of a well located in the remains of a 900-year-old house.

“The coins in the cache dating to the end of the eleventh century, make it possible to link the treasure to the Crusader conquest of the city in the year 1101, one of the most dramatic events in the medieval history of the city,” explained excavation directors Dr. Peter Gendelman and Mohammed Hatar of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in a statement.

AMAZING CRUSADER DISCOVERY: GOTHIC HALL FOUND AT KNIGHTS' HILLTOP CASTLE

Citing contemporary sources, the experts noted that most of Caesarea’s inhabitants were massacred by a Crusader army led by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem. “It is reasonable to assume that the treasure’s owner and his family perished in the massacre or were sold into slavery, and therefore were not able to retrieve their gold,” they said in the statement.

The bronze pot with gold earring inside. (Photo: Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Caesarea Development Corporation)

The stunning artifacts were found in the area of a sacred compound built by King Herod the Great more than two millennia ago. Other treasures have also been found nearby. In the 1960s, for example, a pot containing gold and silver jewelry was discovered at Caesarea, while a collection of bronze vessels was found in the 1990s.

The house where the latest treasures were found was built about 1,000 years after Herod’s reign.

CRUSADER-ERA HAND GRENADE SURPRISES ARCHAEOLOGISTS

The turbulent Crusader era in the Holy Land began in the 11th century and lasted until the 13th century.

The Gold earring discovered at Caesarea. (Photo: Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Caesarea Development Corporation)

The excavation project at Caesarea is sponsored by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation and involves the Caesarea Development Corporation, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, as well as the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The discovery also came just before the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, when it is traditional to give children “Hanukkah gelt,” which are chocolate coins. “It is symbolic that the gold coins were discovered on the eve of Hanukkah,” said Caesarea Development Corporation CEO Michael Karsenti, in a statement. “For us, this is certainly ‘Hanukah gelt,’ and a testament to how much more is still hidden within Caesarea.”

900 YEAR-OLD JEWELRY FOUND IN CRUSADER CASTLE

Israel’s Crusader sites continue to be a source of fascination. In a separate project, for example, archaeologists recently discovered a Gothic hall at a medieval Crusader fortress in northern Israel.

Caesarea Maritima, general view of the archaeological excavations (Photo: Yaakov Shimdov, Israel Antiquities Authority).

Last year, amazing medieval jewelry was found during the excavation of a Crusader castle on Tittora Hill in the town of Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut.

In 2016, a centuries-old hand grenade that may date back to the time of the Crusaders was among a host of treasures retrieved from the sea in Israel. The hand grenade was a common weapon in Israel during the Crusader era.

MORE DEAD SEA SCROLLS MAY BE HIDDEN IN NEWLY DISCOVERED CAVES

Over decades, archaeologists have also uncovered the ruins of the once-thriving Crusader city in the modern Israeli city of Acre.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Newt Gingrich: Don’t let confusion and fear block promising genetic therapy treatments

Over the past three decades, I have consistently spoken about the enormous potential of biomedical breakthroughs that could solve many of our pressing public challenges. Because of this potential, I have advocated for increased public funding of basic scientific research and reforms at the Food and Drug Administration to speed up the process by which new treatments are available to patients.

One of the most exciting areas of biomedical science today is in genetic medicine, where we are just now seeing the public investment into sequencing the human genome bear fruit in the form of treatments to help patients overcome hereditary disorders.

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of seeing first-hand just how extraordinary these new treatments are, when I attended the Sanford Lorraine Cross Award ceremony in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The award is different than most prizes for medical achievements. Rather than simply rewarding research which led – or could one day lead – to treatments, the Lorraine Cross Award honors doctors who take their research beyond the lab and take the risks to develop cutting-edge cures that actually help patients today.

This focus on cures is a trademark of the philanthropic efforts of Denny Sanford, who has pledged almost $1 billion over the past 16 years to transform a small rural health system in South Dakota into a global health system of hospitals, research centers, and clinics. This system is helping to transform the way health care is practiced around the world. In his honor, the health system adopted his name, Sanford Health.

In this inaugural year of the Sanford Lorraine Cross Award, all three of the finalists for the $1 million prize have developed gene therapy techniques which are being used to treat patients today.

As I learned about the incredible things these doctors were doing in this bold new field of medicine, it occurred to me that lack of funding and unnecessary bureaucracy are not the only things that can slow down the progress of developing new treatments. Unnecessary fear caused by confusion over what gene therapy is can also slow progress.

For example, last week, a researcher in China, He Jiankui, claimed that he had used a gene editing technique to confer HIV immunity on twin girl embryos, who were then successfully brought to term. The announcement was met with near universal global criticism, and the Chinese government responded by closing the doctor’s lab and opening an investigation that could result in criminal charges.

So, you see a $1 million prize and acclaim for gene therapy – versus criminal charges and outrage for gene editing. But what is the difference?

In the coming years, we will be hearing a lot more about genetic medicine. We will hear a lot of hope and optimism but also a lot of fear and calls for caution. To understand the awesome promise and peril of this extraordinary new field of medicine, it is worth examining the differences between the work which was honored yesterday in Sioux Falls and the work which was rightly condemned in China.

The technique – gene therapy vs. genome editing

First, there is a big difference between gene therapy and genome editing.

Gene therapy is treating an existing disease in an individual patient who is sick. As one of the Sanford Award nominees, Dr. Jim Wilson, who directs the Gene Therapy Program at the University of Pennsylvania – and whose work refining a gene therapy delivery system is the foundation upon which much of today’s gene therapy treatment is built – explained, “Gene therapy is really the ultimate treatment for patients that have disease due to single gene defects.”

Gene therapy only impacts somatic cells, which are non-reproductive. This means that changes in somatic cells will not be passed on to offspring. So, the treatment only impacts individual patients who give their consent to being treated. In the case of patients who are children, their parents give consent – a practice around which there is a long-established ethical consensus.

By contrast, the work done by the Chinese biologist involved manipulation of the genetic code of human embryos – a technique referred to as “embryo genome editing” (sometimes “germline cell editing.”) Germline cell editing alters reproductive cells. This means the changes will be passed on to future generations.

There is no ethical consensus in place that fully understands the implications of a set of parents giving ethical consent to treatment that will impact all future generations of a patient.

In addition, there is the huge ethical and scientific challenge of how to advance the science of genome editing without the destruction of human embryos.

We may very well see germline editing used in the future to cure disease. But that should only be done after much study and a consensus around these and other ethical issues is reached, which will take time.

In the meantime, we should continue to move forward with gene therapy of somatic cells.

The diseases being treated

Even within the field of somatic cell gene therapy, there are necessary guardrails in place.

Because the field is so new, gene therapy is currently only allowed for diseases which have no other cure or effective treatment.

For instance, one of the Sanford Lorraine Cross Award nominees, Dr. Brian Kaspar, is using gene therapy to change the course of type 1 spinal muscular atrophy, a devastating disease that destroys basic muscle function in babies and usually results in death by age 2. His treatment results in dramatic improvements in muscle function and survival.

Another pair of nominees, Drs. Jean Bennett and Katherine High, are using gene therapy to reverse an inherited form of blindness, which typically begins with a severe visual impairment during infancy that can continue to worsen over time. Their drug, Luxturna, was the first FDA approved gene therapy and has paved the way for many more breakthroughs.

Contrast these two intractable diseases being treated with gene therapy with what was done in China to make the children immune to HIV.

First, authorized gene therapy techniques are for conditions that already exist in a patient. The children treated at the embryonic stage in China were not HIV positive.

Second, avoiding HIV infection is relatively easy. And even if one contracts the virus, there are already a wide variety of effective treatments. An extraordinary combination of public and private research since the 1980s has turned being HIV positive from a death sentence into a manageable condition – if treatments are available.

There was simply no reason to use a technique as new, experimental, and fraught with ethical and medical peril as gene editing to prevent HIV infection. The risks greatly outweigh the reward.

With gene therapy on defective cells, we have a high degree of certainty about the medical impact of successful treatment – namely, normal function.

The work of the Chinese researcher was very different. He used a gene-editing technique called CRISPR-Cas9 to shut down a gene called CCR5, which creates a protein necessary for HIV to enter cells. In other words, he shut down a gene that was functioning normally for humans in order to create an “artificial” resistance to the disease. However, while shutting down CCR5 may make one immune to HIV, we don’t know what other health impacts this will have. These two girls will need to be monitored for the rest of their lives to see how they develop.

Fixing a defect vs. human enhancement

Finally, the most fundamental difference between the type of work in genetic medicine honored by the Sanford Lorraine Cross Award and the work in China condemned around the world is that the former is a treatment for genetic defects while the latter is the enhancement of human beings.

The prospect of human enhancement poses enormous ethical questions which strike at the core of how we think about equality – particularly in America.

The American ideal is not just equality under the law, it is also equal opportunity. Namely, that America should strive to be an open society, where people can achieve success through hard work and applying their God-given talents.

But what if talent was no longer exclusively God-given – and could be purchased? Human enhancement that can carry on through the generations could rapidly create a permanent and intractable divide between the wealthy and the rest of humanity because the rich would have both material advantages – and they would literally be born smarter, stronger, and healthier.

There may very well be a future in which genome editing is used medically, such as an effort to permanently eliminate certain recessive genetic disorders from humans. But that day should only come after we have figured out how to make the treatments available to all so that we advance together as a species – as we have with vaccinations for many diseases. Furthermore, we need to find a way to advance the science with the proper respect for human life in all its stages – including embryonic.

In the meantime, we should press forward with the kind of promising gene therapy techniques that were honored Tuesday in Sioux Falls. While these early-stage gene therapies were for relatively rare conditions, they are setting the stage for gene therapy treatments for other inherited diseases, such as hemophilia and sickle cell anemia – diseases that impact many people. This is important foremost because of the number of patients it will help but also because of the public costs that are associated with these diseases.

We should all be excited and optimistic about the potential of gene therapy to save lives and make our world a better place.

Newt Gingrich is a Fox News contributor. A Republican, he was speaker of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999. Follow him on Twitter @NewtGingrich. His latest book is “Trump’s America: The Truth About Our Nation’s Great Comeback.”

Mass extinction, ‘Great Dying’ could happen again, scientists warn

The largest extinction event in Earth's history was caused by global warming – and our planet may be in for another enormous wipeout, scientists warn.

Continued climate change could lead to a repeat of the Great Dying, which killed off 96 percent of life on Earth around 250 million years ago.

Long before the dawn of the dinosaurs, Earth was populated with plants and animals that were mostly obliterated after a series of massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia.

CLICK ON THE SUN FOR MORE

The mass extinction, triggered 252 million years ago, essentially set life on our planet back to square one, and was followed by a period spanning millions of years in which life had to multiply and evolve once more.

Now researchers have shown that the Great Dying, which killed 96 percent of Earth's ocean creatures, was caused by global warming.

As volcanoes belched greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, Earth's oceans heated up, and its warming waters could no longer hold enough oxygen for life to survive.

Scientists at the University of Washington warned that man-made climate change could trigger a similar event within the next few hundred years.

"Under a business-as-usual emissions scenarios, by 2100 warming in the upper ocean will have approached 20 percent of warming in the late Permian, and by the year 2300 it will reach between 35 and 50 percent," said study author Justin Penn.

"This study highlights the potential for a mass extinction arising from a similar mechanism under anthropogenic climate change."

The Washington team ran computer models to simulate the effects of the Great Dying on Earth's ancient oceans.

They showed that sulfur and other greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere starved Earth's oceans of 80 percent of their oxygen.

This is because as the oceans heated up, creatures and plants used up more oxygen as their metabolism increased.

About half the oceans' seafloor, mostly at deeper depths, became completely oxygen-free and uninhabitable to almost all life on Earth.

The situation in the late Permian – increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that create warmer temperatures on Earth – is similar to today, researchers warned.

"This is the first time that we have made a mechanistic prediction about what caused the extinction that can be directly tested with the fossil record," Mr. Penn said.

"It allows us to make predictions about the causes of extinction in the future."

This story originally appeared in The Sun.

‘Blueberries’ on Mars have a watery past. But scientists are still baffled.

It was just a few months after NASA's Opportunity rover touched down on Mars in 2004 that it spotted a geological curiosity: tiny, iron-rich spheres scattered across the rock surface near the robot's landing site. Snack-loving scientists working with the mission dubbed these objects "blueberries," but the features were easier to name than to understand. Their recipe remains something of a puzzle.

Trying to sort out the origins of these blueberries has always involved studying similar-looking spherical formations here on Earth. New research takes its inspiration from these terrestrial analogs to offer a new idea of the chemistry that may have gone into whipping up these Martian blueberries. In turn, this research helps reveal what ancient Mars may have looked like.

The blueberries are tantalizing for more than just their whimsical name; they also constituted some of the earliest evidence we had that Mars was once incredibly wet. "No matter what the exact chemistry of these spherules was to start, the fact that they're there tells us [that] a lot of liquid water moved through these rocks over time," Briony Horgan, a planetary scientist at Purdue University in Indiana, told Space.com. [10 Amazing Mars Discoveries by Rovers Spirit & Opportunity]

And if scientists can parse out precisely how the blueberries formed, that may help us understand what Mars was like back when the features formed — and what sort of life could have theoretically thrived in those circumstances, Horgan said.

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  • So, the team behind the new research traveled to two different terrestrial destinations in search of rock formations that resemble Martian blueberries: Utah and Mongolia. These formations aren't identical to those on Mars, which are about a tenth the size of the Earthly equivalents. Our planet's formations are also less orderly than the Martian versions. "They're all blobbed together. They're different sizes," Horgan said of the terrestrial features.

    But it's much easier to get to Utah and Mongolia than to Mars, so scientists use these features despite the imperfect comparison. The researchers found that the formations seemed to have been built around cores of a mineral called calcite, with iron-rich material in only the outer shell. "That moment [of discovery], it was very exciting," geochemist co-authors Hidekazu Yoshida of Nagoya University and Hitoshi Hasegawa of Kochi University in Japan, wrote in an email to Space.com.

    Based on those observations in the field and chemical modeling, the scientists suggested that floods of iron-rich, gently acidic water washed over the original calcite structures. Unlike the terrestrial versions, Martian blueberries seem to be made of hematite all the way through, no longer sporting any calcite heart. But that could point to a long period of overwash that ate through all the calcite, the researchers said.

    The nagging details of chemical reactions that may or may not have taken place on early Mars have larger implications. First, these details are relevant to scientists' natural interest in all that water that flowed through rocks to form the blueberries. "The chemistry of water tells us about the habitability of the environment," Horgan said.

    The second potential implication would relate to another long-standing debate about Mars — what happened to its once-thick atmosphere. The authors in the new study argued that this atmosphere could have gone into the carbonate ions locked in calcite precursors to the blueberries.

    But that wouldn't solve the atmospheric mystery, Steve Ruff, a planetary geologist at Arizona State University who works on the Opportunity mission, told Space.com. "My sense of what we know about the area of the hematite that we can map from orbit is it's not a huge area," covering less than 1 percent of Mars' surface, he said. There just aren't enough blueberries to pack away very much atmosphere. [Latest Mars Rover Photos from Opportunity & Spirit]

    He said he also worries that Earth's formations aren't similar enough to those on Mars for scientists to learn about the blueberries. But Ruff didn't dismiss the new paper. "I'm intrigued by this idea," he said. "The formation of these little concretions on Earth and certainly on Mars has always been a bit of a mystery, and there's multiple ideas about how you form these things."

    The Martian blueberries are small enough that in order to truly solve their mystery, scientists will need more-sophisticated tools than are currently on the Red Planet. NASA's next rover, the Mars 2020 rover, will carry instruments with high enough resolution that they could tackle these questions. But that rover is slated to visit a place called Jezero Crater, far away from the plain where Opportunity spotted the blueberries.

    "Going back to places on Mars with NASA is not something people want to do. They want to go to new places," Ruff said. Nevertheless, he said he isn't giving up hope that the new rover could solve the blueberry mystery. "Maybe we'll get lucky and see something like this with the 2020 rover."

    Whatever the nuances of blueberry chemistry turn out to be, the new paper is a reminder of the vast time scales — and the potential complexity such time scales entail — involved in Martian geology, Horgan said. "Time can play a really important role in the minerals that we see," Horgan said. "We should be careful. There could have been multiple things that happened to these rocks."

    The research is described in a paper published today (Dec. 5) in the journal Science Advances.

    Original article on Space.com.

    NASA’s InSight Mars Lander reveals stunningly clear pictures of the Red Planet

    NASA has released several stunning new images of Mars captured by the InSight lander's robotic arm as it snapped a photos of its new workspace.

    The government space agency shared the photos to Twitter and on its website, as it gets ready to explore the Elysium Planitia, the plain where the lander touched down on Nov. 26.

    "Raise your hand if you’re in this new photo from #Mars!" NASA wrote in one tweet. "These two tiny chips contain the names of more than 2.4 million people who signed up to fly with me. We’re ON MARS, you guys. You’re all honorary Martians!"

    MARS INSIGHT LANDER SHOWS OFF FIRST IMAGE FROM MARS

    In another, NASA wrote: "One step at a time…
    Now that I’ve got my arm out, I can start making a detailed 3D map of my workspace, the area right in front of me where I’ll place my instruments. Here’s more on what I’ve been doing, and what’s yet to come."

    "Today we can see the first glimpses of our workspace," said Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. in a statement. "By early next week, we'll be imaging it in finer detail and creating a full mosaic."

    In addition to taking pictures, the nearly 6-foot arm will be used to pick up science instruments from the lander's deck. The photos will help the mission team decide where to put the lander's seismometer and heat flow probe — "the only instruments ever to be robotically placed on the surface of another planet," NASA said.

    There's also another camera on the lander, which cost $828 million, known as the Instrument Context Camera. This camera is under the lander's deck and, even though it was covered, dust managed to get on the lens, Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight's project manager, added.

    "While this is unfortunate, it will not affect the role of the camera, which is to take images of the area in front of the lander where our instruments will eventually be placed," Hoffman said.

    NASA IS GOING THROUGH 'SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR' TO GET TO MARS

    Since the InSight lander set down on the Red Planet a week and a half ago, ending a journey that lasted six months and covered more than 300 million miles, it's been quite busy for NASA.

    "Over the past week and a half, mission engineers have been testing those instruments and spacecraft systems, ensuring they're in working order," NASA said in the statement. "A couple instruments are even recording data: a drop in air pressure, possibly caused by a passing dust devil, was detected by the pressure sensor. This, along with a magnetometer and a set of wind and temperature sensors, are part of a package called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem, which will collect meteorological data."

    The InSight lander entered Mars' atmosphere just shortly after 2:40 p.m. EST on Nov. 26 and touched the surface at approximately 2:54 p.m. EST. The last part of the journey was the most harrowing, with NASA calling it "seven minutes of terror" due to the agency's inability to control the landing of the spacecraft.

    As the lander descended, it was hit with extreme temperatures, speeds and forces. In an attempt to prevent any damage to the craft, NASA chose a "vanilla ice cream" landing site, the Elysium Planitia, which is flat and featureless.

    The InSight Lander is the space agency’s first probe to reach the Red Planet in six years, following the August 2012 landing of the Curiosity Rover. The Rover, which has more than 12 miles on its odometer, is currently the only thing operating on the Martian surface. The Opportunity Rover, which was launched in July 2003, is currently inoperable thanks to a dust storm the Red Planet experienced several months ago.

    The unmanned probe, which is built by Lockheed Martin, will dig deeper into the planet than anything that's come before.

    InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is also the first spacecraft to launch to another planet from the West Coast. The spacecraft blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5, 2018 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas v 401 rocket.

    HOW NASA'S MARS INSIGHT WILL PHONE HOME AFTER ITS DRAMATIC LANDING

    NASA’s last landing on Mars took place in 2012 when the Curiosity Rover reached the Red Planet. The Rover, which has more than 12 miles on its odometer, is currently the only thing operating on the Martian surface.

    The space agency's older, smaller Opportunity was roaming around up there until June, when a global dust storm knocked it out of service. Flight controllers haven't given up hope yet that it will be revived.

    Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

    NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

    NASA PICKS LANDING SPOT FOR MARS 2020 ROVER IN HUNT FOR ALIEN LIFE

    Last month, the space agency announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The Rover is expected to land on Mars Feb. 18, 2021.

    Fox News’ James Rogers and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

    China’s ancient ‘pyramids’ reveal their stunning secrets

    A researcher has uncovered fascinating new details about the construction of ancient “pyramids” in China.

    There are over 40 “pyramid” mausoleums in China, which are huge artificial earth hills. Only two of these sites have been partly excavated, according to Giulio Magli of the Politecnico di Milano in Italy, author of a new study on the pyramids.

    The research, which examines the role of astronomy and Feng Shui in ancient Chinese necropolises, used satellite data and field surveys to collect a wealth of information on the archaeological sites. One of the sites is the pyramid tomb China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huang, which is guarded by the famous Terracotta Army.

    MYSTERIOUS REMAINS OF EXTINCT APE DISCOVERED IN ANCIENT CHINESE TOMB

    In a study published in the journal Archaeological Research in Asia Magli notes that the ancient Chinese pyramids fall into two categories. One group of tombs is oriented “with good precision” to the cardinal points of north, south, east and west.

    Terracotta Warriors protecting the Qin Mausoleum’s east front. (Giulio Magli)

    In a statement, the researcher explains that, like their counterparts in Egypt, the ancient Chinese emperors saw their power as “a direct mandate of the heaven, identifying the circumpolar region as a celestial image of the imperial palace and its inhabitants.” As a result, the orientation of pyramids toward the cardinal points should come as no surprise.

    However, the second group of pyramids is oriented away from true north. Specifically, these tombs orient to the west of north, when looking toward the monument. “It is out of the question that this second family may have been due to errors of the Chinese astronomers and architects,” Magli explained.

    ANCIENT GREEKS MAY HAVE HELPED DESIGN CHINA'S TERRACOTTA ARMY, EXPERTS SAY

    Instead, the study proposes that the ancient pyramid builders were accounting for the rotation of the Earth’s axis, which, over long periods of time, alters the position of stars in the night sky.

    Video

    “The explanation proposed in the article is thus astronomical: the emperors who built the pyramids of the ‘family 2’ did not want to point to the north celestial pole, which at the time did not correspond to any star, but to the star to which the pole would be approached in the future: Polaris,” he explained.

    Polaris, also known as the North Star or Pole Star, is located in the constellation of Ursa Minor and has long been used as an important guide for navigation. While modern astronomers are used to identifying the north celestial pole with Polaris (although it is not a perfect alignment), at the time of the ancient Han emperors in China, the pole was still far from Polaris, Magli explained.

    Other discoveries are shedding new light on ancient China. In 2016, archaeologists revealed evidence that ancient Greeks may have helped design the Terracotta Army, potentially offering fresh insight into China’s early contact with the west.

    Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

    This salamander breathes through ‘christmas trees’ growing from its head

    A sinuous swamp salamander with spots like a leopard and Christmas-tree-shaped fronds growing from its head hid from scientists for decades. But researchers have finally described this elusive and two-legged aquatic oddity.

    Dubbed Siren reticulata — reticulated siren — the animal bears a closer resemblance to an eel than a salamander, with a long body and no hind limbs. In fact, its body shape and spotted pattern previously earned it the name "leopard eel," scientists reported in a new study.

    Only recently did researchers confirm that the slippery salamander is a new species. Like other sirens (a group of aquatic salamanders) the newfound species is huge — it measures up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) in length, and is one of the largest animals with backbones described in the U.S. in more than a century, according to the study. [In Photos: The World's Freakiest Looking Animals]

    Unlike many other types of salamanders, sirens have extremely elongated bodies, are entirely aquatic and only have front legs. Their heads are crowned with branching external gills — structures that help them extract oxygen from the water, study co-author David Steen, a research ecologist with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, told Live Science.

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  • Sirens were first described in the 18th and 19th centuries, but they remain poorly understood; the group has flown under the scientific radar for so long primarily because they're tricky to detect and observe in the murky streams and ponds of their swamp habitats in the southeastern United States, Steen explained.

    To determine if the spotted siren was indeed a new species, the researchers needed specimens. Steen caught one in 2009, and it wasn't until 2014 when scientists captured three more.

    Evaluation of these sirens — along with preserved museum specimens — enabled the study authors to perform detailed analysis of the animals' DNA and body structures, determining that they were genetically and physically distinct from known siren species that live in the area: the greater siren and the lesser siren.

    Natural predators for the reticulated sirens likely include snakes, herons, egrets and predatory fish, Steen told Live Science. But the giant salamanders face a more dire threat from human activity, such as development that encroaches on their habitat. Because little is known about the extent of the sirens' range, it's possible that wetlands where sirens lived are already being drained, Steen said.

    Identifying this giant salamander also serves as a reminder that there are new species to be discovered "right in our own backyards," Steen said.

    "This is a big animal, and it's only being described in 2018. There's probably a lot more species for us to learn about — and we should do it quick, before these things disappear."

    The findings were published online today (Dec. 5) in the journal PLOS ONE.

    In Photos: Lost Salamanders DiscoveredSlithery, Slimy: Images of Legless AmphibiansAlbum: Bizarre Frogs, Lizards and Salamanders

    Originally published on Live Science.

    180-million-year-old ‘sea monster’ found with skin and blubber

    The fossil of a 180-million-year-old ichthyosaur from the Jurassic era has been discovered and it contains evidence of blubber and skin, making the creature more similar to modern-day dolphins than previously thought.

    The team of researchers from North Carolina State University and Sweden’s Lund University used molecular and microstructural analysis to determine that the creature, described by National Geographic as a "sea monster," was likely warm-blooded and potentially could use its coloration to help it hide from predators.

    “Ichthyosaurs are interesting because they have many traits in common with dolphins, but are not at all closely related to those sea-dwelling mammals,” says research co-author Mary Schweitzer in a statement. “We aren’t exactly sure of their biology either. They have many features in common with living marine reptiles like sea turtles, but we know from the fossil record that they gave live birth, which is associated with warm-bloodedness. This study reveals some of those biological mysteries.”

    85-MILLION-YEAR-OLD SEA MONSTER FOUND IN KANSAS

    Johan Lindgren, the lead author on the study, noted “Both the body outline and remnants of internal organs are clearly visible,” adding “Remarkably, the fossil is so well-preserved that it is possible to observe individual cellular layers within its skin.”

    The study has been published in the scientific journal Nature.

    In addition to blubber and skin, the researchers found traces of an internal organ that is believed to be the creature's liver.

    Evidence of the blubber, which is only found in "animals capable of maintaining body temperatures independent of ambient conditions," as well as the liver denotes that the creature had a similar skin makeup to a whale, dark on top and light on the bottom, to help it avoid predators.

    “Both morphologically and chemically, we found that although Stenopterygius would be loosely considered ‘reptiles,’ they lost the scaly skin associated with these animals – just as the modern leatherback sea turtle has,” Schweitzer added in the statement. “Losing the scales reduces drag and increases maneuverability underwater."

    He continued: “This animal’s preservation is unusual, especially for a marine environment – but then, the Holzmaden formation is known for its exceptional preservation. This specimen has given us more evidence that these tissues and molecules can preserve for extremely long periods, and that soft tissue analysis can shed light on evolutionary patterns, relationships, and how ancient animals functioned in their environment.

    150-MILLION-YEAR 'SEA MONSTER' UNEARTHED IN INDIA

    “Our results were repeatable and consistent across labs. This work really shows what we’re capable of discovering when we perform a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional study of an exceptional specimen.”

    In April, a 205-million-year ichthyosaur fossil was discovered in southwestern England. The creature was estimated to be nearly 85 feet in length based on the fossil, which would make it nearly the size of a blue whale and "one of the largest animals to ever live."

    Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

    Scientists create edible honey bee vaccine to protect them from deadly diseases

    The first-ever vaccine for insects now exists, thanks to scientists at the University of Helsinki in Finland hoping to save one of the most crucial pollinators in the world: the honey bee.

    The vaccine, which is edible, “protects bees from diseases while protecting global food production,” the university said in a news release. The goal, researchers said, is to protect the bees against American foulbrood, “a bacterial disease caused by the spore-forming Paenibacillus larvae ssp. Larvae.”

    The disease is the “most widespread and destructive of the bee brood diseases,” the university added.

    HONEYBEES, IN DECLINE FOR DECADES, FINDING NEW HOMES IN UNUSUAL PLACES

    Bloomberg reported the disease can kill “entire colonies” while its “spores can remain viable for more than 50 years.”

    To distribute the vaccine, scientists place a sugar patty in the hive, which the queen then eats over the course of about a week. Once ingested, the pathogens in the patty are then passed into the queen’s eggs, “where they work as inducers for future immune responses,” the university explained in the statement.

    The vaccine — which is not yet sold commercially, according to Bloomberg — is also significant because it was once not thought possible to develop a vaccine for insects, as these creatures’ immune systems do not contain antibodies.

    "Now we've discovered the mechanism to show that you can actually vaccinate them. You can transfer a signal from one generation to another," Dalial Freitak, a University of Helsinki scientist who worked to create the vaccine, said in a statement.

    Honey bees are important to the U.S. crop production, contributing an estimated $20 billion to its value, according to the American Beekeeping Foundation. The species pollinate a variety of crops, including apples, melons, blueberries and cherries — the latter two are “90 percent dependent on honey bee pollination,” according to the foundation.

    “One crop, almonds, depends entirely on the honey bee for pollination at bloom time,” the American Beekeeping Foundation added.

    The honey bee population in North America has been affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) disease, mites and possibly the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, according to the Harvard University Library.

    TENNESSEE 'BEE WHISPERER' REMOVES 35,000 HONEY BEES FROM BRICK WALL

    On average, beekeepers in the U.S. lost an estimated 40 percent of their managed honey bee colonies from April 2017 to April 2018, according to Bee Informed, a nationwide collaboration of research efforts to better understand the decline of honeybees.

    "We need to help honey bees, absolutely. Even improving their life a little would have a big effect on the global scale. Of course, the honeybees have many other problems as well: pesticides, habitat loss and so on, but diseases come hand in hand with these life-quality problems,” Freitak said.

    “If we can help honey bees to be healthier and if we can save even a small part of the bee population with this invention, I think we have done our good deed and saved the world a little bit," Freitak added.

    Fox News’ Emilie Ikeda contributed to this report.

    Madeline Farber is a Reporter for Fox News. You can follow her on Twitter @MaddieFarberUDK.

    The colorful history of the New York City subway map revealed

    New York City, 1932 – at that point, the New York City subway has been around for a whopping 28 years. With 472 station stops, around 800 miles of track, and over 20 different subway lines, one might be shocked to hear that in 1932, the NYC subway system was attempting to label all 27 subway lines with only 3 colors. To even get close to understanding how NYC subways went from 3 colors to today’s 10, one would have to speak to a man named Peter Lloyd.

    Lloyd is an amateur historian of the New York City subway system. He not only knows the system’s ins and outs he also knows the story of the creative geniuses that brought the system to where it is today. The New York City subway system has a long and outstanding history, but in order to learn where the color-coding system originated, we need to talk about 2 key players.

    First and foremost, there is Raleigh D’Adamo, winner of a contest that the New York City Transit Authority held in 1964, and technically the creator of the modern color-coding system that exists within the NYC subway system today.

    MYSTERIOUS FLORIDA TUNNELS’ SECRETS REVEALED

    In 1964, the NYCTA contest called on graphic designers to attempt to design a way to organize the extremely disorganized subway system. D’Adamo wasn’t a graphic designer by profession, but he was a subway map guru and a man with an idea, so he entered the contest and to his surprise, he was one of three winners.

    Although not the focus of the contest, his background in practicing law came in handy; D’Adamo says, “to explain it [his idea] I wrote a 19-page report comparing New York City’s system with other systems like London and Paris.” D’Adamo went on to explain that the key phrase that caught the eyes of the judges was, “It’s clear that the maps of the New York City subway system are using too few colors to do too much work.” All in all, D’Adamo's idea was that every line would be assigned a color, and so the modern coding system was born.

    This organizational strategy worked for a few years but having a map with over 20 colors on it eventually started to confuse people. This is where John Tauranac enters the picture. Today, Tauranac is a professor at NYU, but back in the day, he was the leader of a key team in the MTA when the NYC subway map was going through some important changes. To simplify the color system, Tauranac and his team decided to incorporate something called “trunk lines.”

    TIME CAPSULE HIDDEN IN WALL OF CALIFORNIA LIGHTHOUSE GIVES 'FASCINATING' GLIMPSE INTO CITY'S HISTORY

    Trunk lines made it so subway lines that ran on the same avenue were all labeled the same color. Lloyd explains it best when he says, “Lexington Avenue has 3 lines running down it, the 4, 5 and 6. Now back in the 60’s and 70’s each of those routes had its own color. John Tauranac’s idea was to paint those 3 routes the same color and that meant he can draw a single line instead of 3 lines, saving space.” This trunk line system is still in effect, and New York City has John Tauranac to thank for the easy-to-read maps of today.

    New York City is home to the largest rapid transit system in the world. However, when it comes to reliability, it finds itself towards the bottom of the list. This may change, but after understanding the rich and longstanding history of the NYC subways, it can be agreed upon that the properly organized and accurately colored system we currently have is far better than the one of bygone days.

    See the exclusive video interview with Lloyd above to get the full story.