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Scientists discover fossil turtle with half a shell

How did the turtle get its shell? The answer is no longer a Just So story. Scientists have unearthed the first fossil found of a turtle at an intermediate stage of evolution, with only half a shell. The ancient creature's belly is fully covered but its back is not. Olivier Rieppel, of the Field Museum in Chicago, said the 220 million-year-old remains - the oldest turtle bones discovered so far - helped solve one of the great mysteries of reptile evolution - the origin of the turtle's protective armour. "The new species shows that the plastron (the lower part of the shell) evolved before the carapace (the upper part)," he said. It also overturned a theory that the turtle's shell had grown out from bony plates on top of the skin, called osteoderms, like those found on crocodiles and some dinosaurs. "This animal tells people to forget about turtle ancestors covered with osteoderms," said Dr Rieppel, a member of the Chinese, American and Canadian team that made the find. Turtles hit on a winning body plan early on. They have looked much as they do today since the time of dinosaurs. And scientists have been debating the origin of their hard, bony shells, which have provided them with shelter and protection, since the 1800s. The new species, Odontochelys semitestacea, has a small, partial shell on its back, extending from its backbone. The well-preserved specimens of three of the ancient turtles also had ribs that had begun to widen, the scientists report in the journal Nature. This supported the theory that the upper shell was an outgrowth of the backbone and ribs.

Dr Rieppel said the fact that ancient creature had a fully formed shell on its underbelly also suggested that the earliest turtles were aquatic animals, rather than land dwellers. This covering would have provided protection from the dangers of predators swimming below it. An Australian expert in ancient reptiles, Benjamin Kear, of La Trobe University in Victoria, said the lower shell might also have acted like a diving belt.


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Tunisia's beautiful beaches and historical treasures attract millions of tourists from all over the world.

Nearly 5 million tourists visited Tunisia in 1999.In 2004 they reached more than 6 million.

American and most European tourists do not require visas to enter Tunisia. There are more than 722 hotels in the country, totaling 191.955 beds. Seven international airports, and eight passenger ports connect Tunisia to the United States and Europe. The capital city, Tunis, is a two-hour flight from Paris and London and a fifty- minute flight from Rome. Daily flights connect Tunisia to virtually all European, African and Middle Eastern destinations.


Visitors sunbathe, dive, sail, and fish along the vast stretches of glistening, white sandy Mediterranean beaches covering a 810- mile coast. Beach resorts include Tabarka, Hammamet, Sousse and Jerba.

El-Kantaoui's 27-hole golf course and Andalusian style marina is a fully-integrated tourism complex.Tunisia's Saharan tourism attractions includes an international golf course situated under Tozeur's lush palm groves as well as many desert festivals.

The perched village of Sidi Bou Said offers a unique scenery of domes, arched doors and balconies in blue and white set against a sparkling sea.


Punic and Roman archaeological sites can be visited in Carthage and other historical areas around the country. They include second century Roman temple in Dougga, the Phoenician port of Utica, Sbeitla's Roman temples and arches, Bulla Regia's Roman villas and El Jem's Coliseum, which is second only to Rome. The Bardo Museum, near Tunis, boasts the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world.


Masterpieces of Arab-Islamic architecture attract the attention of visitors. Among them: the Great Mosque of Kairouan, the Moslem World's fourth holiest city, and the Great Mosque of Ezzitouna, at the center of the old city (the Medina) of Tunis.


Tunisia, a melting-pot of different civilizations, has always had a rich cultural activity, as testified by its prestigious museums and cultural institutions and by the various international festivals held throughout the year. Sustained efforts have been deployed to promote the cultural sector. The Heritage Code grants companies important tax breaks to encourage investments in restoration and protection of archaeological monuments (e.g. Cathedral of Carthage;) promulgation of legal texts allows free importation of books and paper destined for cultural purposes and the exemption from customs duties of musical instruments.

A whole strategy has been put in place to set up institutions serving as points of reference in the various domains of cultural activity. Among them, the National Dance Center of Borj El Baccouche, the House of Baron d'Erlanger converted into a Center for Arab and Mediterranean Music, and the Husseinite Museum (covering the period of the Beys) in the Palace of Ksar Said.

Other projects are in the process of completion, such as the Museum of Modern Art, located at the Palace of El Abdellia, and the National Cultural Center of Tunis. In addition, the International Cultural Center of Hammamet has been refurbished and transformed into the House of the Mediterranean, specializing mainly in theatrical arts. The institution of "Beit el Hikma" was converted into an Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters in order to better contribute to the cultural and intellectual activity of Tunisia. The academy also welcomes distinguished scholars wishing to conduct research in various fields and serves as a meeting place for debates and exchanges between researchers, scholars and artists.


Tunisia hosts numerous international film, arts, and historical festivals, including the Summer festivals of Carthage, Dougga, and Hammamet, which host top international artists, the International Festival of El Jem for classical music, the Andalusian Music Festival of Testour, the Sahara Festival in Douz, the International Film Festival of Carthage, the Mythological Films Festival in Jerba and the Theater Festival of Carthage.

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Hubble finds first ever carbon dioxide on exoplanet

Carbon dioxide, a potential fingerprint of life, has been discovered for the first time in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star. However, the planet, HD 189733b, is too hot to be habitable. But the discovery nonetheless has scientists excited, because carbon dioxide is one of four chemicals that life can generate, so being able to detect it shows that astronomers have the ability to find the signs of life on other worlds."This is the first detection of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet, which means that three of the Big Four biomarkers for habitable/inhabited worlds have now been seen: water, methane, and now carbon dioxide," explained Alan Boss, a planet-formation theorist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington who was not involved in the finding. "The only one that has not yet been detected is oxygen/ozone."Boss told that the detections provide "proof of concept" for what astronomers would search for in looking at an Earth-like world. The detection of carbon dioxide, Boss said, was made with a low degree of resolving power, the sort that could be provided by NASA's planned Terrestrial Planet Finder. HD 189733b is about 65 light-years away. It is a giant, gaseous world known as a "hot Jupiter" because it orbits very close to its host star. The finding was made by Giovanna Tinetti from University College London, UK and her colleagues, according to an article in Nature News, an online publication of the journal Nature.

The researchers measured the spectrum of light reflected from the planet's day side by using an interesting trick: They recorded the light of the planet and its star, then recorded it again when the planet was hidden behind the star. The difference revealed what light was coming from the planet, which is otherwise impossible to see as a distinct object because it is overwhelmed by the light of the star.

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The capital of Portugal sits at the point where the River Tagus feeds into the Atlantic, just about as far west as you can go without getting your feet wet. Being built on seven hills, it has plenty of vantage points from which to contemplate the distant horizons that called the Portuguese explorers in the country’s golden age during the 16th century, when it was the hub of commerce with the far east and gold poured into Lisbon’s coffers from the new west. Devastating earthquakes and loss of empire left the city a little threadbare, but 21st-century commerce took a hand, sprucing the place up for Euro 2004. Portugal may have been the runners-up, but Lisbon emerged a winner.

The grid-like Baixa, or downtown, was laid out after the devastating 1755 earthquake, and is a candidate for being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is flanked by two squares: the riverside Praça do Comércio, framed by arcades and dominated by a triumphal arch and, at the northern end, Praça Dom Perdo IV (Rossio). The Elevador de Santa Justa, an outdoor cast-iron lift that first opened in 1901, offers a panoramic view of the streets in between.

The Alfama district east of Baixa, where black-clad widows potter in tiny squares, retains the layout and atmosphere of Moorish times. The Romanesque cathedral, or Sé , was founded on the site of a mosque, after the 1147 Christian Reconquest. Further uphill there are fine views from the Castelo de São Jorge. The castle was built by the Moors on the site of a Roman fort, but what you see today is almost all 20th-century mock-up. West of Baixa, the shops and cafés of Chiado district give way to the more raffish Bairro Alto, a nightlife haven.

The city’s main axis is Avenida da Liberdade. Lined with cafés and fashion chains, it leads from Rossio to the formal Parque Eduardo VII. Beyond that is the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian , with fine Western and Oriental art.

Tourists also flock to Belém, a half-hour tram ride west. The 15th-century explorers sailed from here into what was then still very much the unknown, as the Monument to the Discoveries reminds you. The Tower of Belém and Jerónimos monastery showcase the exuberant Manueline (late Gothic) style of the time. Nearby, the delicious custard tarts at Antiga Confeitaria are almost as big a draw for visitors.

Lisbon’s eastern waterfront was of little touristic interest until 1998. Staged on reclaimed industrial wasteland, Expo 98 gave Lisbon its biggest facelift in two centuries and a slew of new attractions. Now renamed Parque das Nações , the site has an Oceanarium ; the Pavilhão do Conhecimento , with science exhibits; and – the district’s architectural highlight – Alvaro Siza Vieira’s Portugal pavilion, with its remarkable concrete canopy.


This region is a fish heaven where you can find fresh bass and cockle, and the mussels from Ericeira and Cabo do Roca; the red mullets, clams and oysters from Setúbal; the swordfish from Sesimbra and the crustaceans from Cascais.
Other specialities typical of this area include the goat and sheep cheeses from Sobral de Monte Agraço and from Azeitão, the pastries from Malveira and the "pão de ló" from Loures, the nuts and egg dainties from Cascais, the "zimbros" (gin cakes) from Sesimbra, the "queijadas" (little cheese cakes) from
Sintra; the wines from Colares, Bucelas, Setúbal, Carcavelos and the famous "muscatel" wine from Setúbal. In Lisbon itself, you can try all the specialities of Portuguese cuisine. In this city, you will mainly find typical country dishes like grilled sardines, clams "à Bulhão Pato" style, fish soups "à fragateira" style ... and varied and tasty dishes cooked with codfish. Apart from all the desserts available to you, do not forget to try the local Belém custard pies.

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The sacred geometry of planet Earth

The idea that certain geometric shapes possess some kind of power is very old, as is the idea that certain locations on the Earth are sacred or magical. The elites often apply sacred geometry to architecture; America's capital was built in large part with this in mind, and the most recent additions have included the Washington Monument, an obelisk built by the Freemasons, and the Pentagon, commissioned by Freemason Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But, over the years, a number of researchers and writers have suggested that our entire planet contains a magical geometry which governs the location of sacred sites, and that this geometry may be hyper dimensional, and even that the entire universe was constructed in accordance with the laws of hyper dimensional geometry. At the same time, there is a very ancient belief that all of space is filled with an inexhaustible energy, spiritual in origin, called variously chi, ki, prana, kundalini, vril, odic force, or orgone, and that this energy may serve as a dynamic luminiferous aether, and may be the foundation of all other matter and energy. It has been suggested that this energy flows most strongly along certain paths on the Earth's surface, usually called ley lines.

Many years ago, Ivan T. Sanderson suggested that our planet may be attempting to become a crystal. The force of gravity, of course, holds the planet in a roughly spherical shape, but Sanderson suggested that some other force was trying to turn Earth into an enormous crystal, and that certain locations on our planet, regularly spaced, are prone to mysterious vanishings of ships and aircraft, and other paranormal phenomena. Researchers like Carl Munck described a global grid linking ancient sacred sites, and Hugh Harleston Jr. claimed that the ancient ruin of Teotihuacan in Mexico, with its Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon was built according to tetrahedral geometry, and he suspected that the entire universe was constructed according to tetrahedral geometry.

A tetrahedron is one of the five Platonic solids, and it is a three dimensional space bounded by four triangular sides. In a regular tetrahedron the triangles are equilateral, and all of their angles are sixty degrees each. A hexahedron has six sides; a regular hexahedron is a cube. An octahedron has eight sides, a dodecahedron has twelve, and an icosahedron has twenty. The tetrahedron and icosahedron are most germane to this discussion. Buckminster Fuller based his geodesic domes on icosahedrons, which have triangular sides; in a regular icosahedron, as in a regular tetrahedron, the sides are all equilateral triangles.

Bruce Cathie, a former airline pilot from New Zealand, developed some of these ideas into an overall theory. He suggested that the Earth somehow contains or is trying to become a regular icosahedron, and that ancient sacred sites like Stonehenge and Teotihuacan are sited according to a "world grid" based on this. According to his theory major ley lines intersect at or near its vertices, and he believed that ufos travel along the ley lines, which are separated from one another by thirty minutes of arc (one half a degree). Of course, this is counting even the minor ley lines.

In recent years, these ideas have been popularized and further developed by Richard Hoagland. Hoagland pointed out that if a regular tetrahedron of the right size existed witin a sphere like the spinning Earth, and one of its vertices were at the South Pole, the other three vertices would be spaced one hundred and twenty degrees apart some 19.47 degrees (an irrational number, like most constants) north of the equator. He pointed out that major upwellings of energy seem to cluster within a degree or two of one of these locations, like the immense Hawaiian volcanoes on Earth, the Olympus Mons volcano (the highest and most massive mountain in the Solar System) the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, and the Dark Spot on Neptune. These may be north or south of the equator, depending on the planet.

Hoagland also suggested that the current paradigm in physics, based on the twin pillars of relativity theory and quantum mechanics, may be in need of serious revision, and that physics may have been close to a grand unified theory with the original equations of James Clerk Maxwell, before Oliver Heaviside and others simplified and altered them. He believed that much of the energy of the Sun and other stars came not from hydrogen fusion, but from a universal energy from a higher, hypredimensional source, and that this energy also accounted for much of the internal heat of the planets. The energy in stars and planets (and, some of us have noticed, the intensity of their magnetic fields) seems to correlate at least roughly with their angular momentum. Of course, if all of this is true, it may be possible for us to tap this energy and perhaps also to achieve gravity control.

Two mysterious hexagons surround the north pole of the planet Saturn; the main one is 15,000 miles across and, per infrared photos, extends at least sixty miles down into the planet's interior. It does not move with the wind driven clouds, but rotates every ten hours and thirty nine minutes, as do Saturn's radio emissions. This is probably the period of axial rotation. Physicists and astronomers currently have no explanation for any of this.

Hoagland suggested that two four dimensional interlocking hyper tetrahedrons projecting down into three dimensional space could produce such a hexagon. We cannot visualize the fourth dimension, but, reasoning by analogy, we can at least partly understand it. A square is a two dimensional shape bounded by four straight lines, and its three dimensional equivalent is a cube bounded by six squares. So a four dimensional hyper cube would be bounded by six cubes. An equilateral triangle is a two dimensional shape bounded by three straight lines. A tetrahedron is a three dimensional shape bounded by four triangles. So a hyper tetrahedron would be a four dimensional space bounded by five tetrahedrons.

Long ago, a man named Ernst Chladni tried sprinkling sand on a flat metal plate and using sound to vibrate the plate. The sand grains would arrange themselves into geometric shapes, caused by standing waves, and, the higher the frequency became, the more compex the shapes became. The study of this is called cymatics, and some have suggested that this might be the cause of Saturn's hexagon; perhaps this theory and Hoagland's are not mutually exclusive.

Certainly, there is at least some evidence that something strange is going on along lines in the Earth, specifically earthquake faults and the rift zones that separate Earth's tectonic plates. Paranormal phenomena do seem to cluster at such locations, including earthquake lights.

Most of the known early developments of human culture, including the first known civilizations and the development of the major religions happened in or near these zones or (as in the case of Egypt) along earthquake faults parallel to the rifts. Clearly, this needs to be investigated, but we have to remember that the known cultures were almost certainly not the first.

A look at a map or globe of the Earth reveals some interesting oddities. Remember the triangles forming the faces of tetrahedrons and icosahedrons? All but two of Earth's continents are at least roughly triangular. Anyone can see that South America and Africa are roughly triangular. North America is not as obvious, since its shape is interrupted by, among other things, the Florida peninsula. Even Eurasia is at least very roughly triangular, with its shape marred by the Indian subcontinent. In all of these, one apex is more or less to the south, and one side makes up the north of the continent. Another oddity: most of the largest peninsulas on Earth point roughly toward the equator. The exceptions to the triangular continent pattern are Australia and Antarctica. Even if we include Tasmania and New Guinea as part of Australia (which, geologically, under very shallow water, they are) it is still not remotely triangular.

But Antarctica, located around the South Pole, may not be the exception it seems. Earth has no Saturn-style hexagon, perhaps because the Earth has a solid crust and mantle, but both Antarctica and the Arctic Ocean are roughly circular, which is at least fairly close to hexagonal. And the strangeness does not end there. The Arctic Ocean covers 5,400,000 square miles, and Antarctica is only a tiny bit larger, just over 5,400,000 square miles. The greatest depth in the Arctic Ocean is 18,000 feet and the highest point in Antarctica, the Vinson Massif, is only 2,000 feet off at 16,050 feet above sea level. But we don't want to make too much of all this, since Earth's tectonic plates are not triangular, and, anyway, the current arrangement and shape of the continents is only temporary; continental drift has changed it greatly over the aeons.

But maybe there is something very special about the current age...

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Laos has a rich history stretching back 10,000 years. At its height, it ruled over present day Laos and much of neighbouring northern Thailand. Landlocked and laid-back, it’s a unique spin on the Southeast Asia experience.
Here Buddhism permeates every facet of life, change comes slowly, and cities bed down early. The perfect place to break from office politics or put a pause in a hyperactive travel agenda, this land of mountain, mists and untamed natural beauty tempts with unrivalled peace and serenity.
Open your heart, open your mind, and let the genuine faith and generous hospitality of Laos replenish your soul.

The mighty Mekong in the west and the Annamite Mountains in the east offer natural borders with Thailand and Vietnam respectively, while Laos also shares borders with China in the north, Myanmar in the northwest and Cambodia in the south.
With over half of this landlocked country's 236,800sqkm densely forested, and 70% of it mountainous, it is hardly surprising that a profusion of rare flora and over 1,200 species of wildlife find a home beneath its tropical canopy.

One of the lowest population densities in Asia, at 19 persons per square km, and an estimated population of only 5.4 million people, belies the fact that Laos is home to 68 different ethnic groups. These fall into three groupings, based upon language, culture and traditions.
The fertile Mekong River valley and lowland plains are where 68% of the total population live and this group is classified as the Lao Loam.

-Luang Prabang

The ancient capital of the Lam Xang Kingdom wakes up every day to the sound of bells gongs and drums from the local temples.


The tranquil capital of Laos is beginning to expand, but its city streets are still dominated by quiet temples and slow rhythm of everyday life.


Tropical river islands and the World Heritage Site of Vat Phou lie in Laos southern regions. Part of the rich geographical tapestry of the country.

-Xien Khouang (Plain of Jars)

In the north of Laos, lying across a flat high plateau is the province of Xieng-Khouang, where you will find the intriguing Plain of Jars.


Located along the Mekong river, in the heart of golden Triangle opposite Chiang Rai province in Thailand and sharing the border with Myanmar, "Bokeo" means the Land of Sapphires.

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Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower (French: Tour Eiffel) is an iron tower built on the Champ de Mars beside the Seine River in Paris. The tower has become a global icon of France and is one of the most recognizable structures in the world.

Named after its designer, engineer Gustave Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower is the tallest building in Paris. More than 200,000,000 have visited the tower since its construction in 1889, including 6,719,200 in 2006, making it the most visited paid monument in the world. Including the 24 m (79 ft) antenna, the structure is 325 m (1,063 ft) high (since 2000), which is equivalent to about 81 levels in a conventional building.

When the tower was completed in 1889 it was the world's tallest tower — a title it retained until 1930 when New York City's Chrysler Building (319 m — 1,047 ft tall) was completed. The tower is now the fifth-tallest structure in France and the tallest structure in Paris, with the second-tallest being the Tour Montparnasse (210 m — 689 ft), although that will soon be surpassed by Tour AXA (225.11 m — 738.36 ft).

The metal structure of the Eiffel Tower weighs 7,300 tonnes while the entire structure including non-metal components is approximately 10,000 tonnes. Depending on the ambient temperature, the top of the tower may shift away from the sun by up to 18 cm (7 in) because of thermal expansion of the metal on the side facing the sun. The tower also sways 6–7 cm (2–3 in) in the wind.As demonstration of the economy of design, if the 7300 tonnes of the metal structure were melted down it would fill the 125 meter square base to a depth of only 6 cm (2.36 in), assuming a density of the metal to be 7.8 tonnes per cubic meter. The tower has a mass less than the mass of the air contained in a cylinder of the same dimensions,[7] that is 324 meters high and 88.3 meters in radius. The weight of the tower is 10,100 tonnes compared to 10,265 tonnes of air.

The first and second levels are accessible by stairways and lifts. A ticket booth at the south tower base sells tickets to access the stairs which begin at that location. At the first platform the stairs continue up from the east tower and the third level summit is only accessible by lift. From the first or second platform the stairs are open for anyone to ascend or descend regardless of whether they have purchased a lift ticket or stair ticket. The actual count of stairs includes 9 steps to the ticket booth at the base, 328 steps to the first level, 340 steps to the second level and 18 steps to the lift platform on the second level. When exiting the lift at the third level there are 15 more steps to ascend to the upper observation platform. The step count is printed periodically on the side of the stairs to give an indication of progress of ascent. The majority of the ascent allows for an unhindered view of the area directly beneath and around the tower although some short stretches of the stairway are enclosed.

Maintenance of the tower includes applying 50 to 60 tonnes of paint every seven years to protect it from rust. In order to maintain a uniform appearance to an observer on the ground, three separate colors of paint are used on the tower, with the darkest on the bottom and the lightest at the top. On occasion the colour of the paint is changed; the tower is currently painted a shade of brownish-grey. On the first floor there are interactive consoles hosting a poll for the colour to use for a future session of painting. The co-architects of the Eiffel Tower are Emile Nouguier, Maurice Koechlin and Stephen Sauvestre.

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The Baghdad Battery


In 1936, while excavating ruins of a 2000-year-old village near Baghdad, workers discovered mysterious small vase. A 6-inch-high pot of bright yellow clay dating back two millennia contained a cylinder of sheet-copper 5 inches by 1.5 inches. The edge of the copper cylinder was soldered with a 60-40 lead-tin alloy comparable to today's solder. The bottom of the cylinder was capped with a crimped-in copper disk and sealed with bitumen or asphalt. Another insulating layer of asphalt sealed the top and also held in place an iron rod suspended into the center of the copper cylinder. The rod showed evidence of having been corroded with an acidic agent.

An Ancient Battery

German archaeologist , Wilhelm Konig, examined the object and came to a surprising conclusion that the clay pot was nothing less than an ancient electric battery.

The ancient battery in the Baghdad Museum

The ancient battery in the Baghdad Museum, as well as those others which were unearthed in Iraq, are all dated from the Parthian occupation between 248 BCE and 226 CE. However, Dr. Konig also found copper vases plated with silver in the Baghdad Museum, excavated from Sumerian sites in southern Iraq, dating back to at least 2500 BCE. When the vases were lightly tapped, a blue patina or film separated from the surface, which is characteristic of silver electroplated onto copper base. It would appear then that the Parthians inherited their batteries from one of the earliest known civilizations.

In 1940, Willard F.M. Gray, an engineer at the General Electric High Volatage Laboratory in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, read of Konig's theory. Using drawings and details supplied by German rocket scientist Willy Ley, Gray made a replica of the battery. Using copper sulfate solution, it generated about half a volt of electricity.

In 1970s, German Egyptologist, Arne Eggebrecht built a replica of the Baghdad battery and filled it with freshly pressed grape juice, as he speculated the
ancients might have done. The replica generated 0.87V. He used current from the battery to electroplate a silver statuette with gold.

This experiment proved that electric batteries were used some 1,800 years before their modern invention by Alessandro Volta in 1799.
It also seems that the use of similar batteries can be safely placed into ancient Egypt, where several objects with traces of electroplated precious metals have been found at different locations. There are several anomalous finds from other regions, which suggests use of electricity on a grander scale.
The Riddle of "Baghdad's batteries"

Arran Frood investigates what could have been the very first batteries and how these important archaeological and technological artefacts are now at risk from the impending war in Iraq.

I don't think anyone can say for sure what they were used for, but they may have been batteries because they do work Dr Marjorie Senechal

War can destroy more than a people, an army or a leader. Culture, tradition and history also lie in the firing line.
Iraq has a rich national heritage. The Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel are said to have been sited in this ancient land.

In any war, there is a chance that priceless treasures will be lost forever, articles such as the "ancient battery" that resides defenceless in the museum of Baghdad.

For this object suggests that the region, whose civilizations gave us writing and the wheel, may also have invented electric cells - two thousand years before such devices were well known.

Biblical clues

It was in 1938, while working in Khujut Rabu, just outside Baghdad in modern day Iraq, that German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig unearthed a five-inch-long (13 cm) clay jar containing a copper cylinder that encased an iron rod.

Batteries dated to around 200 BC Could have been used in gilding

The vessel showed signs of corrosion, and early tests revealed that an acidic agent, such as vinegar or wine had been present.
In the early 1900s, many European archaeologists were excavating ancient Mesopotamian sites, looking for evidence of Biblical tales like the Tree of Knowledge and Noah's flood.

Konig did not waste his time finding alternative explanations for his discovery. To him, it had to have been a battery.

Though this was hard to explain, and did not sit comfortably with the religious ideology of the time, he published his conclusions. But soon the world was at war, and his discovery was forgotten.

Scientific awareness

More than 60 years after their discovery, the batteries of Baghdad - as there are perhaps a dozen of them - are shrouded in myth.

"The batteries have always attracted interest as curios," says Dr Paul Craddock, a metallurgy expert of the ancient Near East from the British Museum.

"They are a one-off. As far as we know, nobody else has found anything like these. They are odd things; they are one of life's enigmas."

No two accounts of them are the same. Some say the batteries were excavated, others that Konig found them in the basement of the Baghdad Museum when he took over as director. There is no definite figure on how many have been found, and their age is disputed.

Most sources date the batteries to around 200 BC - in the Parthian era, circa 250 BC to AD 225. Skilled warriors, the Parthians were not noted for their scientific achievements.

"Although this collection of objects is usually dated as Parthian, the grounds for this are unclear," says Dr St John Simpson, also from the department of the ancient Near East at the British Museum.

"The pot itself is Sassanian. This discrepancy presumably lies either in a misidentification of the age of the ceramic vessel, or the site at which they were found."

Underlying principles

In the history of the Middle East, the Sassanian period (circa AD 225 - 640) marks the end of the ancient and the beginning of the more scientific medieval era.

Though most archaeologists agree the devices were batteries, there is much conjecture as to how they could have been discovered, and what they were used for.

How could ancient Persian science have grasped the principles of electricity and arrived at this knowledge?

Perhaps they did not. Many inventions are conceived before the underlying principles are properly understood.

The Chinese invented gunpowder long before the principles of combustion were deduced, and the rediscovery of old herbal medicines is now a common occurrence.

You do not always have to understand why something works - just that it does.

Enough zap

It is certain the Baghdad batteries could conduct an electric current because many replicas have been made, including by students of ancient history under the direction of Dr Marjorie Senechal, professor of the history of science and technology, Smith College, US.

"I don't think anyone can say for sure what they were used for, but they may have been batteries because they do work," she says. Replicas can produce voltages from 0.8 to nearly two volts.

Making an electric current requires two metals with different electro potentials and an ion carrying solution, known as an electrolyte, to ferry the electrons between them.
Connected in series, a set of batteries could theoretically produce a much higher voltage, though no wires have ever been found that would prove this had been the case.

"It's a pity we have not found any wires," says Dr Craddock. "It means our interpretation of them could be completely wrong."

But he is sure the objects are batteries and that there could be more of them to discover. "Other examples may exist that lie in museums elsewhere unrecognised".

He says this is especially possible if any items are missing, as the objects only look like batteries when all the pieces are in place.

Possible uses

Some have suggested the batteries may have been used medicinally.

The ancient Greeks wrote of the pain killing effect of electric fish when applied to the soles of the feet.

The Chinese had developed acupuncture by this time, and still use acupuncture combined with an electric current. This may explain the presence of needle-like objects found with some of the batteries.

But this tiny voltage would surely have been ineffective against real pain, considering the well-recorded use of other painkillers in the ancient world like cannabis, opium and wine.

Other scientists believe the batteries were used for electroplating - transferring a thin layer of metal on to another metal surface - a technique still used today and a common classroom experiment.

This idea is appealing because at its core lies the mother of many inventions: money.

In the making of jewellery, for example, a layer of gold or silver is often applied to enhance its beauty in a process called gilding.

Grape electrolyte

Two main techniques of gilding were used at the time and are still in use today: hammering the precious metal into thin strips using brute force, or mixing it with a mercury base which is then pasted over the article.

These techniques are effective, but wasteful compared with the addition of a small but consistent layer of metal by electro-deposition. The ability to mysteriously electroplate gold or silver on to such objects would not only save precious resources and money, but could also win you important friends at court.

Let's hope the world manages to resolve its present problems so people can go and see them. Dr Paul Craddock

A palace, kingdom, or even the sultan's daughter may have been the reward for such knowledge - and motivation to keep it secret.
Testing this idea in the late seventies, Dr Arne Eggebrecht, then director of Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, connected many replica Baghdad batteries together using grape juice as an electrolyte, and claimed to have deposited a thin layer of silver on to another surface, just one ten thousandth of a millimetre thick.

Other researchers though, have disputed these results and have been unable to replicate them.

"There does not exist any written documentation of the experiments which took place here in 1978," says Dr Bettina Schmitz, currently a researcher based at the same Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum.

"The experiments weren't even documented by photos, which really is a pity," she says. "I have searched through the archives of this museum and I talked to everyone involved in 1978 with no results."

Tingling idols

Although a larger voltage can be obtained by connecting more than one battery together, it is the ampage which is the real limiting factor, and many doubt whether a high enough power could ever have been obtained, even from tens of Baghdad batteries.

One serious flaw with the electroplating hypothesis is the lack of items from this place and time that have been treated in this way.

"The examples we see from this region and era are conventional gild plating and mercury gilding," says Dr Craddock. "There's never been any untouchable evidence to support the electroplating theory."

He suggests a cluster of the batteries, connected in parallel, may have been hidden inside a metal statue or idol.

He thinks that anyone touching this statue may have received a tiny but noticeable electric shock, something akin to the static discharge that can infect offices, equipment and children's parties.

"I have always suspected you would get tricks done in the temple," says Dr Craddock. "The statue of a god could be wired up and then the priest would ask you questions.

"If you gave the wrong answer, you'd touch the statue and would get a minor shock along with perhaps a small mysterious blue flash of light. Get the answer right, and the trickster or priest could disconnect the batteries and no shock would arrive - the person would then be convinced of the power of the statue, priest and the religion."

Magical rituals

It is said that to the uninitiated, science cannot be distinguished from magic. "In Egypt we know this sort of thing happened with Hero's engine," Dr Craddock says.

Hero's engine was a primitive steam-driven machine, and like the battery of Baghdad, no one is quite sure what it was used for, but are convinced it could work.

If this idol could be found, it would be strong evidence to support the new theory. With the batteries inside, was this object once revered, like the Oracle of Delphi in Greece, and "charged" with godly powers?

Even if the current were insufficient to provide a genuine shock, it may have felt warm, a bizarre tingle to the touch of the unsuspecting finger.

At the very least, it could have just been the container of these articles, to keep their secret safe.

Perhaps it is too early to say the battery has been convincingly demonstrated to be part of a magical ritual. Further examination, including accurate dating, of the batteries' components are needed to really answer this mystery.

No one knows if such an idol or statue that could have hidden the batteries really exists, but perhaps the opportunity to look is not too far away - if the items survive the looming war in the Middle East.

"These objects belong to the successors of the people who made them," says Dr Craddock. "Let's hope the world manages to resolve its present problems so people can go and see them."

Source of the above article: BBC NEWS

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