2,000-year-old skeleton found at Mediterranean shipwreck

PARIS (AFP): Archeologists have discovered a 2,000-year-old human skeleton at the same Mediterranean shipwreck that yielded the most sophisticated piece of technology, a clockwork, to survive Antiquity, Nature reported Monday. If DNA can be prised from the remains, found on August 31 off the coast of the Greek island Antikythera, it may reveal clues as to the skeleton’s identity, the science journal said. The surprisingly well-preserved bones - including a partial skull, two arm bones, several ribs and two femurs - could also unlock secrets about the famous first-century BC merchant ship which probably foundered during a storm. The Greek government has yet to give permission for DNA testing.  The skeleton is a rare find.

The bodies of shipwreck victims are usually swept away or eaten by fish, and rarely survive decades, much less centuries.

“We don’t know of anything else like it,” Brendan Foley, an underwater archeologist at Woodshole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and co-director of the excavation, told Nature.

A first look suggests that the skeletal remains come from a young man, according to Hannes Schroeder, an expert in ancient DNA analysis from Denmark Museum of Natural History.

“It doesn’t look like bones that are 2,000 years old,” he told Nature.

Schroeder was especially pleased at the recovery of the petrous bones - located behind the ear - that tend to preserve DNA better than other parts of the skeleton or teeth.

“If there’s any DNA, then from what we know, it’ll be there,” he told Nature.

DNA recovery could reveal hair and eye colour, as well as ancestry and geographic origin, he added.

The wreck, sitting in nearly 50 metres (165 feet) of water, was first discovered by sponge divers in 1900, and is widely believed to be the first ever investigated by archeologists.

The prize find was the so-called Antikythera Mechanism, a device from the 2nd-century BC, which is sometimes called the world’s oldest computer.

The highly complex device is composed of some 40 bronze cogs and gears and was used by the ancient Greeks to track the cycles of the solar system.

It took another 1,500 years for an astrological clock of similar sophistication to be made in Europe.

The oldest DNA ever retrieved from modern human remains was about 45,000 years old.



LA police turn to smartphones to save suicidal man

LOS ANGELES (AFP): Police at Los Angeles airport turned to their smart phones to stop a Korean-speaking man from committing suicide last week, using translation apps to coax the “jumper” dangling over a ledge. According to a police statement released on Monday, two officers responding to a call about a man hanging from the ledge of a four-story parking structure at the airport were initially stumped as they tried to communicate with the man who only spoke Korean. “Immediately, officers Michael Dear and Daniel Krockel built a rapport with the distraught man, utilizing the translation applications on their smart phones,” the statement said. It said that while Dear managed rescue efforts, Krockel engaged the unidentified man who was finally persuaded to climb back onto the narrow ledge of the parking structure.

“Officers coaxed the man to walk a few steps closer to look at the translation app on officer Dear’s smart phone when in one rapid succession bike officer Bart Castro followed by officer Krockel jumped onto the ledge of the parking structure and grabbed the would be suicide victim, secured him and lifted him over the wall to a group of supporting airport police officers,” the statement said.

The man was taken to a mental facility for treatment, police said.




China aquarium refuses to deliver sad bear Pizza to UK

BEIJING (AFP): A Chinese aquarium holding a forlorn-looking polar bear named Pizza said Tuesday it has “no need” for foreign interference, after activists offered to move the animal to a British zoo. Animals Asia, a Hong Kong-based organisation, created a petition calling for the closure of the Grandview aquarium in the Chinese city of Guangzhou that attracted half a million signatures. Photos of Pizza shared widely on social media show the bear lying listlessly on the ground in a gloomy, windowless room while visitors crowd around taking photos on their cell phones. Activists said the Yorkshire Wildlife Park in England had offered to adopt Pizza on condition that he was not replaced by another polar bear, adding the zoo would not pay for the animal due to “fear that any funds could be used to buy more animals”.

But the zoo declined to comment or confirm the offer while the aquarium operator said no one had contacted him about taking the bear, adding they “have no need for foreign organisations to get involved”.

“Yorkshire Wildlife Park has not contacted us,” said the general manager of the aquarium, a man surnamed Fan who refused to give his full name.

“We are a legally compliant aquarium, run according to Chinese standards and protecting animal rights. In the future we will strengthen the protection of animal rights and welfare,” he added.

The cost of transferring the large, living carnivore nearly 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) from Guangzhou to Doncaster, England “will be raised if the offer is accepted”, Animals Asia said.

The activists said they are now pushing for a meeting with the aquarium in hopes of getting a response to their offer, adding they will draw up a bill if officials agree to have Pizza delivered.

The animal welfare director of Animals Asia, Dave Neale, said in a statement that the aquarium “have the chance to put their mistake right” and end the crush of negative media attention.

The group has been publicising Pizza’s plight since the beginning of the year.




Harry Potter’s ‘Privet Drive’ house up for sale

LONDON (BBC): The house used as Harry Potter’s home in the hit film adaptations of JK Rowling’s books has been put up for sale. The three-bedroom suburban cul-de-sac house featured as 4 Privet Drive, Surrey, home of the boy wizard’s dreadful aunt and uncle, the Dursleys. But it is, in fact, 12 Picket Post Close in Bracknell, Berkshire. Its current owners have put the house on sale for £475,000 - it was bought for £290,000 in 2010. The original owners were first approached by Warner Brothers in 2000 to use the building in their movie. A cupboard under the stairs, similar to the one where Harry is famously forced to live by his relatives, also features in the house. Estate agent Paul Bosanko, said the property had already received global interest and had set new records in the number of “clicks” received on its website.

“When we first launched the property four days ago, we did not mention the Harry Potter connection, but this morning it’s been pretty evident that the world is interested in this property and there is an awful lot of hype”, he added.




Beasts of Bangkok booted from park lair

BANGKOK (AFP): The hulking, prehistoric-looking monitor lizards that stalk the grounds of Bangkok’s Lumpini park have long triggered fascination - and fear - from visitors to the city centre’s main green space. But with their population soaring out of control to some 400, city officials are on a mission to bait and bag some of the meaty reptiles known as “hia” - a noun which doubles as the most powerful swear word in Thai. “In the past hia used to steal people’s food, so that’s why people cursed them,” explained 49-year-old Tawee Somnamee, who works in the 142-acre park, a lush oasis for joggers and cyclists in the heart of Bangkok’s concrete jungle.He is one of twelve park staff who set out Tuesday with makeshift fishing poles, rope and sacks to lure the reptiles from the ponds and canals where they lurk. In recent years the largest of the Lumpini leviathans - measuring up to three metres (ten feet) in length - have taken to tromping around the park, damaging plants and frightening passersby.

“They walk around and don’t know that people are scared of them,” said Suwanna Jungrungrueng, director of the city’s environment department. “It’s time for us to control them.”

While the slippery and deceptively fast carnivores don’t attack people - they mostly feast on dead fish, birds and turtles - a handful of cyclists have been injured after accidentally colliding with lizards on the bike path.

The creatures can live up to 20 years. Park officers have already captured nearly 100 hia by luring them out of the water with catfish, before swiftly pouncing on them and tying up their limbs.

Officials say they are being relocated to a wildlife sanctuary in neighbouring Ratchaburi province.

While the reptiles are not exactly beloved in Thailand, some say they bring good luck. “If a hia goes into someone’s room, they will become rich,” said Tawee, adding that the park will not be removing all of the lizards. “There should be some left for foreigners to see,” he said.