10 Mysterious Jade Relics

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10 Mysterious Jade Relics



For over 100,000 years, people have been obsessed with jade. Its color, luster, and durability make it ideal for tools, talismans, jewelry, and royal artifacts. Ancient Europeans and Asians believed that jade had healing abilities—even offering the possibility of eternal life.

While green is its most common hue, jade can be any color. In 1863, scientists discovered that jade refers to two silicate metamorphic stones: nephrite, ideal for sculpting, and jadeite, which can be stronger than steel. The Maya and the Chinese prized jade over any other material—even gold.

10Record-Breaking Red Jade Imperial Seal


Photo credit: scmp.com

In December 2016, an 18th-century Chinese imperial seal sold at auction for 21 million euros. Dated from the Qianlong period between 1736 and 1795, this symbol of imperial authority is carved from red and beige nephrite.

After a bidding war, an unnamed Chinese collector snatched it up. The seal sold for 20 times its estimated value, shattering the previous record of 12.4 million euros paid for a jade stamp in 2011.

The seal once belonged to Emperor Qianlong. Pieces from the period are considered a high point of Chinese art. The jade, described as “almost blood red,” is extremely rare.

Nine dragons on the stamp represent masculine energy and power. An inscription reads: “Treasure of the imperial brush of Qianlong.” Known as a talented poet and calligrapher, the emperor used the seal to sign his works. During his reign, the empire doubled in size and the population rose to 400 million.


9Scottish Jade Axes


Photo credit: Ancient Origins

In 2016, the National Museum of Scotland opened an exhibit featuring ancient jade axes. Dated to 4000 BC, the blades were over 100 years old when they arrived in Scotland. Experts have traced their origin to the Italian Alps.

The manufacturing centers were located near the high mountains, and the jade was sourced from an elevation over 1,980 meters (6,500 ft). Archaeologists have located one of these jade quarries in Monte Viso, Italy, which dates back to 5200 BC.

Over 1,600 jade axeheads have been recovered across Europe. Their ritual and spiritual significance remains unknown. Neolithic inhabitants of Northern Italy viewed the Alps as the home of the gods. It is likely they believed that rocks quarried from these sacred sites had the power to heal and protect.

The axes may have been designed for rituals or sacrifice. The color may have had special significance, as copies were often made using locally available green stones.

8Jade Burial Suits


Photo credit: atlasobscura.com

In 1968, archaeologists discovered jade burial suits in the tomb of Prince Liu Sheng and his bride, Princess Duo Wan. Each head-to-toe outfit is composed of over 2,000 pieces of jade.

The prince’s suit was sewn with gold thread. The princess’ suit used silver. These suits were rumored to exist since the fourth century AD. However, none had been confirmed until the tomb was excavated. So far, only 15 have been discovered.

Experts believe that a master jadesmith took a decade to produce one suit. In AD 223, Emperor Wen of Wei banned the production of jade suits. He feared that they were irresistible to looters.

Ancient Chinese believed that jade had extraordinary powers to both prevent decay and protect against malignant spirits. The prince and princess may have attained their goal of immortality. Jade is porous and may still contain their genetic material, which seeped in over two millennia.


7Mayan Shark-Toothed Sun God


Photo credit: authenticmaya.com

In the jungles of northern Guatemala, archaeologists uncovered a mysterious jade mask at the Rio Azul Mayan site. The mask represents Kinich Ahau, the Sun god. He is depicted with one large shark tooth, which sheds light on Mayan spirituality, bogeymen, and hunting practice. Shark teeth are common finds at Mayan sites. They were used for everyday functions like weaponry, jewelry, and bloodletting tools.

Coastal Maya were known to hunt sharks. They likely spread knowledge of the “sea monsters” and their teeth far inland. The tales were probably exaggerated as they were passed from trader to trader on their journeys from the coast.

Like the Sun god’s mask, sharks in Mayan art are often portrayed with one large tooth. Archaeologists have uncovered Megalodon teeth at Mayan sites. It is possible that these remnants of gigantic prehistoric predators may have fueled the Mayan reverence for sharks.

6Enigmatic Emirau Island Jade


Photo credit: Live Science

Archaeologists discovered an enigmatic jade tool on Emirau Island off Papua New Guinea. Dated back 3,300 years, it was likely carved by the Lapita people. According to researchers, this ancient population spread from the western Pacific and are the ancestors of modern-day Polynesians.

Jade tools are not uncommon in the region. However, this recent discovery is composed of a rare material, which archaeologists believe traveled with the Lapita from their homeland.

The tool is jadeite, the hardest variety of jade. No examples of this tough rock have come from New Guinea. The only known contemporary sources, Japan and Korea, produce stone with a different composition. The closest chemical match came from jade in Baja California.

Transoceanic travel is unlikely. An unpublished German manuscript from 1903 chronicling jade in Indonesia—less than 1,000 kilometers (600 mi) from the Emirau discovery—has led some to believe in an Indonesian origin. More tests are needed.

5Jade Funeral Discs


Photo credit: bidisk.info

Since 5000 BC, large jade discs have been placed on the bodies of deceased Chinese elites. Their function remains a mystery. Also known as bi discs, these nephrite carvings first appeared during the late Neolithic.

The stones were frequently placed on the deceased’s chest or stomach. Many contain symbols related to the sky. Nearly all high-status tombs of the Hongshan culture (3800 BC to 2700 BC) and Liangzhu culture (3000 BC to 2000 BC) contain these discs.

Given the lack of metal tools during the period, the stones were painstaking carved through brazing and polishing. The effort invested in their creation and their location in burials suggests deep spiritual significance.

Some suggest that they are connected with specific gods. Others believe that they represent a wheel or the Sun, which symbolizes the cyclical nature of existence. The jade discs predate writing, and their function may never be completely understood.


4Underwater Offering


Photo credit: Live Science

In 2012, archaeologists recovered a mysterious jade object from Arroyo Pesquero in Mexico. Dated between 900 BC and 400 BC, the artifact may have been a sacrificial offering. It is carved from mottled brown and white jadeite, which is harder than steel.

The 8.7-centimeter (3.4 in) by 2.5-centimeter (1 in) object was recovered 3 meters (10 ft) below the surface of a deep stream. The image is abstract, although most experts believe it is a corncob.

The find dates back to the Olmec occupation of Veracruz. Their ancient city of La Venta, which housed up to 10,000 people and contained a 34-meter (112 ft) pyramid, was located a mere 16 kilometers (10 mi) from Arroyo Pesquero.

Over the last 50 years, thousands of artifacts have been recovered from Arroyo Pesquero, leading experts to believe that it must have been a site for ritual offerings. The location is where freshwater and saltwater meet and likely had deep spiritual significance.

3Heirloom Seal Of The Realm


The Heirloom Seal of the Realm is one of the most mysterious Chinese artifacts. According to legend, the jade was carved in 221 BC for Qin Shi Huang. In 221 BC, he united the six Warring States under the Qin dynasty.

He ordered an imperial seal to be carved from the most fantastic piece of jade ever discovered. The seal passed from ruler to ruler as a symbol of imperial authority until it vanished around AD 900.

The artifact was carved from the He Shi Bi jade, for which a man allegedly lost his legs. Some believe that it was actually stolen from the Zhao state. The seal was an embodiment of the mandate of Heaven, and possession was enough to consider a regime “historically legitimate.”

Why the seal disappeared remains a mystery. Some theorize that later emperors were obsessed with hoarding seals to reduce the significance of the Heirloom Seal.

2Lord Pakal’s Funeral Mask


In 1952, while excavating the funerary crypt of the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque, archaeologists unearthed the mosaic burial mask of Lord Pakal the Great. Dated to the Mayan Late Classic period around AD 683, the mask is composed of a mosaic of 300 tiles of jadeite, albite, kosmochlor, and veined quartz.

The eyes are made of conch shell and obsidian. A wooden backing originally held the pieces together, and the mask was attached to the deceased king’s face with a layer of stucco.

On Christmas Eve 1984, Pakal’s mask was stolen along with other treasures from Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Anthropologia. A pair of vet school dropouts conducted the heist by entering the museum via air ducts.

In 1989, a drug trafficker turned stool pigeon and brought down the art thieves. They had tried to exchange the artifacts for cocaine. Pakal’s mask and the other artifacts were returned in good condition.

1Liangzhu’s Mysterious Cong


Photo credit: Editor at Large

The Neolithic Liangzhu culture contained master jade craftsmen who lived along the Yangtze River Delta in modern-day Zhejiang province. Over the years, 50 sites attributed to the Liangzhu have been excavated.

Tombs of their elites invariably contain elegantly crafted cong. These are square tubes of jade containing a circular hole. There are single-section varieties and longer ones. Often, the square corners are covered with face-like designs, believed to be protective spirits.

Speculation about the cong’s function can be traced to the Qing dynasty. Their ubiquity in elite burials offers tantalizing suggestions. They were likelysymbols of power.

Jade continued to be buried with the dead until well into the Han dynasty (206 BC to AD 220). Some suggest that the objects provided a road map for the dead on their journey into the next life. Others propose that there was a belief that jade may have prevented the decomposition of flesh.

Abraham Rinquist is the executive director of the Winooski, Vermont, branch of the Helen Hartness Flanders Folklore Society. He is the coauthor of Codex Exotica andSong-Catcher: The Adventures of Blackwater Jukebox.

10 Historical Cases Of Forced Tattooing

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10 Historical Cases Of Forced Tattooing



People have been getting tattoos for all of recorded history. We usually think of tattoos as an expression of culture and identity, but they’re not always used this way. History is full of forced tattooing, often to punish people or to mark them as property. Below are some of the more unsavory stories of people being inked without their consent.

10Ancient Greece


Photo credit: Huesca

Slaves who misbehaved in ancient Greece were often tattooed with the name of their crime. This was used instead of branding because a more wordy crime like “theft and aggravated assault” would take long time to brand and could put the victim’s life at risk. As slaves were only valuable to their owners alive, tattooing provided a happy (if still upsetting) medium. Similar tattoos were given to free citizens found guilty of crimes.

When the island of Samos was at war with Athens, each side tattooed its prisoners of war to mark them as conquered. Athenians marked Samian prisoners with owls, a symbol of the city’s patron goddess Athena. Samians retaliated by marking their Athenian prisoners with a samaina, a kind of Samian ship. The forehead was an especially dehumanizing place to tattoo a captive because of the increased pain and the fact that it was hard to cover up. (Sweatbands weren’t too common back in the day.)


9Byzantine Empire


Photo via Wikimedia

In AD 793, the Armeniac province revolted against the Byzantine Empire. The rebels were defeated by Emperor Constantine VI, who killed their leaders and punished the survivors with fines and confiscations. To add ink to injury, he had at least 1,000 of them tattooed with the phrase “Armeniakon traitor.”

A few decades later, another emperor punished two monks charged with idolatry by tattooing them with 12 lines of iambic verse. The subject of this painful poem? The story of their crime and its punishment. Just like the Greeks, both emperors had these punishing marks inked into their subjects’ foreheads for maximum awkwardness at family gatherings.


An important rule of Confucianism is avoiding damage to the body, as it is a gift received from one’s parents. Permanently marking the skin is shameful not just to an individual but to their whole family. This made tattooing a serious punishment in historical China.

Penal codes from the Song and Yuan dynasties list the crimes that couldresult in tattooing. If someone committed a crime punishable by banishment, they were given a square shape behind the ear. If flogging was in order, the shape was round. When a criminal had already been flogged three times, the tattoo was put on the face.

The Chinese were no strangers to the old “spell out the crime” gimmick, either. Cheating couples caught more than once were facially tattooed with the phrase “committed licentious acts two times” before being exiled. That might seem like a lot to fit on a face until you remember that each word was just one character. Either way, it wasn’t fun.




Like the Chinese, the Japanese have historically placed value on keeping the body unmarked for the sake of family and honor. In early modern Japan, tattooing was reserved for the most serious crimes, as being tattooed meant you were permanently ostracized from your family and community. Designs included bars, crosses, circles, and in one region, the pictograph for “dog.” Criminals were commonly marked on (you guessed it) the forehead.

However, in the case of Japan, the tattooed misfits had the last laugh. The end of the 17th century saw the rise of decorative tattooing in Japan, and many criminals covered their penal tattoos with colorful designs. Tattooing is still often associated with criminals in Japan thanks to the Yakuza, who wear full-body ink as a mark of pride and honor.

6Australian Convicts


Photo via Wikimedia

During the 19th century, the British government tattooed and branded inmates to enforce the idea that the state was “all-knowing” and had total control over them. Many inmates sent to the Australian penal colony showed up already marked as criminals. However, some of them flipped this around by accessorizing their tattoos. One man named Aaron Page turned the “D” on his chest (marking him as a deserter) into a Union Jack. This was clever because it concealed a symbol of treason with one of patriotism.

British authorities in Australia soon grew wise to this practice and ordered that convicts never be tattooed at night, as that gave them free time to pick at the fresh scab and change the tattoo.

5Olive Oatman


Photo via Wikimedia

In 1856, a white woman was found living with a group of Mohave near Fort Yuma, California. Her name was Olive Oatman, and most of her family had been killed by the Yavapai tribe while heading west to find a new home. She was taken captive and sold to the Mohave, with whom she lived for four years. During this time, she was given several blue lines on her chin. When she returned to white society, Oatman publicly lectured about her captivity across the country. During her lectures, she claimed that her tattoos were “slave marks” given by the Mohave to their captives.

Long after Oatman’s death, historians concluded that her tattoos were actually the same style given to all Mohave women. They were a mark of belonging, not captivity. Whether or not Oatman’s tattoos were consensual, it’s easy to see why she would claim they weren’t. US society in the 1800s would much rather believe that a white woman was held captive by a native tribe than that she became one of them.


4John Rutherford


John Rutherford was a performer who toured Britain in the 1800s, showing off a large collection of tattoos on his face and body. While people would admire the tattoos, he would regale them with his story of being shipwrecked in New Zealand and taken captive by the indigenous Maori people. He told of how they ate his shipmates and forcibly tattooed him with chisels and sharks’ teeth.

Most historians agree that this story is even more full of baloney than Olive Oatman’s. Rutherford was likely a deserter who jumped ship, and most of his tattoos were Tahitian, not Maori. If he had actually gotten all of those tattoos at once, he probably would have died of blood loss.

This story makes the list not because it’s true but because stories like Rutherford’s were very common. Performers made whole careers of telling how they had been taken hostage and tattooed by savage tribes. Forced-tattoo stories were a staple of freak shows well into the 20th century, and anyone who’s still reading this list can understand why they were so popular.

3Soviet Prisoners


Photo credit: pvz.It

Tattooing was so popular among Russian criminals during the Soviet era that there is a book called the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia. Prisoners in Siberian gulags would tattoo each other to show their defiance of authority and membership in elite thieves’ societies. They also forcibly tattooed those who had wronged them.

Common forced tattoos included the phrases “enemy of the people” and “I am a b—h.” A forced tattoo meant that a prisoner had been expelled from a thieves’ society and was nepriskasaemye, or “untouchable.” Anyone who did business with him would become infected from his dishonor. Given the unsanitary conditions in the gulags, they might get infected from his tattoo as well.



Photo credit: US Air Force

The most infamous story of involuntary tattooing comes from the Holocaust. At the Auschwitz concentration camp, prisoners selected for work were tattooed with serial numbers. These numbers could be used to identify them in case of death or escape. The first group to get tattooed were Soviet prisoners of war brought to the camp in 1941. A serial number was punched into the chest of each victim with a metal stamp, and ink was rubbed into the wound. These tattoos faded quickly, so Nazi officials switched to more conventional needles and began tattooing on the arm.

By 1943, most prisoners at Auschwitz were being tattooed with serial numbers. Jewish prisoners’ tattoos often included a triangle, and those given to Roma contained a “Z” for “Ziguener,” the German word for “gypsy.” The total number of serial numbers assigned to prisoners is estimated at 400,000. Many believe that tattooing is forbidden by Jewish law or that you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have a tattoo. This is debated by scholars, and it is thought that some of Jewish opposition to tattooing comes from the trauma of the concentration camps.

1Punjab Police


Photo credit: TS Bedi via the Hindustan Times

As much as we’d like to believe involuntary tattooing is a thing of the past, it has happened more recently than you’d think. In 1993, four women were detained by the Punjab Police in Amritsar, India. They were accused of involvement with a bootlegging operation that had attacked police during a raid. During the week they were in custody, policemen tattooed each woman on the forehead with the words jeb katri, meaning “pickpocket.”

Unlike most of the stories in this list, this one actually ends with justice for the tattooed. In 1994, the Punjab government arranged plastic surgery to remove the tattoos and paid each woman 50,000 rupees. In 2016, a special Indian court found the officers guilty and sentenced each of them to jail time, terming their crime “inhuman.” Maybe we have made progress after all.

Anthropology student by day, list nerd by night. Interested in history, language, nature, and other vague topics.

Best Science Photos of the Year

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Best Science Photos of the Year

The Science Stories We’ll Be Watching in 2017

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 The Science Stories We’ll Be Watching in 2017

Yesterday 12:00pm

With 2016 now in the rear view mirror, it’s time to look ahead and see what the coming year has in store. Here are Gizmodo’s most anticipated scientific and technological developments—and backslides—of 2017.

Space Exploration

After 12 incredible years, the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn will come to a spectacular end. The probe is running out of fuel, and it’ll soon be impossible for mission controllers to make orbital corrections.

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini-Huygens probe will perform a depth dive into Saturn’s atmosphere. (Image: NASA/JPL)

To avoid contaminating any of Saturn’s potentially life-bearing moons, Cassini-Huygens will dive into the planet in a final blaze of glory. The space probe has already begun its dramatic, ring-grazing orbits, and in April 2017, it’ll begin the “Grand Finale,” a series of close passes between the planet and its rings. The probe is scheduled to make its fatal kamikaze dive on September 15, 2017.

Now that NASA’s Juno spacecraft is in orbit around Jupiter, we can expect a flood of science to start streaming in. With each orbit, Juno makes a close pass, or perijove, over Jupiter’s cloud tops, so we’re going to see some spectacular images in the coming months.

The Juno spacecraft. (Image: NASA)

Armed with its array of instruments, Juno is scheduled to perform infrared and microwave scans to measure the thermal radiation emanating from deep within Jupiter’s atmosphere. By mapping Jupiter’s gravity and magnetic fields, scientists will be able to create a 3D map of the gas giant’s interior structure and enormous magnetic shield. Juno will also observe the composition and circulation of the planet’s deep atmosphere and improve our understanding of the forces that power the planet’s majestic auroras.

In February, the ESA will be launching the exoplanet sniffing satellite,CHEOPS. This will be the first mission dedicated to searching for exoplanets around bright stars already known to host planets. Armed with its ultra-high precision cameras, CHEOPS will allow for in-depth analyses of known celestial objects.

Another important launch to watch out for in 2017 is NASA’s Transiting Exoplanetary Survey Satellite (TESS), which is scheduled to go up in December. The satellite’s four cameras will scan the entire sky, searching for planets outside our Solar System. Incredibly, NASA expects TESS to find over 3,000 exoplanets, ranging from gas giants to small rocky worlds.

The Japanese rover expected to take part in the Google Lunar X-Prize. (Image: Team Hakuto/ispace Inc)

2017 is the final year of eligibility Google’s Lunar X Prize, a contest that calls for privately funded spaceflight teams to land robotic spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit back high-definition video and images. (The first team to do so will receive $20 million.) Incentives have also been added to encourage some actual science. There are 16 teams registered for the competition, but with only one year left, the clock is now ticking. Hopefully one or more of these teams, such as Germany’s PT Scientists, the United States’ Moon Express, or Japan’s HAKUTO, will get to the Moon done in time. Hi-res video from the lunar surface would be so cool.

Speaking of private ventures into space, the coming year will likely feature ongoing discussions about mining expeditions to the the Moon and asteroids to extract valuable resources. And if all goes according to plan, Blue Origin could start sending people into suborbital space, though we’ll believe it when we see it.


On August 21, 2017, the United States will be treated to a rare total solar eclipse which will traverse the entire width of the continental mainland from Oregon to South Carolina.

Image: NASA/Fred Espenak, MrEclipse.com

It’ll be the first total eclipse visible only in the US since the American Revolution, and the first total solar eclipse to sweep coast-to-coast in 99 years. A total eclipse will be seen from a path over 62 miles (100 km) wide, and will last for two minutes or more. Happily, a partial eclipse will be visible from all of North America, Hawaii and parts of northern South America.

Using the ever-growing Event Horizon Telescope array, astronomers will scan the interior regions of our galaxy. If all goes as planned, we could see the first image ever taken of the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole, known as Sagittarius A*.

With KIC 8462852 under intense astronomical scrutiny, we may finally solve the mystery of this odd, flickering star. Also known as Tabby’s Star, this is the celestial object voted most likely to harbor an alien megastructure, such as a Dyson Sphere. More likely, it’s some kind of unknown celestial phenomenon. With UC Berkeley’s Breakthrough Listen on the case, we’re hoping to solve the mystery in 2017.

Screengrab: YouTube/Fraser Cain via FAST

And now that China has powered up the world’s largest alien-hunting telescope, our ability to detect signs of an extraterrestrial civilization has never been greater. More realistically, astronomers will use “FAST” (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope) to detect pulsars and other celestial phenomena.


Next year should be a big year for LIGO, the very first observatory capable of detecting the faint ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves.

Image: R. Hurt, Caltech / JPL

Back in September 2015, scientists used LIGO to detect the gravitational waves produced by a pair of colliding black holes, a feat which they accomplished again in December. Now that scientists have an instrument sensitive enough to detect spacetime ripples, LIGO’s next observational run should prove fruitful. Experts predict that LIGO could see at least six similar events in the first half of 2017; possibly even more.

NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) is scheduled to arrive at the International Science Station in June 2017. This compact contraption will be used to study the behavior of ultra-cold quantum gases in microgravity environments, and it could help scientists observe new quantum phenomenon. CAL will also be used to test some of the most fundamental laws of physics. Insights gleaned from its experiments could lead to super-sensitive quantum detectors, and enable the construction of advanced navigational devices.

2016 proved to be a miss for the University of Washington’s ADMX Dark Matter Experiment. This machine is currently on the hunt for axions—hypothetical particles that are an extremely attractive candidate for dark matter. ADMX will be back on the hunt in 2017, sniffing around for an exotic particle that will hopefully shed light on the elusive, invisible stuff that makes up 85 percent of the universe.

Image: Extreme Light Infrastructure

Construction of Europe’s Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) will be completed in 2017. ELI will be the world’s first international laser research system, enabling scientists to shoot lasers at extreme intensities. Located in three different sites (Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania), the facilities will allow physicists to play with charged particles under the influence of powerful, focused light. In addition to revealing new physics, ELI could be used in materials research and life sciences.

Biology, Biotechnology and Health

Without a doubt, the CRISPR gene-editing tool is going to receive a lot of attention in the coming months. First and foremost, there’s that nasty patent battle that still needs to be resolved, and a verdict is expected early in the year. This ongoing battle pits a Harvard/MIT team against their counterparts at UC Berkeley, and the decision could determine how this technology gets used in the coming years—and who gets to have all that licensing money.

An electron micrograph of HIV particles infecting a human T cell. Image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

However the patent battle shakes out, geneticists will undoubtedly continue using CRISPR to modify all sorts of plants and animals, and to search for new ways to fight diseases such as cancer and HIV.

Genetically modified mosquitoes used to control the spread of viral diseases like Zika and Dengue may or may not be released in the Florida Keys in 2017. Despite resistance, there’s still a chance that local authorities, with the help of government bodies like the FDA, will go through with some limited experiments. Regardless of what happens, we’re expecting this to be a lively debate in the coming months—especially if mosquito-borne diseases appear with increased frequency in susceptible regions.

Image: pahowho/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Sadly, we’ll be hearing a lot about Zika again in 2017, even though it’s apparently no longer a global health emergency. Scientists will undoubtedly learn more about this dreaded virus, both in terms of its damaging effects and how it spreads. On a positive note, we could start to see the results of human clinical trials to test experimental Zika vaccines.

We could hit a rather troublesome milestone in 2017. We’re about to reach the point where more antibiotics will be used on farm animals than humans. This will likely result in increasingly resistant bacteria, making it harder to treat bacterial infections.

In the effort to create artificial life, an international team of researchers is expected to produce the world’s first synthetic yeast, which they’ll use to create new kinds of medicines and biofuels. Armed with this tool, scientists could also build biological computers and sensors to detect contaminants in water.

Climate and the Environment

With El Niño gone, and a weak La Niña now taking its place, we can expect to end our streak of record hot months. This past El Niño tied the 1997-98 El Niño for strongest on record, and it warmed our planet to unprecedented degrees—with the assistance of human-caused climate change, of course. We’re now in the early stages of La Niña, an oceanic and atmospheric corollary to El Niño that draws heat back into the ocean rather than pulling it out, and could result in a slight dip in global temperatures.

Climate skeptics may get all excited about this in 2017, but any apparent cooling from La Niña will be temporary. In any case, we can expect to see plenty more signs of a changing climate in 2017, from retreating Arctic sea ice to extreme droughts to record-smashing heat waves.

Image: Getty

President-elect Donald Trump will be inaugurated on January 20, 2017, an event that will be followed by Senate hearings for what are clearly some very dubious cabinet appointments. In nominating the likes of climate skepticsRick Perry and Scott Pruitt, Trump has made it abundantly clear that the environment will be of little concern to the incoming administration. We’ll be watching the ensuing shitstorm as it unfolds in Washington, and reporting on all the ways in which this government will work to undermine science and the environment.

George is a contributing editor at Gizmodo and io9.