The Haunting Face of a Man Who Lived 700 Years Ago

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The Haunting Face of a Man Who Lived 700 Years Ago

Behold “Context 958″—an ordinary man who lived in 13th century England. (Credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee)

This may look like a photograph, but the highly realistic face staring back at you belongs to a man who died over 700 years ago. The researchers who performed this unbelievable facial reconstruction say their work is providing new details about the way ordinary people lived in medieval England.

This 13th-century man—dubbed “Context 958″—is one of approximately 400 complete burials found and excavated beneath the Old Divinity School of St. John’s College in Cambridge, England, between 2010 and 2012. Back during the medieval era, this spot was home to the Hospital of St. John, a charitable institution set up to care for the poor and sick in the community. For centuries, the dead were buried in a cemetery right out back.

Facial reconstruction of Context 958. (Image credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee)

The reconstruction of Context 958 is part of a collaborative effort between Cambridge University’s Division of Archaeology and the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification. The Wellcome Trust-funded project, called “After the plague: health and history in medieval Cambridge,” is an effort to catalogue and analyze the burials in as much depth and detail as possible.

Based on an exhaustive analysis of his remains and the burial site, here’s what we know about Context 958.

He was just slightly over 40 years old when he died. His skeleton showed signs of considerable wear-and-tear, so he likely lead a tough and hard working life. His tooth enamel stopped growing during two occasions in his youth, suggesting he likely lived through bouts of famine or sickness when he was young. The archaeologists found traces of blunt force trauma inflicted to the back of his head, which healed over before he died. The researchers aren’t sure what he did for a living, but they think he was a working-class person who specialized in some kind of trade.

Dr. Sarah Inskip examines the skull of Context 958. (Image credit: Laure Bonner)

Context 958 ate a diverse diet rich in meat or fish, according to an analysis of weathering patterns on his teeth. His profession may have provided him with more access to such foods than the average person at the time. His presence at the charitable hospital suggests he fell on hard times, with no one to take care of him.

“Context 958 was probably an inmate of the Hospital of St John, a charitable institution which provided food and a place to live for a dozen or so indigent townspeople—some of whom were probably ill, some of whom were aged or poor and couldn’t live alone,” noted John Robb, a professor from Cambridge University’s Division of Archaeology, in a statement.

Strangely, he was buried face down, which is rare but not unheard of in medieval burials. Robb and his colleagues are fascinated by Context 958 and those like him. Their analysis shows what it was like to live as an ordinary poor person back then—warts and all.

Context 958 was found buried face-down in the historic cemetery of St John’s. (Image credit: C. Cessford)

“Most historical records are about well-off people and especially their financial and legal transactions—the less money and property you had, the less likely anybody was to ever write down anything about you,” said Robb. “So skeletons like this are really our chance to learn about how the ordinary poor lived.”

Of course, facial reconstructions are only as good as the data they’re based on, in this case a highly-weathered skeleton. We can’t be completely certain that this is exactly what Context 958 looked like. But at the very least, it’s bringing his remains back to life. Work on other skeletons found at the site will continue, as the researchers are putting together a kind of biography of every individual studied. It’s a fitting tribute to regular folks whose lives would have otherwise been completely forgotten.

[University of Cambridge]

Morbid Experiment Proves This Neolithic Weapon Was an Effective Skull Crusher

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Morbid Experiment Proves This Neolithic Weapon Was an Effective Skull Crusher

The Thames Beater (top) and the replica club used for experimentation (bottom). (Image: Meaghan Dyer)

Humans have been killing other humans since the dawn of the species, but owing to the poor archaeological record, it’s unclear what sort of weapons our ancestors used to brutalize one another. Using models of human skulls and a replica of a weapon dating back thousands of years, researchers have shown that a bat-like club known as the “Thames Beater” was fit for the task of killing.

Humans have been constructing implements of destruction for thousands of years, including sharpened stones, spears, daggers, bows and arrows, and clubs. Some of these weapons were used for hunting, but early humans also used these weapons against one another—we’re just not entirely sure which ones. We know this because archaeologists have uncovered many burial sites in which the human remains exhibit horrific injuries, such as blunt force trauma to the skull, cracked bones, and other signs of combat.

Human warfare dates back about 10,000 years, and though we tend to harbor romantic thoughts of the “Noble Savage” and peaceful agrarian existence, the sad truth is that ancient farmers were shockingly violent. But as mentioned, connecting injuries to specific weapons has proven difficult. To overcome this shortcoming, archaeologists Meaghan Dyer and Linda Fibiger from the University of Edinburgh ran a fascinating—if rather morbid—experiment to determine if one particular weapon, the “Thames Beater,” could be implicated in Neolithic-era blunt force skull injuries (the Neolithic period ran from about 7,000 BC to 2,000 BC). Their resulting study, now published in Antiquity, shows it would make for a very effective murder weapon, indeed.

In a nutshell, the researchers used a replica of the Thames Beater to create injuries in a model of the human skull, which were then compared to injuries found in the remains of actual Neolithic-era victims. To do so, the researchers engaged in a bit of experimental forensics not unlike modern efforts to determine cause of death.

Instead of using an animal carcass or a human cadaver, the researchers opted for a synthetic polyurethane “skin-skull-brain” model coated in rubber skin. A hole was left at the bottom, through which the researchers injected a brain-like gelatin mass. Two skin-skull-brain models of different thicknesses were used to account for human variance. Dyer and Fibiger believed this model more accurately represented the shape and strength of the human skull compared to an animal carcass, and that it was more ethical than battering away at a human donor’s corpse.

Image: Meaghan Dyer

The weapon of choice for this experiment was the aforementioned Thames Beater, radiocarbon-dated to about 4,600 years ago, was found near the Thames river in the early 1990s. For archaeologists, this represented a spectacularly rare find, as few items like this are known to exist. The item, which is kept at the Museum of London, is cracked, chipped, and generally in pretty bad shape. It looks like a mishmash of Bam Bam’s club from the Flintstones and a cricket bat. It even has a rounded pommel. When it was in good shape, the Thames Beater measured about two feet in length. It doesn’t take much imagination to see this object being used as a formidable weapon.

Obviously, the researchers couldn’t use the original Thames Beater, so they recruited the help of master carpenter David Lewis of Cornwall, who recreated the object using alder wood. Lewis did his best to recreate the club’s weight, shape, dimensions, and other attributes.

Finally, the whacking could begin. A 30-year-old male was recruited to do the hitting, which he did as if he were defending his life. The resulting fractures on the simulated ball-shaped skulls resulted in depression fractures that were deep enough to displace bone and produce cracks that spread throughout the skull. These injuries were consistent with what would be expected from blunt force trauma. What’s more, the researchers compared these injuries to the damaged skulls of remains found at Asparn/Schletz—a Neolithic massacre site in Austria. Again, the injuries were nearly identical.

At left the model, and at right an actual human skull. The similarities are striking. (Image: Meaghan Dyer)

“The fracture morphology, shape of displaced fragments, and the beveled fracture edges produced in both spheres match very closely with trauma hypothetically linked to wooden club weapons,” wrote the authors in the new study.

Of course, just because the Thames Beater can produce these kinds of injuries doesn’t prove it was actually used by Neolithic peoples to bash in each other’s skulls. But it’s a safe bet they did—just look at that thing. It would make for a very poor hunting weapon (unless used to knock an animal out of its misery), but a very effective one-on-one weapon.

Importantly, this approach to archaeology could lead to similar analyses of other suspected weapons, and shed new light on ancient Europeans.

“The research opens up new and innovative avenues for exploring the mechanisms and context of blunt force trauma in prehistory,” conclude the authors. “This is essential for understanding the meaning of the social and cultural contexts of such events (as varying forms of violence are indicative of different social pressures and interactions), whether considering material from standard funerary contexts or the increasing number of remains from mass graves across Western and Central Europe.”

As this study affirms, we humans can be our own worst enemies.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the club dated back to 4th century BC, whereas it’s actually about 4,600 years old.


The Many, Many Times Astronomers Mistook Mundane Phenomena for Aliens

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The Many, Many Times Astronomers Mistook Mundane Phenomena for Aliens

The science world is all in a tizzy this week about the supposed discovery of an alien megastructure. It’s an intriguing theory, no doubt, but one deserving hefty amounts of skepticism. As we’ve learned before, inexplicable observations are all too often confused for aliens. Here are some classic examples.

A strange star located about 1,500 light-years from here is confounding astronomers. As reported by Ross Andersen in The Atlantic, the star, dubbed KIC 8462852, appears to be surrounded by “a strange mess of objects,” compelling scientists involved in the hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence “to get a closer look.”

A likely explanation for the anomaly is a massive and irregular cloud of debris left over from a celestial collision. But Jason Wright, an astronomer who studies exoplanets and astrobiology, suspects it may be a Dyson Sphere—an alien-built megastructure consisting of solar panels placed in orbit around a star.

There’s much more to this story than my summary, so I highly recommendPhil Plait’s post at Slate. As Plait himself admits, this star’s behavior is indeed difficult to explain and it’s “clear something weird is happening there.” To be clear, it’s probably not ET, but the suggestion that aliens may somehow be involved is not completely outrageous. As I’ve said before, the search for alien artifacts—or what’s called Dysonian SETI—may be our best route to finally detecting signs of an extraterrestrial civilization.

This issue brings to mind previous instances in scientific history when a “God is in the gaps” explanation gets invoked for inexplicable phenomenon. There seems to be a tendency—and again, not a completely unwarranted tendency—among some astronomers to attribute extraterrestrial intervention when they observe something unexpected or seemingly outside the bounds of established knowledge. But in virtually every instance, these initial deliberations have been superseded by more reasonable explanations, as these following examples attest.

Canals on Mars

Back at the turn of the 20th century, American astronomer Percival Lowell posited the theory that an advanced alien civilization had irrigated crops on the surface of Mars with water drawn from the Red Planet’s poles via an elaborate canal network.

“That Mars is inhabited by beings of some sort or other we may consider as certain as it is uncertain what these beings may be,” wrote Lowell in 1906.

Since the time of Lowell, however, closer inspection of the surface has shown that Mars does indeed feature a complex and dynamic surface, one carved by the ravages of time rather than an alien civilization.


Another example is the discovery of pulsars, those freakishly precise flashes of electromagnetic radiation produced by highly magnetized, rotating neutron stars.

(Credit: NASA)

Because they flash at such steady and rapid intervals, some astronomers speculated that pulsars are actually beacons set up by advanced alien intelligences. When they were first described in 1967, one of the scientists involved in the discovery, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, said that

we did not really believe that we had picked up signals from another civilization, but obviously the idea had crossed our minds and we had no proof that it was an entirely natural radio emission. It is an interesting problem—if one thinks one may have detected life elsewhere in the universe, how does one announce the results responsibly?

Despite their initial skepticism, they named the pulsar LGM-1, which stands for “little green men.”

The Wow! Signal

There’s also the infamous Wow! signal— a 72-second-long radio burst that initially appeared to good to be true. It was.

Patrick J. KIger from National Geographic explains:

[Jerry] Ehman, a volunteer researcher for Ohio State University’s now-defunct Big Ear radio observatory, perused data from the telescope’s scan of the skies on August 15, a few days earlier. In those days, such information was run through an IBM 1130 mainframe computer and printed on perforated paper, and then laboriously examined by hand. But the tedium was shattered when Ehman spotted something surprising—a vertical column with the alphanumerical sequence “6EQUJ5,” which had occurred at 10:16 p.m. EST. He grabbed a red pen and circled the sequence. In the margin, wrote “Wow!”

Ehman’s excitement over that bit of arcane information stemmed from the Big Ear’s mission at the time, which was searching space for radio signals of the sort that might be emanated by extraterrestrial civilizations, if they were attempting to make contact with intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. To Ehman, this signal, which had come from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius, looked an awful lot like it could be such a message. Observatory director John Krauss and his assistant Bob Dixon, who subsequently examined the data, were similarly astonished by it.

The signal, which lasted 72 seconds, was never detected again, even during follow-up studies. Though never fully explained, the signal was likely a natural, continuous signal, or some human-caused artifact.


More recently, astronomers at the Parkes Observatory in Australia detected mysterious radio signals known as perytons.

(Credit: CSIRO)

These brief but intense bursts, which appeared to emanate from deep space, were so strange that some scientists thought they might be coming from, what else, aliens. But a follow-up study ruined the party by showing that the signals were coming from—get this—microwave ovens used in the observatory to re-heat coffee. Ouch.


Of course, supposed signs of aliens need not be limited to space.

Unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, are often associated with alien visitations, though empirical evidence for such claims are completely lacking. In virtually all cases, however, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for these observations.

Keep an Open Mind

The strange behavior of KIC 8462852 may never be explained. Our inability to posit a more reasonable explanation may be due to our limited technologies, insufficient science, or lack of imagination.

In time we may discover what’s really going on, and it’ll probably be a really fascinating explanation. Until then however, we should seek out the simplest solution, while keeping an open mind to other, more radical possibilities. Failure to do both would be a terrible disservice to the scientific process.


Preliminary Scan Suggests This Interstellar Visitor Is Not an Alien Spaceship

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Preliminary Scan Suggests This Interstellar Visitor Is Not an Alien Spaceship

Artist’s impression of ‘Oumuamua (Image: ESO)

On October 19, 2017, astronomers witnessed the first known interstellar asteroid—a bizarre, cigar-shaped rock that, just as quickly as it entered into our Solar System, exited in a hurry. Not satisfied that ‘Oumuamua, as it’s been named, is just an odd asteroid, astronomers from Breakthrough Listen recently tuned their Green Bank telescope into the object to see if it’s an alien spaceship or some kind of probe. The preliminary results are now in and—brace yourself—it’s still a rock.

Typically, scientists at Breakthrough Listen hunt for aliens by scanning distant stars, but when ‘Oumuamua (pronounced “oh-moo-ah-moo-ah” and meaning “a messenger from afar arriving first”) paid us an unexpected visit, it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. Indeed, astronomers have catalogued around 750,000 asteroids, yet this is the only known chunk of rock to originate from a different stellar neighborhood. What’s more, ‘Oumuamua’s strange shape and awesome speed (it’s moving at 26.3 km/s) hinted at something perhaps not quite natural.

Using Breakthrough Listen’s backend instrument on the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, the astronomers ran the first of four scans, or “blocks,” of observations from 3:45pm to 9:45pm ET on December 13. The asteroid, or alleged spaceship, was scanned across four radio bands, each of which corresponded to four radio receivers, denoted L, S, X, C, and spanning billions of individual channels from 1 to 12 GHz. During this first block of observations, the astronomers also collected 90 TB of data, which, unsurprisingly, they’re still parsing through.

Image: Brooks Bays/SOEST Publication Services/Univ. of Hawaii

No artificial signals were detected within this first block of data. So depending on your opinion of aliens, this is either good or bad news (raises hand that this is good news).

“The team has just met and reviewed our results from all four bands observed last night and we don’t see anything continuously emitting from ‘Oumuamua,” Andrew Siemion, Director of Berkeley SETI Research Center, told Gizmodo. “We’re now digging in to some of the intermittent candidates, and trying some new machine learning-based techniques we have been working on. We expect our next observation window to be scheduled for [December 15 or 16], when we should get a view of additional ‘phases’ of ‘Oumuamua as it rotates.”

Siemion said the weather cooperated such that his team was able to get data at all four bands. At this stage, only data from the S-band receiver has been processed (between frequencies of 1.7 to 2.6 GHz), and analysis of the remaining three bands is still underway.

This unexpected visit has the Breakthrough Listen team wondering if there are specific search techniques or algorithms that would be more effective when scanning nearby objects or hypothetical probes. This is completely new territory, but for now, Siemion’s team figures that ‘Oumuamua doesn’t emit “an isotropic narrow-band beacon at centimeter-wavelengths above a power of about 0.2W”—or the approximate power of an iPhone.

Some might think this exercise is a complete waste of time, and a venture that skirts the bounds of credible science, but not everyone shares this viewpoint.

“This is a fishing expedition,” Avi Loeb, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told Gizmodo. “We are most likely not to find anything, but it is worth checking steadily our fishing hooks. It is worthwhile to keep searching for artificial signals from ‘Oumuamua or any other interstellar object that will be discovered in the future. Null results are part of science, and the question ‘Are we alone?’ is one of the most fundamental questions we have.”

Penn State astronomer Jason Wright agrees, but he didn’t think ‘Oumuamua was the greatest candidate to begin with.

“Arthur C. Clarke popularized the idea that we might discover alien probes or spacecraft as they pass by the Sun in his Rama series. We should keep an open mind about how alien technology might be found, and how it might travel through space, and take Clarke’s suggestion seriously.”

Wright said he’s not “particularly persuaded” by the SETI approach for this particular asteroid, but he understands why astronomers like Avi Loeb and Andrew Siemion are, and he’s “excited that Breakthrough Listen is including interstellar objects” in its campaign.

“This is the first interstellar asteroid we know, and we expect to find many more in the future,” said Wright. “By undertaking this campaign, Breakthrough Listen is developing a protocol for these observations, and making us all think harder about how future interstellar asteroids can fit into a comprehensive SETI campaign.”

Defending his work, Siemion says SETI is a key tool in attempting to answer the question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe, and that it’s a reasonable scientific endeavor to determine the number density and distribution of technologically capable life on both galactic and possibly cosmological scales.

“No, I don’t think SETI is a crazy thing to do,” said Siemion in response to a question from Gizmodo. “I think it is perhaps the most profoundly consequential scientific endeavor we have ever attempted as human beings.”

[Breakthrough Listen]

Scientists Figure Out Why Italian Family Can’t Feel Pain

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Scientists Figure Out Why Italian Family Can’t Feel Pain

Some guy named Robert Earl’s broken leg (Image: rearl/Flickr)

An Italian woman, her two daughters, and her three grandchildren have always had trouble feeling pain. They can’t sense temperature. They break bones without noticing. Now, a team of scientists in the United Kingdom think they’ve figured out why.

Pain—whether it’s the sharp agony of a stubbed toe or the warning heat that comes before a burn—is an everyday occurrence for most people, but not for this unusual Italian family. By studying both the family members’ genetics and mice, researchers think they’ve located the gene responsible for their insensitivity. One day, this knowledge could help others treat chronic pain.

“Genetic analysis of a human family with Marsili syndrome, a rare and perhaps unique inherited pain insensitive phenotype, and mouse modeling have shown ZFHX2 as a critical gene for normal pain perception,” the authors write in the study published recently in the journal Brain. The syndrome’s name, Marsili, comes from this very family.

The family members agreed to go through rigorous examination for the new research—tests that sound like mild torture to a normal pain-feeler. They were poked at tender points, touched surfaces ranging from 14 degrees to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and dunked their hands in ice water.

Finally, the researchers sequenced part of the family’s genomes, revealing a new mutation in the “ZFHX2″ gene. This gene alters how nociceptors, the pain-sensing part of the nerve cells that turn sensory inputs into stimuli for the brain, translate DNA code into protein-making instructions.

Previous research has created mice without that ZFHX2 gene, and those mice turned out to be pretty weird: They were more hyperactive and showed signs of mouse depression. In this new study, the ZFHX2-altered mice had difficulty sensing hot and cold, offering further evidence that a mutation in the gene is what causes the family’s lack of pain.

It’s important to note that the mutant mice didn’t show exactly the same symptoms as the humans did—and the genetics of pain are more complex than single genes. Other people who have fractured bones without feeling pain have had mutations on another gene, called SCN11A, for example. Much about pain is still poorly understood, according to a Nature editorial.

But understanding mutations such as these may one day lead to better pain treatment ideas. Further work is needed to determine which genes might be the best targets for painkilling therapies, the authors write.

As for the Italian family, New Scientist reports that they’d rather not sense pain normally. I mean, me too.

[Brain via New Scientist]

These Endangered Wildlife Photos Are Artistic Masterpieces 

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These Endangered Wildlife Photos Are Artistic Masterpieces 

Image Tim Flach

Human’s impact on nature is unmistakeable, from vast swaths of lost forest to heaps of trash on beaches. Looking at these images might be upsetting, but still demonstrate what we’ve done. They don’t demonstrate what we might lose.

Scientists warn that we’re potentially amidst a sixth mass extinction event, thanks to human activity. Humans are indirectly and directly responsible for the loss of species once as common as passenger pigeons and Tasmanian tigers. Before these species go extinct, they’re endangered—and one photographer is trying to document these species facing the struggle before it’s too late.

Photographer Tim Flach released his collection of stunning photographs in the enormous book Endangered this week, alongside commentary from chief scientist of the National Geographic Society, Jonathan Baille. The book costs 65 bucks. But honestly—it’s very good.

Image: Tim Flach

Pangolins are considered the most trafficked animal in the world. They’re hunted in Africa as meat, and in Asia where their scales are used in traditional medical treatments. All four species are considered vulnerable and one is critically endangered, writes Baille.

Image: Tim Flach

The sea angel’s endangered status hasn’t been evaluated, but it’s falling victim to ocean acidification. These animals are important for feeding other fish, like the larvae of cod and salmon.

Image: Tim Flach

Hippopotamuses are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Their numbers have fallen due to hunting both for meat and for their teeth, which can substitute as ivory.

Image: Tim Flach

Polar bears are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN as they succumb to the effects of melting polar ice caps, thanks to climate change. However, Inuit communities attempt to hunt the bears sustainably, writes Baille.

Image: Tim Flach
Image: Tim Flach

Pictured above are chalice coral polyps, followed by Montipora coral. Single coral polyps attach, building and grow together as a colony in one large aggregation of connected individual organisms. They are listed as “least concern” by the IUCN but are vulnerable to bleaching events from the effects of climate change.

Image: TIm Flach

Yellow-eyed tree frogs lay their eggs ten feet in the air in the plants surrounding ponds during rainy seasons, writes Baille. The frog’s habitat has been stunted thanks to development in Costa Rica’s capital, San José. The frog is currently listed as endangered by the IUCN.

Image: Tim Flach
Image: Tim Flach

Poachers and smugglers trade Madagascar’s ploughshare tortoises for their shells, and the species is now critically endangered. One organization bred 600 tortoises from a set of confiscated ones, then purposely defaced the shells to deter smugglers, writes Baille.

Image: Tim Flach

The pied tamarin is listed as endangered by the IUCN as suburban development has led to deforestation and habitat lost. Numbers have begun to grow as conservationists breed the species in captivity.

Image: Tim Flach

Endangered tells the story of the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey’s biggest fan, filmmaker Xi Zhinong. He created a documentary about the monkeys, and saved a swatch of their habitat from logging after sending a litter to the Chinese government.

Image: Tim Flach

The monarch butterfly isn’t endangered, yet. But conservationists are concerned after observing large declines in migrating populations in California and Mexico between 1997 and 2016, writes Baille.

Image: Tim Flach

Phillipine eagles are an apex predator, which makes them vulnerable to toxic chemicals that have built up through the food web as bigger animals eat smaller animals. Much of their habitat has also been deforested, and they are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Image: Tim Flach

Each snow leopard survives on over 80 square mile habitat apiece in central Asia, meaning that humans may increasingly come into contact with them as they expand their farmland. They’re listed as endangered by the IUCN.

Image: Tim Flach

Saiga are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN after hunting for their meat and horns, as well as a recent bacterial infection that decimated populations. Conservationists are hopeful that the saiga will bounce back, writes Baille.

Image: Tim Flach

Rhinos have succumbed to heavy losses due to the high value of their horns. The South African government legalized domestic trade hoping that prices would drop, but Baille writes that 1,000 rhinos were still killed in 2016. Pictured here is the northern white rhino—there are only three northern white rhinos left on Earth, all owned by a zoo.

Image: Tim Flach

The 16-foot-long beluga sturgeon is illegally hunted for food—its eggs go for over $9,000 a pound, writes Baille. It is simultaneously succumbing to habitat loss from damming projects, and the IUCN lists it as critically endangered.

Image: Tim Flach

There are only a few hundred Indian gharials left on Earth, mostly in sanctuary. They’re the victims of threats like hunting for food and medicine as well as habitat loss from humans.

[Abrams Books]

Behold The Most Hilarious Wildlife Photos of 2017

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Behold The Most Hilarious Wildlife Photos of 2017

Not the winner, but definitely our favorite (Image: Bence Mate/ Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards)

Wildlife photographer Tibor Kércz would spend a few nights each year camped out in a tent near a tree, hoping to capture photos of little owls and their nestlings. But just before nightfall on one fateful evening, three of the birds flew out onto a short branch. They landed and tried stabilizing themselves… but the owlet on the end began to fall.


“So I started to shoot in the right moment,” he told Gizmodo in a Facebook message. That series of photos won him the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.


The awards are meant to highlight whimsical, “possibly unpretentious” photography of wild animals doing funny things, according to their website. Some of the silliest images from past contests have gone viral, and this year’s certainly have the potential to do the same. Ultimately, the founders’ main goal is conservation.

“Well… you are now obviously going to go to your office, home, pub, club, or wherever and talk about the dire need for us all to be conservationists in our own little way,” the competition’s founders write on their website. The contest is affiliated with the Born Free Foundation wildlife conservation charity. But Kércz likes how it gives humans the chance to see animals in a more relatable light.

“It is a great initiative and [gives us the] chance to show people how funny and lovable these cute creatures are, like we are,” he said.


The contest received over 3,500 submissions, which were required to have been taken by the photographer, not of a pet or domesticated animal, and without being digitally manipulated. Also, term number 16 of the website’s Terms and Conditions is “16. You must think Bohemian Rhapsody one of the greatest pieces of popular music ever written, just kidding. No seriously….” So yeah.

Anyway, here are the pictures:

Overall winner: Tibor Kércz

Image: Tibor Kércz/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Tibor Kércz/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Tibor Kércz/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Tibor Kércz/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

Winner, “In The Air” Category: Jon Threlfall

Image: Jon Threlfall/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

It’s a fart joke.

Winner, “Under the Sea” Category: Troy Mayne

Image: Troy Mayne/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

Winner, “On Land” Category: Andrea Zampatti

Image: Andrea Zampatti/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

Highly Commended

Image: Bence Mate/ Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Carl Henry/ Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Daisy Gilardini/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Daniel Trim/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Douglas Croft/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: George Cathcart/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Jean-Jacques Alcalay/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Katy Laveck-Foster/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Oliver Colle/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards
Image: Penny Palmer/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards

[via Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards