This Week’s Strangest Science News


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This Week’s Strangest Science News

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At Live Science, we delve into science news from around the world every day — and some of those stories can get a little weird. Here are some of the strangest science news articles from this week.

A new species of tardigrade (not shown here) was discovered in a parking lot in Japan.

A new species of tardigrade (not shown here) was discovered in a parking lot in Japan.

Credit: Shutterstock

Who doesn’t love tardigrades? These microscopic animals, also known as water bears, can survive just about anywhere on Earth, and a new species was recently discovered in a parking lot in Japan. [Read more about the even-weirder-than-usual tardigrades]

Majestic Denali stands roughly 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) tall and may hold up to 97 metric tons of human poop.

Majestic Denali stands roughly 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) tall and may hold up to 97 metric tons of human poop.

Credit: Shutterstock

Climbers in Alaska’s Denali National Park are facing stricter rules about disposing of their poop. New guidelines were recently introduced by the National Park Service to address the growing problem of human waste on Denali, estimated to be as much as 215,000 pounds. Climbers must now dispose of their poo at two designated areas — a ranger station or in a 14,000-foot-deep crevasse. [Read more about poop disposal on Denali]

A Nessus sphinx hawkmoth caterpillar (<i>Amphion floridensis</i>), munches on a wild grape leaf.

A Nessus sphinx hawkmoth caterpillar (Amphion floridensis), munches on a wild grape leaf.

Credit: Jayne Yack

Scientists investigated how certain types of caterpillars could make a range of unusual sounds — including whistles, pops, clicks, and buzzing. The researchers analyzed caterpillar-produced sound waves, and found that the insects made noise by forcing air through a small internal structure, like a teakettle producing a whistle. [Read more about the caterpillar communication]

An unusual white ring in the front of a woman's eyeball was the result of a rare condition. Above, an image of the patient's eye showing the ring around the edge of the cornea.

An unusual white ring in the front of a woman’s eyeball was the result of a rare condition. Above, an image of the patient’s eye showing the ring around the edge of the cornea.

Credit: The New England Journal of Medicine ©2018.

An unusual autoimmune condition produced a strange effect in a woman’s eye, generating a white circle in her cornea. [Read more about the eerie eye ring]

A male, yellow Northern cardinal perching on a branch in Mexico, Baja California.

A male, yellow Northern cardinal perching on a branch in Mexico, Baja California.

Credit: Hal Beral/Getty

The appearance of an extremely rare yellow cardinal in Alabama attracted birdwatchers eager to catch a glimpse of the unusual golden bird. Its sunny feathers are likely the result of a genetic mutation that impedes its ability to generate the chemical reactions that produce red hues. [Read more about the yellow cardinal]

Want more weird science news and discoveries? Check out these and other “Strange News” stories on Live Science!

In Photos: Egypt’s Oldest Mummy Wrappings


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In Photos: Egypt’s Oldest Mummy Wrappings

A New Date for Mummy Making

Credit: © Ron Oldfield and Jana Jones

Oldest Tattooed Woman Is an Egyptian Mummy


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Oldest Tattooed Woman Is an Egyptian Mummy

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Oldest Tattooed Woman Is an Egyptian Mummy

An infrared image of the male mummy known as Gebelein Man A. Notice the tattoos on his right arm.

Credit: Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

An archaeologist who followed a hunch has discovered the oldest figural tattoos in the world on the bodies of two 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt.

Infrared images of the mummies revealed tattoos of a wild bull (Bos primigenius) and a Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) on the upper arm of a mummy nicknamed “Gebelein Man A.” The other mummy, a female known as “Gebelein Woman,” has linear and S-shaped tattoos on her upper arm and shoulder — markings that are the oldest tattoos ever found on a woman, the archaeologists said.

“Although we tend to think that prehistory (the time before writing) was primitive and rather plain, it is clear this was a sophisticated time and the people must have looked amazing,” lead study researcher Renée Friedman, the director of the Hierakonpolis Expedition, led by the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, in the United Kingdom, told Live Science in an email. [25 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

Friedman’s hunch came about after she and her colleagues discovered a Nubian cemetery at Hierakopolis in Upper Egypt dating to the early Middle Kingdom, or about 2000 B.C. The archaeologists found that three ancient women buried in the cemetery had extensive tattoos, especially on their abdomens. One woman’s tattoos were visible to the naked eye, and the tattoos of the other two were revealed with infrared photography.

Infrared images of the Gebelein Woman (left), including her S-shaped tattoos (top right) and linear tattoo (bottom right).

Infrared images of the Gebelein Woman (left), including her S-shaped tattoos (top right) and linear tattoo (bottom right).

Credit: Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

“This was a revelation because we really couldn’t see the tattoos on these other two women without the [infrared] camera,” Friedman said. “This gave me the idea that many more tattoos might be undetected and the tradition may go much further back than the Middle Kingdom.”

At the time, Friedman was a research curator in the predynastic collection at the British Museum, so she “decided to try [her] camera on the well-preserved Predynastic mummies there” that had good skin preservation and weren’t hidden in mummy wrappings, she said. She analyzed seven mummies and found tattoos on two of them — the naturally mummified Gebelein Man A and Gebelein Woman, which date to about 3351 B.C. to 3017 B.C.

“The discovery pushes back tattooing in Africa by over 1,000 years,” Friedman said.

Both mummies are from Egypt’s predynastic period, before the country was unified under the first pharaoh in about 3100 B.C. Archaeologists unearthed Gebelein Man A about 100 years ago, and he has been on display almost continuously since then, the researchers said. When Gebelein Man A was young, between 18 and 21 years old, he died from a stab wound in his back, according to previous computed tomography (CT) scans, the researchers said.

The new infrared image analysis shows that black smudges on his arms are actually the tattoos of two overlapped horned animals — likely a wild bull with elaborate horns and a long tail, and a Barbary sheep with curving horns and humped shoulders, the researchers said. The tattoos aren’t superficial, either — whoever made them applied a carbon-based pigment (likely soot) to the deep, dermis layer of the skin.

It’s not clear what these tattoos meant, but perhaps they were symbols of strength or even marks of successful hunts, Friedman said. Or, maybe they were protective images, she said.

In contrast, Gebelein Woman’s tattoos didn’t show animals, but rather a series of four small S-shapes running over her right shoulder. Below these markings is a linear motif similar to ceremonial objects that are held by figures painted on ceramics from that period, Friedman said. Perhaps this line represents a crooked staff, a symbol of power and status, or a throw-stick or baton used in a ritual dance, the researchers said.

A ritual scene painted on a Predynastic pottery jar. Notice the S-shaped lines (that looks like Zs) and the curved, linear object held by the man.
A ritual scene painted on a Predynastic pottery jar. Notice the S-shaped lines (that looks like Zs) and the curved, linear object held by the man.

Credit: Copyright Trustees of the British Museum

It would have been easy to see the woman’s tattoos when she was still alive, and they might have conveyed her status, bravery or perhaps magical knowledge, the researchers said.

Both mummies are roughly contemporaries of the 5,300-year-old Ötzi, the iceman mummy found in the Italian Alps in 1991. Ötzi has 61 geometric tattoos on his body, Live Science reported in 2015. Some researchers have hypothesized that Ötzi’s tattoos had medicinal purposes, as they were placed by known acupuncture points. However, “Unlike Ötzi, there is no indication that [the Egyptian tattoos] had a medical reason,” Friedman said.

Researchers have also discovered an ancient tool kit dating to the same period as Gebelein Man A and Gebelein Woman. The kit, discovered in a Predynastic grave, was buried with an older woman between the ages of 40 and 50 years old, Friedman said.

The kit included a bird-shaped palette likely used for grinding cosmetic ores, such as ochre, with rounded pebbles, all of which were found in a basket, Friedman wrote in “Ancient Ink: The Archaeology of Tattooing” (University of Washington Press, 2017). The basket also contained bone awls, which could have been used for tattooing, she said.

This toolkit, found buried with a woman from ancient Egypt, contains instruments that may have been used for tattooing people.
This toolkit, found buried with a woman from ancient Egypt, contains instruments that may have been used for tattooing people.

Credit: Copyright Renée Friedman, Courtesy of the Hierakonpolis Expedition

“The presence of such awls as part of a kit including pigments, resins, amulets and incense in the grave of an older woman at Hierakonpolis suggests that tattooing was in the hands of specialists and accompanied various rituals and ceremonies,” the researchers wrote in the new study.

The findings were published online March 1 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Originally published on Live Science.