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Beamlines To Reveal Secrets of the Mummies

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the look-deep-inside-you-are-getting-sleepy dept.

Technology 64

Hugh Pickens writes "A British X-ray with a light ten billion times brighter than the sun is to be used to reveal the secrets of statues, mummies, sarcophagi and other ancient artifacts to analyze their composition and how they were made. Three Egyptian bronze figurines from the British Museum will be among the first treasures to be investigated by the Joint Engineering, Environmental and Processing beamline, or Jeep, using intense radiation known as synchrotron light which allows scientists to see through solid objects and to show structural details that cannot be seen by standard X-rays. 'It might give us the chance to look at the contents. The Egyptians used to stash things inside their statues. We also get very fragile inner sarcophagi or mummy wrappings,' says Jen Hiller, a scientist working on the beamline. In Grenoble a team has used synchrotron radiation to discover the first known fossilized brain, of a fish-like creature; details are to be published this month. In California it is being used to decipher the Archimedes palimpsest — a text by the Greek mathematician that was overwritten in medieval times."

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Maybe I'm of Egyptian Descent (1, Funny)

nnnich (1454535) | more than 5 years ago | (#26888295)

I stash things in my statues all the time

Re:Maybe I'm of Egyptian Descent (0, Offtopic)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#26888401)

Do ya put your weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed in there?

Re:Maybe I'm of Egyptian Descent (2, Funny)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 5 years ago | (#26888427)

Look out for those hibernating Gu'ald....

Re:Maybe I'm of Egyptian Descent (1, Offtopic)

jornak (1377831) | more than 5 years ago | (#26888517)

1) It's spelled Goa'uld.
2) Can this thing see through lead?
3) Is this thing more powerful than the Silver/Bronze Age Superman's x-ray vision?

ten billion times? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26888551)

In other words the power level was over 9000.

meme fail (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26888639)

On Soviet Thundera, Mumm-Ra beamlines you!

Apparent brightness I presume? (4, Interesting)

spinkham (56603) | more than 5 years ago | (#26888691)

I assume the "10 billion times brighter then the sun" is an apparent brightness measurement of the sun at the earth, and not of the suns actual luminosity. If it is actually that much brighter then the sun, then that's REALLY impressive...

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26888983)

I assume tha "10 billion times brighter than tha sun" is an apparent brightness measurement of tha sun at tha earth, and not of tha suns actual luminosity. If it is actually thet much brighter than tha sun, than thet's REALLY impressive...

FTFY.

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (3, Funny)

dwiget001 (1073738) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891499)

Yeah, but this one goes to 11.

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (2, Informative)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889487)

I'm certain they mean that the intensity of the beam is 10^10 larger than the intensity of solar radiation at Earth. (I assume they're referring to energy flux and not photon flux. The synchrotron I worked at produced roughly 10^19 photons/m^2/s; the photon flux at Earth from the sun is roughly 10^21. Synchrotron beams, however, consist of much higher-energy photons.)

While synchrotrons are certainly capable of producing very high-energy beams, if they're referring to intensity, it's sort of cheating -- you can use optics to compress the beam. (For example, compressing a 1 cm square beam to a 10 um square beam.)

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (3, Informative)

ZombieWomble (893157) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890111)

I was at Diamond last weekend, and while idling around the foyer I was having a look at their big posters boasting about how bright their beam was. A closer look at the units indicated that it's even more abstract than "photons per unit area". The units they're talking about are (deep breath...) "Photons per second per square millimetre per millirad per 0.1% beam width". So they're not only counting area, but also divergence and how well-defined the beam is. All things the sun tends to be rather poor at, really, so it's not the fairest comparison ever.

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891909)

Interesting. I've never seen that metric, only photons/s/mm^2, which is fairly standard for beam intensity.

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (1)

Manzanita (167643) | more than 5 years ago | (#26898189)

Okay, this is a bit off-topic, but the standard synchrotron brightness units are Photons per second per square millimeter per .1% band width, measured at the spot in the endstation. Speaking of source brightness you would use square milliradians instead of millimeters. The .1% band width is a funny unit which refers to deltaE/E, so the brightness here is really a function of energy. In the visible, for yellow light like the sun, .1%bw is about .0022eV at 2.2eV=570nm. For the Fe K-edge, where they may have been working, the energy is 7112eV, which gives .1%bw=7.112eV, so at 7112eV you are counting all photons with energies between 7112eV and 7119eV or so. Synchrotrons typically have a peak brightness somewhere up in the X-Ray energies, which makes sense because they are designed to be X-Ray sources. For that reason it doesn't make much sense to compare the brightness of a synchrotron with that of the sun. They are really such different sources. When I see a comparison like that I usually just dismiss it and read on. They would have said something more useful if they had compared to dental X-Ray brightness. I tend to cut science reporters a little slack though. It is hard to give people an idea of what is really going on in science when there are so many details that you have to know for real understanding. Of course, when the science reporter's words are further interpreted for the Slashdot abstract by someone like Hugh Pickens, you have to give them even less weight.

-Dan
 

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26898537)

I wonder what size magnifying glass held up to the sun would create a similar beam.

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (1)

Floritard (1058660) | more than 5 years ago | (#26908783)

Only on /. would someone feel the need to defend the Sun.

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911395)

You wouldn't want to make it angry.

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889945)

I think it is possible to make something that actually puts out more light than the sun, but for a very short period of time. I see this phrase used when talking about femtosecond lasers and stuff.

Re:Apparent brightness I presume? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26894257)

By brightness, they mean the number of photons in an area and how collimated the photons are. Brightness in this usage has units of (# of photons per unit time per unit area per unit solid angle per energy bandwidth).

As an analogy, an optical laser has a small beam that is highly collimated, and so is much brighter than a light bulb (which emits in all directions) even if the total number of photons emitted and total power is smaller. A laser also emits a very narrow band of wavelengths (energy), which improves its brightness.

A synchrotron x-ray source is bright much the same way a laser is: the x-rays come out very highly collimated (often more collimated than typical optical lasers) and so can put a very large number of x-rays into a small spot. Most synchrotron x-ray sources give a fairly broad energy spectrum, but selecting a narrow bandwidth is common, and still results in extremely bright beams. Synchrotron x-rays are usually pulsed (at kHz frequencies), but quoted brightnesses are usually integrated over a second.

A synchrotron is there when you need 10^10 12keV (0.1 nm wavelength) x-rays per sec in a 10x10 micron spot.

Mummy question (3, Interesting)

BigHungryJoe (737554) | more than 5 years ago | (#26888711)

Every once in a while, I'll hear someone say -

"Autopsies performed on the remains of mummies show that they had cocaine alkaloids in their system, which means that the ancient Egyptians traveled to South America"

I've always suspected that was complete hogwash. I would appreciate it if someone would shed some light on THAT mummy mystery.

Re:Mummy question (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26888921)

Chemical evidence of tobacco has been found in ancient Egyptian mummies, although tobacco was supposed to be unknown in the Old World prior to Columbus. First, fragments of tobacco were found deep in the abdominal cavity of the 3200-year-old mummy of Pharaoh Ramses II while it was being studied in a European museum. Some skeptics immediately concluded that this had to be due to modern contamination in the museum. This American plant could not possibly have been known in Egypt, they insisted. In 1992 physical scientists in Germany used sophisticated laboratory instrumentation to test nine other Egyptian mummies. They found chemical residues of tobacco, coca (another American plant, the source of cocaine), and the Asian native hashish (the source of marijuana) in the hair, soft tissues, skin, and bones of eight of the mummies. These traces included cotinine, a chemical whose presence means that the tobacco had been consumed and metabolized while the deceased person was alive. (The ninth mummy contained coca and hashish residues but not tobacco.) Dates of the corpses according to historical records from Egypt ranged from 1070 BC to AD 395, indicating that these drugs were continuously available to some Egyptians for no less than 1,450 years. Investigators have since found evidence of the drugs in additional mummies from Egypt.

S. Balabanovea, F. Parsche, and W. Pirsig, "First identification of drugs in Egyptian mummies," Naturwissenschaften 79 (1992): 358.

A. G. Nerlich, F. Parsche, I. Wiest, P. Schramel, and U. LÃhrs, "Extensive pulmonary hemorrhage in an Egyptian mummy," Virchows Archiv 427/4 (1995): 423â"29; Franz Parsche and Andreas Nerlich, "Presence of drugs in different tissues of an Egyptian mummy," Fresenius' Journal of Analytical Chemistry 352 (1995): 380â"84.

Re:Mummy question (4, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890753)

While the chemical traces are intriguing... a complete and utter lack of corroborating evidence (I.E. remains of plants in the tombs, records of their growth, examples in tomb or temple paintings, surviving examples, etc. etc.) renders them suspect.
 
Hmm... a quick google search leads me to the page [byu.edu] you cut and pasted the above from - a page from an organization with a vested interest in finding evidence of cross pollination from the New World to the Old. I can find no other mentions of the first paper. The second paper, I can find references to - mostly defenses against debunkers, and curiously the defense consists mostly of "the chances of error are infinitesimal, and since the chances of error are so small we can assume that there are no errors".

Re:Mummy question (1)

Whorhay (1319089) | more than 5 years ago | (#26893069)

Actually BYU would if anything have a vested interest in showing that things from the old world arrived in the new world prior to Columbus, not so much the other way around. The Later Day Saints (Mormons) believe that several groups of people traveled from the old world at different times to inhabit the America's. In their teachings there is only one instance I can think of where a group possibly leaves the America's, but they never return which would be required for trade. And those mummies were supposedly from a very wide time frame.

Re:Mummy question (1)

Suicyco (88284) | more than 5 years ago | (#26895575)

Whats the big deal, are you so sure that over the thousands of years these civilizations existed, nobody ever made a boat trip across the atlantic?

They weren't about to paint their tombs with farm records. I'm sure all kinds of cross pollination happened all over the planet in the thousands and thousands of years these large trading civilizations existed. Why is that so amazing, unbelievable or even that interesting?

Just because some young civilization that now claims to have done everything first (europe) wants to be remembered as FIRST to cross the oceans, doesn't make it so. I'm sure the Egyptians, in all their many many years, could build some ships to make the journey. Entire Egyptian dynasties came and went in a time span dwarfing the few centuries that europe has been out of the stone age.

Re:Mummy question (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26896245)

Whats the big deal, are you so sure that over the thousands of years these civilizations existed, nobody ever made a boat trip across the atlantic?

No, I'm not 'so sure'. Nor am I so unintelligent as to assume that uncorroborated evidence has any value in determining whether they did or did not.
 
 

They weren't about to paint their tombs with farm records.

Which is an odd claim to make, since that is precisely what they did do. Not to mention the lack of the substances in question in their grave goods - which included everything earthly so they would have access to it in the afterlife.
 
 

I'm sure all kinds of cross pollination happened all over the planet in the thousands and thousands of years these large trading civilizations existed.

I'm sure the Egyptians, in all their many many years, could build some ships to make the journey.

All kinds of people are sure of all kinds of things - but being sure of them doesn't make them true. (And with the ships, you have the same problem as with the plants... a complete an utter lack of corroborating evidence.)
 
 

Entire Egyptian dynasties came and went in a time span dwarfing the few centuries that europe has been out of the stone age.

You haven't a clue what you are talking about.

Re:Mummy question (1)

Suicyco (88284) | more than 5 years ago | (#26897159)

Of course, because scribblings on tombs don't tell us the entire history of said civilization, then there cannot possibly be any events which aren't in full evidence.

Whatever, its all a big conspiracy and religious wackos are just trying to fool you. Its not like tobacco and coca were actually found on mummies or anything. Oh wait, they were.

We don't even have any idea exactly how the pyramids were built, or if they were built by slaves, or any number of things we do not know about their civilization from scratches on walls and dirt and graves. Just conjecture and supposition, with a great many competing hypothesis.

Does it even matter? Its interesting data, doesn't require an inquisition to proves its meaning. There are a great many things we will never, ever know about ancient egypt. Which is actually almost EVERYTHING about them. Deal with it.

Re:Mummy question (1)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26899355)

Whats the big deal, are you so sure that over the thousands of years these civilizations existed, nobody ever made a boat trip across the atlantic?

When two cultures interact it tends to leave a distinct mark in the archaeological record. People write about it, they talk about it, there's artifacts of foreign origin, and so on. The Akkadians wrote about contacts with the Indus valley civilization, and sure enough, they had Indus artifacts. During the Second Intermediate Period, Egyptians and Minoans were very friendly with one another: we know about it because they wrote about it and there are Egyptian artifacts in Crete and Cretan artifacts and building styles in Egypt.

I'm not saying that contact between the Old/New worlds didn't occur (in fact, it wasn't even an idea I'd ever heard of until a conversation I had with some dude I met on the bus last week, so I'm still trying to suss out its merits as an idea) but it is very anomalous that neither side would have seen fit to write about it (Well, the South Americans get a free pass here because AFAIK there were no literate societies in South America prior to European contact). Egypt is also very oddly placed to be conducting trade with the New World. Back in the day, Crete was far off and exotic, and that's not even halfway across the Mediterranean. So they crossed the entirety of the Mediterranean, entered the Atlantic (which would be mind-shatteringly strange to an Egyptian who's used to a narrow stretch of Nile and inhabitable soil around the Nile, and lots of desert everywhere else, certainly that would be worth talking about), crossed it, and found their way back?

The reverse makes even less sense. So some South Americans crossed the Atlantic, just happened to bump into the Pillars of Hercules, crossed the entirety of the Mediterranean without running into anybody but the Egyptians, who are on the far east side of the M-Sea, and conducted trade under NDA with them?

They weren't about to paint their tombs with farm records. I'm sure all kinds of cross pollination happened all over the planet in the thousands and thousands of years these large trading civilizations existed. Why is that so amazing, unbelievable or even that interesting?

The Egyptians were notorious bureaucrats. They wrote a lot more than just tomb curses. Any society where at the end of a battle they go 'round and count how many hands every soldier cut off is going to make a lot of written records. It would be both amazing and interesting because a cross-cultural contact of that distance at that level of technical development in either society would be very literally unprecedented.

Just because some young civilization that now claims to have done everything first (europe) wants to be remembered as FIRST to cross the oceans, doesn't make it so. I'm sure the Egyptians, in all their many many years, could build some ships to make the journey. Entire Egyptian dynasties came and went in a time span dwarfing the few centuries that europe has been out of the stone age.

Speaking as someone studying the history and geography of the ancient Near East and specifically focusing on Egyptians at the moment, I have to express a certain degree of skepticism. The Egyptians were shitty sailors. It's probably one of the reasons they were such good buddies with the Minoans- they were good at building river-craft and funerary vessels that are buried along with the pharoah, but if there's one thing the Egyptians were never known for, it's sailing around the open seas. Also, the average Egyptian dynasty lasted between 100-200 years, so you might want to revise that assertion. They had like 25 dynasties.

I dunno. I'm skeptical. It's not physically impossible but an old world/new world trade route, especially exclusive to Egypt, is so implausible I'd like to exhaust all other explanations other than "Aliens did it" before I settled on that.

Re:Mummy question (1)

Weedlekin (836313) | more than 5 years ago | (#26904143)

"AFAIK there were no literate societies in South America prior to European contact"

There were several literate South American societies, most (but not all) of whom used pictograms. A non-exhaustive list of known written languages is:

Aztec
Maya
Mixtec
Zapotec

Re:Mummy question (1)

Ian Alexander (997430) | more than 5 years ago | (#26923909)

That's funny, I thought the Aztec, Maya, Zapotec, and Mixtec all lived in North and Central America? I was assuming that since we were talking coca any proposed contact would be between South Americans and Egyptians because to the best of my knowledge coca is only found in S.A. (I don't know for a fact, I'm making a pseudo-educated guess) I'm very well aware of the existence of Native American writing systems- just not of any South American ones (excepting the quipu but since we don't even know how they worked and if they could contain linguistic information I don't think it's fair to say they count)

Re:Mummy question (1)

Weedlekin (836313) | more than 5 years ago | (#26927223)

"That's funny, I thought the Aztec, Maya, Zapotec, and Mixtec all lived in North and Central America?"

Aztec, Maya, Zapotec, and Mixtec are languages or language groups, not peoples, so they weren't only spoken / written by the people or in the region that _we've_ decided to name them after (nobody knows what their original names were, or for that matter, if they had a name). It should also be noted that the Mayas were present in Panama, which was also home to South American people such as the Chibchas, and Chibchas are known to have used coca (they considered it to be sacred).

"I was assuming that since we were talking coca any proposed contact would be between South Americans and Egyptians because to the best of my knowledge coca is only found in S.A"

The three highest alkaloid types of coca (there are around 250 species with varying levels of alkaloid) were originally from South America, but have been widely cultivated elsewhere. In the 1930s for example, the world's biggest producer was Japan, followed by the US, Germany, the UK, and France, with production in those countries eventually ceasing for legal rather than agricultural reasons. It's also been grown successfully in several Central American locations in post-Columbian times, so it's possible from a purely botanical perspective for pre-Coumbian peoples to have grown it there, although whether they actually did so (and indeed whether they knew about it) is of course another matter entirely.

"excepting the quipu but since we don't even know how they worked and if they could contain linguistic information I don't think it's fair to say they count"

The only ancient American writing system that's so far been (mostly) decoded is Maya, so the quipu are actually just part of a long list of not only American, but worldwide (potential) written languages that we're completely unable to read, and in many cases, positively identify as actually being writing. Sadly, despite our being able to read Maya, most of their writings were destroyed by the Spanish, including many valuable sources of information about their history and culture .

Re:Mummy question (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#26899577)

There are a few reasons that lead to believe that Egypt was not really an exploring nation with a big transatlantic trade concept.

First, it was an incredibly conservative society. Can you imagine art not changing for a millenium? Or writing? Could you credibly say you could read anything written before 1200? Hell, a lot of people have trouble understanding the basic concept of what Shakespeare tried to express, and he ain't THAT far removed. That's what stabilized them for so long, but that's also what made them fall in the end. But that's maybe the weakest reason.

A much stronger is that Egypt was not a big seafaring nation. IIRC (not an expert for ancient Egypt history) it was in the newer kingdom when the "sea people" invaded Egypt and succeeded to some extent, something that I would deem unlikely when Egypt, a nation that was still considered large and to some extent powerful, had any knowledge of high sea warfare, or at least navigation.

But they could still trade it with other people who do.

Again, unlikely. Something coming from SO far away would have been priceless. And whatever the Egyptians considered valuable, they took with them in their tombs. Gold, precious stones, sculptures. The only reason I could see why they didn't is that for some reason their religion considered those drugs "sins", and they didn't want to be caught with them in their afterlife. But then we'd probably get to hear about it in some scriptures telling people not to do them. Anyway, if those drugs were supposed to be present, not hearing about them or finding any trace of them can only mean that they were considered very, very illegal, to the point that talking about them was already a crime. After all, there are surviving criminal records, if it was "just" illegal, we'd probably find some records. If it was legal, why no gifts in the tombs?

So where do the drug mummies come from? Maybe they smoked something else that grows in the African jungle, a plant we don't know yet or that went extinct already. We have after all a few animals that populate in similar forms Africa and South America, whose ancestors developed before the continents separate. Why shouldn't plants exist that went down a similar road?

Re:Mummy question (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 5 years ago | (#26896285)

I.E. remains of plants in the tombs, records of their growth, examples in tomb or temple paintings, surviving examples, etc. etc.)

If they got hold of coca and/or tobacco as trade items ( i.e. bundled, dried leaves ), there's no reason to think they would have grown them or drawn pictures of them. I'm sure you've encountered a number of tobacco products in your life. Do you know what a tobacco plant looks like? Most people don't. Images of plants tend to be somewhat ambiguous, anyway.

Regardless of the veracity of the quote, it does say that tobacco remnants were found int he abdominal cavity of a mummy.

Anywho, the typical archaeological evidence for psychoactive plants are residues in pots -- which is certainly not a manner in which coca or tobacco is consumed today. You can find evidence of ayahuasca dating back thousands of years, because it's brewed in clay pots. However, you don't find much evidence of coca dating back thousands of years, because it's just consumed as a dried leaf. Leaves don't do a good job of hanging around for thousands of years. You look for pouches in graves or spit piles, if you're lucky.

Re:Mummy question (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26897617)

I.E. remains of plants in the tombs, records of their growth, examples in tomb or temple paintings, surviving examples, etc. etc.)

If they got hold of coca and/or tobacco as trade items ( i.e. bundled, dried leaves ), there's no reason to think they would have grown them or drawn pictures of them.

Quite the contrary - given the Egyptian's habits there is every reason to believe there would be pictures or drawings or some other account of the trade and consumption of the items. If they were used often enough for chemical traces to show up in the mummies, there's every reason to believe they would have been included in their grave goods.
 
Or to put it bluntly, for chemical traces to be present with no other evidence, and given the proclivity of the Egyptians to record and track their daily doings, and given the proclivity of the Egyptians to put things used in daily life into their tombs... the absence of things with regards to New World plants is very, very suspicious.
 
 

You can find evidence of ayahuasca dating back thousands of years, because it's brewed in clay pots. However, you don't find much evidence of coca dating back thousands of years, because it's just consumed as a dried leaf.

Which is important for the [New World] cultures from which those items originated - because we don't have the same level of archaeological evidence regarding those cultures as we do the ancient Egyptians. Not even a fraction.

Re:Mummy question (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 5 years ago | (#26897791)

Quite the contrary - given the Egyptian's habits there is every reason to believe there would be pictures or drawings or some other account of the trade and consumption of the items. If they were used often enough for chemical traces to show up in the mummies, there's every reason to believe they would have been included in their grave goods.

Show me some hieroglyphics of some common, everyday plants that Egyptians grew and ate, on a daily basis. Show the distinguishing features in the hieroglyphs that allow to you botanically identify the plants ( we likely aren't going to identify coca or tobacco by any name Egyptians may have given it. )

Or to put it bluntly, for chemical traces to be present with no other evidence, and given the proclivity of the Egyptians to record and track their daily doings, and given the proclivity of the Egyptians to put things used in daily life into their tombs... the absence of things with regards to New World plants is very, very suspicious.

Show me some hieroglyphics of Egyptians going to the bathroom or having sex. If there aren't any, I think it's highly suspicious that they engaged in either activity.

Re:Mummy question (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26899345)

Hint #1 - The Egyptians created images as well as describing them in text.
Hint #2 - We have archeological evidence of Egyptian sanitary practices, and their sexual practices should be obvious.

In other words, you're willing to make wild claims without knowing shit about archeology or evaluating archeological evidence. - and now insist I teach you. Fuck off.

Re:Mummy question (1)

nobody69 (116149) | more than 5 years ago | (#26903451)

The drug testing results are not as clear as what they may seem though.

Related plants can leave chemical traces that are close enough to give false positives, especially for a test that isn't designed to distinguish between them. Tobacco is part of the nightshade family, so related Old World plants might give a false positive. Mandrake can also leave similar chemical (iirc alkaloid) traces to those of cocaine.

Re:Mummy question (1)

Forty Two Tenfold (1134125) | more than 5 years ago | (#26888969)

"Autopsies performed on the remains of mummies show that they had cocaine alkaloids in their system, which means that the ancient Egyptians traveled to South America and back"

FTFY

In other words, part of South America might have traveled to Africa, no?

Re:Mummy question (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890095)

Occam's Razor suggests the simplest explanation would be that somehow seeds for these plants reached north Africa and the Egyptians began cultivating them. Meaning it is much more likely that a South American vessel made it to Africa than an African vessel made a round trip to South America and back. Also doesn't mean that the owners of the seeds survived the journey; if I was a member of an agrarian society found an obviously man-made (or perhaps god-made) package containing seeds washed up on my beach, probably the first thing I would do would be to cultivate them. Over thousands of years there have probably been hundreds of "message-in-a-bottle" type contacts between the continents.

It is also possible that the residues detected came from other, now extinct, species of plants. The Egyptians are frequently depicted with a lotus-like flower that apparently had narcotic properties and now cannot be found. But that explanation assumes the analysis done on the mummies was faulty, so the seed explanation is still the simplest.

Re:Mummy question (1)

tompaulco (629533) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890295)

Well, is it not also possible that the plants now found only in the Americas may once have existed in Egypt and died out when the climate changed (which it has significantly in the last few thousand years).

Re:Mummy question (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890823)

It is certainly possible that close relatives of the American plants once grew in Africa, and that now they have either become extinct or rare enough that they are uncatalogged. But after tens of thousands of years of independent existence, they would probably be classified as different species. As a bad analogy, North America had Equines and Camelids related to Asian horses and camels that went extinct (along with many other species) over 10,000 years ago. Human harvesting of these plants in the wild could even have been a contributing factor to their extinction. But I believe if the Egyptians were smart enough to use these plants for recreational use, then they should have been smart enough to cultivate them as well -- unless they were intentionally destroyed at some point by religious edict. Anything is possible in a culture going back over 5000 years.

Re:Mummy question (2, Funny)

wrfelts (950027) | more than 5 years ago | (#26892181)

But I believe if the Egyptians were smart enough to use these plants for recreational use , then they should have been smart enough to cultivate them as well...

"Dude, I think I smoked the last plant... ...bummer"

Re:Mummy question (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26895651)

Perhaps I am overestimating the rationality of the ancient Egyptians. After all, I have often wondered, "What the hell was the Easter Islander that cut down that last tree thinking?!?"

Re:Mummy question (1)

Weedlekin (836313) | more than 5 years ago | (#26904285)

"Human harvesting of these plants in the wild could even have been a contributing factor to their extinction. But I believe if the Egyptians were smart enough to use these plants for recreational use, then they should have been smart enough to cultivate them as well"

I presume you mean that they were smarter than the Romans, whose recreational use of the European lion in their arenas was an important factor in its extinction.

Re:Mummy question (1)

jericho4.0 (565125) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891575)

If you can figure out how to grow coca anywhere but the Andes, you could be very wealthy.

Re:Mummy question (3, Funny)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26893033)

Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?

Re:Mummy question (2, Funny)

AnotherAnonymousUser (972204) | more than 5 years ago | (#26897001)

Are you suggesting coca nuts migrate?

There. Fixed that for you :p.

Re:Mummy question (1)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 5 years ago | (#26897177)

Ha ha! That's worth some mod points, but you'll have to get them from someone else.

Re:Mummy question (4, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889485)

Well, the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl (http://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Thor_Heyerdahl) believed that it was possible for the ancient Egyptians to sail to South America. He built a raft out of papyrus reeds and had a couple of goes at it, himself.

Whether the ancient Egyptians actually undertook such a journey, and came back with their luggage stuffed with cocaine, is a matter for pure speculation.

Re:Mummy question (2, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890129)

He more than had a "couple of goes at it": on his second attempt he succeeded in traveling from Morocco to Barbados.

Re:Mummy question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26892129)

People have settled places like Hawaii on nothing but hollowed out logs and perhaps some crude sails, why couldn't they have traveled between continents semi-regularly in pre-Columbian times?

I wouldn't be too suprised if not only was South America originally settled from the North American continent, but also from Southeast Asia/Polynesia and parts of Africa during the same exact timeframe. If you can live ok on fish and stores in gourds or pottery for a good while, and can row and/or sail a hollowed out log or reed raft around, you can go places. (Carry a non-flammable slab of stone around and gather any wood drifing by, and you can cook your food out at sea too.)

Back on the topic, there may actually have been some chance documentation of the trade, but we'll never know since Alexandria burned.

Re:Mummy question (1)

Weedlekin (836313) | more than 5 years ago | (#26904385)

"we'll never know since Alexandria burned"

I presume you mean the Library of Alexandria, which did indeed burn. Alexandria itself fell over and sank in an earthquake.

Re:Mummy question (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891789)

Perhaps South America is Atlantis, and it merely disappeared into the depths of history.

Can't...Stop....the ....Asshattery (1)

rts008 (812749) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890119)

Their Mummy was a crack ho?

I heard they would do anything for a 20-rock!

Re:Can't...Stop....the ....Asshattery (5, Funny)

david@ecsd.com (45841) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890345)

I believe her name was Crackhotep.

Re:Mummy question (1)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890603)

Well, there's only one way to really interpret that - or rather several ways which result in the same basic idea holding true. It does not necessarily mean that Egyptians were there; it could also mean that they traded with North America.

Remember, the Egyptian trade routes were extensive. It's been acknowledged within the scientific community that they traded with the Far East. If some of the legends hold any credence (Plato's Atlantis), then it is likely there was also a substantial sea trade route at the time. This was long before the "mini-Ice Age" which resulted in a general decline in society, and a loss of knowledge.

I think we in modern societies tend to prefer to think that ancient civilizations were stupid and unadvanced compared to us. Maybe the word should be "unevolved". I don't think this is true, at all. They may not have had iPod addictions, but they were certainly capable of having addictions to pot, chocolate, and tobacco - and as anyone knows, acquiring drugs is pretty trivial for some folks. :P

The boy who cried "Zombie" (2, Funny)

Roberticus (1237374) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889435)

Great. Now that we've been desensitized by hacked road signs warning about phony zombie attacks, no one is going to believe it when the signs say "IRRADIATED MUMMIES AHEAD! RUN!"

...Killing any hope of future research (1)

nadamucho (1063238) | more than 5 years ago | (#26889569)

I can just see the headline here next year: Cloning mummy DNA impossible because we doused it with too much radiation

Wow .. my job is simple (3, Interesting)

DigitalDreg (206095) | more than 5 years ago | (#26890185)

Every once in a while I read something that I just can't believe, and I have to run to Wikipedia to do some background reading. Synchrotron radiation was one of those things for me ...

It makes my day job seem trivial.

Re:Wow .. my job is simple (1)

blueg3 (192743) | more than 5 years ago | (#26892133)

You should try working at one of those things. It gives you an appreciation for, say, the LHC being so difficult to get running properly.

As an experimenter, I got to work 18-hour/day shifts for a week in a very loud environment where false alarms go off frequently and the equipment often simply stops working. The results were very cool, though.

Re:Wow .. my job is simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26898939)

Trivial? How does this sound: cut out 15 very tiny strips of kapton tape (10 min). Weigh each Piece of Tape to the nearest ten micrograms (5 min, each strip). Use little rubber thingies to smudge your mummy sample evenly and lightly onto your kapton tape strips (5 min, each strip). Reweigh each strip to the nearest ten micrograms (5 min, each strip). Curse every god imaginable because you're short on mummy sample and it's throwing off your absorption length...fold the strips over to try and correct (30 minutes). Repeat for the next mummy sample. Repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat.

This is x-ray synchrotron radiation studies. I promise you're having more fun. You do get to talk to real people, right?

Re:Wow .. my job is simple (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 5 years ago | (#26899911)

I work next door to the Synchrotron facility of Grenoble, in another lab. That device is so popular that it runs 24/7, with experimenters coming from all over the world to use it for the widest range of uses: crystallography, analysis of paintings, palimpsests, archeology datation, detection of faults in materials... The uses are endless and the people who get a go at it sleep in the bowels of the machine for days or even weeks when they get a time slot.

No Flash Photography, Please. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26890617)

I guess they didn't read the sign in the museum lobby...

Actually they do permit flash, but it's funny when they don't, and try to come up with "reasons".

stash things inside their statues? (1)

jericho4.0 (565125) | more than 5 years ago | (#26891671)

I make it a habit to break every statue I find past level 5.

Re:stash things inside their statues? (1)

smaerd (954708) | more than 5 years ago | (#26892101)

Force bolt works pretty well for that.
Good source of spellbooks.
Although I always read them before BUC testing them and end up blind... and then eaten.

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26893991)

Actually, the device is just a synchrotron, a ring that keeps charged particles moving in circles and shakes them from time to time to ensure that they emit a great amount of X rays. 99.9% of the time it will be used for things such as analyzing materials grown by research groups in their laboratories, or determining the structure of big proteins. I guess that, sure, you can stick archeological samples to get information on chemical composition/structure of the materials used, but unfortunately the problem of extracting historical knowledge out of it will be solved by archeologists and not materials scientists :(

It is a nice way of selling a really expensive device, though. I could only think of dinosaurs as bigger sellers.

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