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December 11 2014

Mongol-smashing Kamikaze typhoons may have been genuine


Near the end of the 13th century, the emperor Kublai Khan and his Mongol Empire were gearing up to invade Japan. They had more boats, more men, and had already conquered a large part of China; but according to Japanese legend, massive typhoons powered by the divine Kamikaze winds smashed the Mongolian fleet in 1274 and again in 1281.


Alt: “Kamikaze” Typhoons Reflected in Japanese Lake Sediments

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December 11 2014

Drugs in Early Americas Included 'Magic' Mushrooms and Toad Skins


From hallucinogenic mushrooms and cacti to alcohol-infused enemas and psychoactive dried toad skins, the array of consciousness-altering substances that people in the early Americas used was wider than thought, a new report suggests.

People living in Mesoamerica before the arrival of Europeans used such psychotropic drugs primarily in medicine and religious rituals, said study author Francisco Javier Carod-Artal of Hospital Virgen de la Luz in Cuenca, Spain. (Mesoamerica is a region defined more by shared cultures than by geographical boundaries, but it can roughly be considered as the southernmost region of North America.

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December 11 2014

Bunny-Size Dinosaur Was First of Its Kind in America


A tiny horned skull discovered 17 years ago has now been named Aquilops americanus, and marks the earliest arrival of horned dinosaurs in North America.

The fossil skull is the oldest definitive evidence of a ceratopsian, the group of horned dinosaurs that includes Triceratops, on the continent. Paleontologists describe the dinosaur Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.

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December 11 2014

Feathered Fossils Give Scaly Dinosaurs a Makeover


Which came first, the feathers or the birds? Feathers first, scientists now say definitively. Yet this feathery revelation doesn't arise from discoveries of ancient birds, but of birds' ancestors—dinosaurs.

At a recent Berlin conference, scientists celebrated continuing revelations from the most famous feathered dinosaur, Archaeopteryx, in the city where the most complete specimen resides. Long considered the "first bird," it lived 150 million years ago and sparked the notion that birds are the living remnants of the dinosaur line, intriguing even Darwin.

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December 11 2014

Dappled Horse Paintings Decoded by DNA


Genetic material from the bones and teeth of wild horses, some of which died more than 20,000 years ago, has answered a longstanding debate about some Paleolithic cave artists: Were these ancient painters realists, depicting the natural world they saw around them, or did they portray more imaginative representations?

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December 11 2014

The surprising origins of Europeans


The answers to the human past are out there, hidden in the DNA of bones in ancient burial mounds and unmarked graves.

Increasingly, those answers are coming to light as geneticists at Harvard and elsewhere employ sophisticated methods to extract that DNA and make it readable despite the ravages of time.

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December 10 2014

2,400-Year-Old Coffin's 'Odd' Art Hints at Ancient Egypt's Brain Drain


TORONTO — An ancient Egyptian coffin with strange and amateurish decorations has been revealed, shedding light on a tumultuous period in Egyptian history when the Persian Empire was in control of the region.

In 525 B.C., Persian King Cambyses marched into Memphis, the Egyptian capital, inaugurating a period of Persian rule that would last for more than a century. The Persian Empire was a vast entity that stretched from modern-day Afghanistan to the west coast of Turkey. Ancient texts say that the Persian kings deported Egyptian artists and used them for building projects in Persia.

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December 10 2014

Harking back: the ancient pagan festivities in our Christmas rituals


In the movie The Life of Brian (1979), Reg, played by John Cleese, asks fellow members of the People’s Front of Judea:

"apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health; what have the Romans ever done for us?"

“Brought peace” is the answer he receives.
In hindsight, Christmas could be added to the list.

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December 10 2014

Investigating Pre-Christian Santa Folklore - Magic Mushrooms & Santa


In his book, Mushrooms and Mankind, late author James Arthur points out that amanita muscaria, also known as fly agaric, lives throughout the Northern Hemisphere under conifers and birch trees, with which the fungi —which is deep red with white flecks — has a symbiotic relationship. This partially explains the practice of the Christmas tree, and the placement of bright red-and-white presents underneath, which look like Amanita mushrooms, he wrote.

As convincing as the theory may be, many historians and anthropologists disagree with the Amanita shamanic version of Santa Claus, and claim that our current depiction of the jolly old man has in fact evolved from a 4th century Greek-Christian bishop named Saint Nicholas, who was known for his generous gifts to the poor.

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December 10 2014

Poisonous mushrooms could be key to drugs without side effects


Some species of mushroom are perfectly safe to eat, but others that look very similar can land you in the hospital or worse. In studying how these fungi manage to be so poisonous, a team of Michigan State University researchers may have found a way to create a new generation of pharmaceuticals with highly targeted effects. Imagine chemotherapy drugs with no side effects, or antibacterial agents that can clear out severe infections without damaging other tissues. That’s what poisonous mushrooms could do for medicine.

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December 10 2014

Laughing all the way ... out of depression


The dentist's office might be the last place you'd look to find a quick cure for an implacable bout of depression. But new research suggests that laughing gas -- the mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen that eases the pain and anxiety of having dental work -- may help banish treatment-resistant depression in about the time it takes to fill a cavity.

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December 10 2014

Bouncy Gait Improves Mood


A good mood may put a spring in your step. But the opposite can work too: purposefully putting a spring in your step can improve your mood. That’s the finding from a study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.

Scientists showed volunteers a list of negative and positive words, like afraid and anxious, or sunny and pretty. Then the subjects had to walk on a treadmill while watching a gauge that moved left or right.

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December 10 2014

Special K, a Hallucinogen, Raises Hopes and Concerns as a Treatment for Depression


It is either the most exciting new treatment for depression in years or it is a hallucinogenic club drug that is wrongly being dispensed to desperate patients in a growing number of clinics around the country.

It is called ketamine — or Special K, in street parlance.


Related: Why Painful Memories Linger

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December 10 2014

Animals that self-medicate


Many animal species have created their own pharmacies from ingredients that commonly occur in nature.

Birds, bees, lizards, elephants, and chimpanzees all share a survival trait: They self-medicate. These animals eat things that make them feel better, or prevent disease, or kill parasites like flatworms, bacteria, and viruses, or just to aid in digestion. Even creatures with brains the size of pinheads somehow know to ingest certain plants or use them in unusual ways when they need them.

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December 10 2014

Fish Smell Like the Coral They Eat—Disguise Is New to Science


Now this is one fish that would beat you in a game of hide-and-seek. New research shows coral-dwelling filefish camouflage themselves by not only looking, but also smelling like their prey.

Orange-spotted filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris), which feed exclusively on Acropora corals in Australia, ingest chemicals in the corals that cause them to take on the scent of their food. This hides the filefish from their own predators, such as cod.

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December 10 2014

Parents with a Strong Bond Hatch Fearless Chicks


Personality is written not just in the genes, but in the egg yolk. It can even come from the kind of relationship that exists between an animal’s parents. Researchers found new evidence for this when they played matchmaker for several dozen quail. Even though the eggs were taken from their parents before hatching, bird couples in committed relationships had chicks with markedly different behaviors than couples who only dated.

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December 10 2014

Seeing Cuteness Improves Our Performance, Study Finds


In my first year of high school, I brought small plastic toys to school during tests. You know… for luck. I would set up the figurines in a row on my desk, facing me, and then get busy with answering exam questions. My collection raised eyebrows in a couple of teachers (probably like yours are now raised)—but there were no real complaints. So I formed a habit and brought the toys throughout the school year. I usually got good grades, though I never really truly thought that the toys had anything to do with it… except for maybe providing me with a mental safety blanket during a stressful time. That is, until now.

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