Friday, March 25, 2011
In a twelfth-century map contained with other miscellaneous material at the front of an English Computus manuscript, the marginalization of the British Isles reaches new heights. Here, Britannia actually lies within the double-lined border which marks the rim of the world. Hybernia and the semi-mythical island of Thule (variously identified as the Shetlands, Iceland or Norway) are drawn outside this rim, literally beyond the pale. They are the only regions to receive this treatment and in comparison with genuinely remote places like Africa and Asia, they seem—like the giants dwelling in the fens—to be forcefully excluded from the bounds of civilization. These notions are even reflected in a simple T-O list map in a tenth-century Anglo-Saxon manuscript of Isidore’s De natura rerum, which for a time was “patriotically reattributed to Gildas.” Here, the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe are neatly delineated by the ruled lines of the ‘T.’ The continents are filled with lists of countries, and, in the context established above, it seems more than chance that Brittania and Hybernia are situated as the last two lands in Europe, with the exception of the seemingly misplaced ‘Australia,’ or ‘Southern Land.’ Even in this simple, textual format, the British Isles have been shunted to the end of the list and, by implication, to the ends of the earth. Evelyn Edson points out an “oddity” in this map; Europe and Africa have been reversed. This may bear significance, as the T-O format was often connected to the body of Christ. From at least the ninth century, onward, “the idea of the T as a crucifix superimposed on the spherical earth, symbolizing its salvation by Christ’s sacrifice,” was common.
This idea was dramatically represented on the two of the great mappaemundi, or world maps: Hereford and Ebstorf. Hereford is capped with and image of Christ in judgment. He raises his hands to display the stigmata, the signs of the suffering he undertook to redeem mankind. Following the usual configuration, to Christ’s right we find the souls of the saved being led upward by an angel into the gates of Heaven while, to Christ’s left, we find the damned, ensnared in a ring of rope by a pair of devils who pull them downward toward the toothy mouth of Hell. In case we are unsure of the fate of these souls, angels hold out scrolls to clarify their respective destinations. On Christ’s right, “Rise—you will come to perpetual bliss,” and on his left, “Rise—you are going to the fire prepared in Hell.” Below these scenes, on Christ’s right we find Christian Europe and on his left, the monstrous races of Africa. On the Ebstorf map, Christ’s left hand, with which he damns the souls of the wicked at the Last Judgment, bursts out of the midst of southern Africa, teeming with monstrous, possibly soulless races of men. The implications of salvation and damnation seem clear. On the right, where Christ’s blessing hand is located, we would expect to find Britain. However, on the Ebstorf map, the British Isles have been shifted west, thrust almost under Christ’s feet, far from the North Pole. Since the islands appear much farther north on most mappaemundi, it seems possible that the creator of the Ebstorf map has consciously driven Britain from the hand which brings salvation. What, then, has been implied in the text-filled Isidore map, in which Europe has been shifted to the traditional place of Africa? Has the English artist cast himself and his countrymen down Hell’s eager gullet?
Monday, March 21, 2011
The Great Serpent Mound is a 1,330-foot-long, three-foot-high prehistoric effigy mound located on a plateau of the Serpent Mound crater along Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio. Maintained within a park by the Ohio Historical Society, it has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of Interior. The Serpent Mound of Ohio was first reported from surveys by Ephraim Squire and Edwin Davis in their historic volume Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, published in 1848 by the newly founded Smithsonian Museum.
Researchers have attributed construction of the mound to three different prehistoric indigenous cultures. Based on the use of more advanced technology, including carbon dating and evidence from 1996 studies, many scholars now believe that members of the Fort Ancient culture built it about 1070 CE (plus or minus 70 years). There are still anomalies to be studied. Serpent Mound is the largest serpent effigy in the world.
Dún Aonghasa is the most famous of several prehistoric forts on the Aran Islands, of County Galway, Ireland. It is located on Inishmore at the edge of an approximately 100 metre high cliff.A popular tourist attraction, Dún Aonghasa is an important archaeological site that also offers a spectacular view. It is not known when Dún Aonghasa was built, though it is now thought to date from the Iron Age.T. F. O'Rahilly surmised that it was built in the second century B.C. by the Builg following the Laginian conquest of Connacht.
Dún Aonghasa has been called "the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe." The Proto-Celtic name, meaning "Fort of Aonghas", refers to the pre-Christian god of the same name described in Irish mythology, or the mythical king, Aonghus mac Úmhór.
Sigiriya (Lion's rock)
Sigiriya (Lion's rock) is an ancient rock fortress and palace ruin situated in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. A popular tourist destination, Sigiriya is also renowned for its ancient paintings (frescos), which are reminiscent of the Ajanta Caves of India. The Sigiriya was built during the reign of King Kassapa I (AD 477 – 495), and it is one of the seven World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.
Sigiriya may have been inhabited through prehistoric times. It was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 5th century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees to the Buddhist Sangha. The garden and palace were built by King Kasyapa. Following King Kasyapa's death, it was again a monastery complex up to about the 14th century, after which it was abandoned. . The Sigiri inscriptions were deciphered by the archaeologist Senarath Paranavithana in his renowned two-volume work, published by Oxford, Sigiri Graffiti. He also wrote the popular book "Story of Sigiriya".
Discovered by Englishman Robert Sherley in 1598 while on a diplomatic mission to Persia, the Behistun Rock is a multilingual inscription authored by Darius the Great. The inscription begins with Darius’ autobiography and goes on to describe several events following the deaths of Cyrus the Great and Cambyses II. Much like the Rosetta Stone, the Behistun Rock includes the same passage in three cuneiform script languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian. The text was translated in stages by Georg Friedrich Grotefend (Old Persian), Sir Henry Rawlinson, Edward Hincks, Julius Oppert, William Henry Fox Talbot and Edwin Norris.
Not only does the inscription give us a look into the mind of Darius the Great, but it was also instrumental in opening up the cuneiform script. Archeologists gained a greater understanding of civilizations like Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Akkadia, Persia and Assyria by being able to decipher cuneiform.
In 1898, a Swedish American farmer named Olof Öhman claims to have discovered a large stone while clearing his land of trees and stumps. The object was attached to the roots of a small tree. Öhman didn’t realize what he had discovered, so he took the 200 pound stone to the prominent citizens of Kensington. Kensington was a settlement in Douglas County, Minnesota. The Kensington Runestone is full of ancient writing and carved text. It is thirty-one inches high, sixteen inches wide, and six inches thick. Nine years after the discovery of the artifact, Hjalmer R. Holand from Wisconsin University announced that he had deciphered the writings. He claims the text to read “8 Goths and 22 Norwegians on exploration journey from Vinland over the west. We camp by 2 skerries one day-journey from this stone. We were and fished one day. After we came home, 10 men red with blood and tortured. Hail Virgin Mary, save from evil. Have 10 men by the sea to look after our ship, 14 day -journeys from this island year 1362.”
After Holand published his findings, a massive investigation was conducted. If the translation is correct, the Kensington Runestone would provide evidence that Scandinavian explorers reached the middle of North America in the 14th century, nearly 130 years before Christopher Columbus. Basically, it raised eyebrows over the possibility that North European explorers predated Columbus in America. The runestone has been analyzed and dismissed repeatedly. Almost all runologists and linguists consider the artifact to be a hoax. However, many people believe it is authentic. If the legend on the stone is true, it means that Vikings were in central Minnesota in 1362. That would require a major rewriting of world history and geography. The Kensington inscription consists of thirty different runic characters.
In July 2000, just over a hundred years after the Kensington Runestone was found, a detailed physical analysis of the artifact was conducted. In November 2000, geologist Scott F. Wolter presented preliminary findings suggesting the stone had undergone an in-the-ground weathering process of a minimum of 50–200 years in natural conditions. Scott F. Wolter has written a number of books on the Kensington Runestone. He has suggested that the stone was made by the Vikings Knight Templar in 1362, fifty years after the dissolution of the Knight Templar and several hundred years after the end of the Viking age. He also claims that the North American expedition helped Columbus find his way around the West Indies in 1492. The artifact remains a mystery. You can view it at the Runestone Museum in downtown Alexandria, Minnesota.
The Acámbaro Figures are a collection of small ceramic figurines allegedly found in Acámbaro, Guanajuato, Mexico. They were discovered by Waldemar Julsrud in July of 1944. According to accounts, Julsrud stumbled upon the artifacts while riding his horse in the Acámbaro area. He hired a local farmer to dig up the remaining figures, paying him for each object he found. Eventually, the farmer and his assistants discovered over 32,000 figures, which included representations of everything from dinosaurs to people from all over the world, including Egyptians, Sumerians, and bearded Caucasians. The Acámbaro Figures have been cited as out of place artifacts, as they are clearly human made and portray a large variety of dinosaur species. According to all history books, humans did not live in the time of the dinosaurs. Upon the discovery of the figures, many creationists from all over the world proclaimed the artifacts legitimate. If these figures are genuine, it could stand as credible evidence for the coexistence of dinosaurs and humans, which would severely damage the theory of evolution and offer support for the literal interpretation of the Bible.
Attempts have been made to date these figures using Thermoluminescence, or TL dating, and the results suggested a date around 2500 BCE. A man named Don Patton claims he found radiocarbon dates for the figures ranging from 6500 years to 1500 years ago; however, the objects are in very good shape and show no characteristic evidence of having been in the ground for at least 1500 years. If they were authentic artifacts, they should be scratched and marred from the rocky soil, which is characteristic of other objects found in that area of Mexico. Other supporters of the figures claim that the incredible detail of the dinosaurs suggest a firsthand experience with the creatures. The sheer number of the figures discovered is often cited as evidence for a hoax. To date, no credible scholars of archaeology or paleontology accept the discovery as valid.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Gondolin by John Blanche
ECTHELION SLAYS ORCOBAL - illustration by Tom Loback
Ecthelion, Lord of the Fountain a great champion of the hidden city of Gondolin, who also later slew Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, Captain of the Hosts of Angband as told in 'The Fall of Gondolin' in Lost Tales II.
Down below the Tumladen Vale
And up above a ring of shale,
High walls of cliffs so very sheer
Protects a city shining; Dear.
They live undaunted for fear of foe
And live their lives nay gripped by woe.
The Founding of Gondolin
Turgon, the King of Gondolin, was son of Fingolfin and younger brother to Fingon. He ruled in the land of Nevrast for some time until the day when Ulmo led him to the valley known as Tumladen, concealed within the mighty encircling mountains. Here, the magnificent beauty that had been carved many a year ago bewildered him. Turgon desired to build a hidden city upon the small hill that lay in the middle of the valley - Amon Gwareth.
Fifty-two years in the making, the city stood as a hidden pinnacle of might and home to many of the Noldor and Sindar that traveled from Nevrast. Turgon named the city Ondolinde- ‘The Rock of the Music of Water’ for the fountains and springs from Amon Gwareth ran like a beautiful music which echoed in the valley of Tumladen; yet the Sindar dubbed the city Gondolin ‘The Hidden Rock’ of which its foundations were based. The city was nearly as great as that of Tirion - the city of the elves of Aman...
The Surrounding Land
Gondolin was set in a secret valley among the Echoriath; the Encircling Mountains. The southernmost of these mountains were named the Crissaegrim, for this is where the eagles of Manwë dwelt. The valley was named the Vale of Tumladen, and in its centre stood a flat-topped hill called Amon Gwareth, or the Hill of Watch, which rose 400 feet from the valley floor. The sides of the hill were steep and almost impossible to climb, especially towards the north.
Ulmo was a Valar - the Lord of the waters. He loved the Noldor and protected them from the shadows of the North. Very rarely did Ulmo appear in front of the elves and less so in front of men! It was Ulmo who suggested to Turgon to move his people from the land of Nevrast and seek refuge by building a city concealed from Morgoths eyes. Once built Ulmo foretold to Turgon:
‘Remember that the true hope of the Noldor lieth in the West and cometh from the Sea. When Peril is nigh one shall come from Nevrast to warn thee…’
The Hidden Way
The only way to reach Gondolin on foot was to locate the Hidden Way, a tunnel in the Echoriath that was protected by Ulmo so that only those of the Gondolin could find it. The tunnel was originally excavated by the river that flowed out of the Vale of Tumladen. It was eventually enlarged slightly by the Gondolindrim so that the Elves could pass through it. At the end of the tunnel, but still underground, lay the first of the Seven Gates of Gondolin.
The City of Gondolin
The city was built of stone and was filled with houses, fountains and paved streets. It was dominated by the Tower of Turgon that rose 400 feet above the city in the central square in front of the palace. The streets of Gondolin were wide and paved with marble and many gardens produced a splendid colour. The fountains were plentiful not only in the squares but in houses and courtyards. The fountain in the King’s Square was the greatest of all.
Hunters migrating from Asia across the Bering Land Bridge.When glaciers form, they freeze up vast quantities of water that would otherwise return to the oceans. This causes water levels to go down, and as the waters recede, land that was once under water becomes exposed. Scientists believe that glacial periods beginning about one hundred thousand years ago created a sea level that was 300 to 400 feet (91 to 122 meters) lower than present-day sea level. They theorize that the low water level exposed a vast land bridge spanning the distance across the Bering Strait, from Siberia in northern Russia to the northwest tip of North America (present-day Alaska). The land bridge, called Beringia, probably remained exposed until about twelve thousand years ago. Then it vanished beneath the rising waters as the Great Ice Age ended.
Since the Europeans first arrived in the Western Hemisphere, people have been interested in the origins of the natives of the land. In 1589 José de Acosta (1539–1600), a Jesuit missionary (a member of the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus, a religious order dedicated to spreading the Roman Catholic religion) stationed in South America, theorized that the first Americans had migrated on a route by land from Siberia. At that time the Bering Sea had not yet been discovered. In the late 1800s scientists expanded this theory, suggesting that human hunters might have followed big game from Siberia out onto a land bridge spanning the Bering Sea between Siberia and Alaska and then continued across present-day Alaska and farther into the Americas.
Until the 1920s most people thought the land bridge migration had taken place between four thousand and six thousand years earlier. Then, in 1926, a cowboy in Folsom, New Mexico, discovered a stone spear point embedded in the rib cage of a type of bison that has been extinct for nearly ten thousand years. This proved that human hunters had been living in North America for at least ten thousand years. Ten years later, in Clovis, New Mexico, stone spear points were found in the remains of a mammoth. These remains were discovered in a layer of earth that was deeper than the site of the Folsom spear points, indicating that they came from an even earlier age. The older spear points, which came to be known as Clovis points, were radiocarbon-dated (tested for carbon 14 level to see how old they were) and found to be about 11,500 years old. After the first of these spear points were found, many more Clovis points and tool kits were discovered throughout North America. The sharpened rocks, attached to lances or spears for hunting, could be easily identified because they were fluted or grooved at the base and showed remarkable craftsmanship. They proved that humans had been living throughout the area that is now the United States and parts of Central America since at least 9000 B.C.E. For several decades most scientists thought that the Clovis points signaled the earliest period of human life in the Americas. This later became known as the “Clovis First” theory.
From the late 1950s to the recent past, most scholars accepted the theory that the first people in the Americas migrated from northeast Asian areas such as China, Siberia, and Mongolia. People from these regions were very specialized ice age hunters, who had developed a nomadic lifestyle, following big game wherever the animals roamed. According to the theory, within about one thousand years, the American continents—from Canada to the southernmost tip of South America—were populated with these big game hunters, who gradually developed into what is now called the Clovis culture. (A culture is the arts, language, beliefs, customs, institutions, and other products of human work and thought shared by a group of people at a particular time.)
The Aztec city of Tenochtitlán was surrounded by Lake Texcoco and connected to the mainland by bridge-like roads.
In the years before the Spanish invaded the Americas, some thirty civilizations rose and fell in Mesoamerica, each with its own distinct languages, religious customs, and artistic styles, but still sharing in many general Mesoamerican traditions. The first of the civilizations to arise, as far as scholars know, was the Olmec (pronounced OLE-meck) culture, which flourished from about 1200 B.C.E. to 1200 C.E. (some new evidence suggests that it may have arisen much earlier). The Zapotec people of ancient Oaxaca (pronounced wah- HAH-kah), Mexico, existed at about the same time as the Olmec. A people known as the Teotihuacáns (pronounced TAY-uh-tee-wah-KAHNS), or lords of Teotihuacán, began building the first true city in Mesoamerica around the first century C.E. The great, peaceful cultural center of Teotihuacán (Place of the Gods) survived for about six centuries before it collapsed sometime after 750 C.E. One of its outstanding features is the 200-foot-high (61- meter-high) Pyramid of the Sun, the largest stone pyramid in all of pre-Columbian (existing before Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492) America and the third tallest pyramid of the ancient world.
The Pyramid of the Magician in Uxmal, Mexico, is a stunning example of Maya advancement in architecture.
The Maya (pronounced MY-uh) civilization of Mesoamerica grew out of a very early agricultural way of life, beginning around 2500 B.C.E. The Maya built great cities with stunning temples and pyramids throughout southern Mesoamerica. Maya priests and scholars, both men and women, were numerous, and they studied such subjects as astronomy, astrology, and mathematics. They developed the only complete writing system, in which the written text could fully reproduce the spoken language, in the ancient Americas. Most of the Maya civilization had collapsed before the Spaniards arrived in Central America and Mexico in the early sixteenth century. What was left of the great civilization was destroyed by the Spanish, who demolished Maya cities, burned the written records kept by the Maya, and forced the people to convert to Christianity. The Maya people still live in Central America in the twenty-first century, retaining their culture as farmers and artisans.
In about 950 C.E., the Toltecs (pronounced TOHLtecks), a warlike people, took control of many of the Maya regions and other parts of Mesoamerica. They brought with them the culture of the earlier Teotihuacán peoples. Then, in the thirteenth century, the Aztecs arrived in the Valley of Mexico, a huge, oval basin at about 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) above sea level in north central Mexico, covering an area of about 3,000 square miles (7,770 square kilometers) and consisting of some of the most fertile land of Mexico. They were such a nuisance with their raiding and stealing that the residents of the valley banished them to an island in the center of Lake Texcoco, which they fortified and used as a base of operation. On the island they built their own magnificent city, Tenochtitlán. The Aztecs continued to wage war on the other communities in the Valley of Mexico, and eventually established an empire that extended well beyond the valley. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the Aztec emperor Montezuma II (pronounced mohk-the-ZOO-mah; 1466–1520) ruled over a very large and powerful Aztec empire.
Collection: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection Author: Ziegler, J. M. Attributed Author: Ritter, Carl Date: 1864
Two of the founders of modern geography, Humboldt (1769-1859) and Karl Ritter (1779-1859), were associated with the great cartographic publishing house of Justus Perthes in Gotha. In 1806 Ritter, who was especially interested in geographic education, published a generalized map of Europe in which he rendered particular altitude zones by means of bands of gray decreasing in intensity with elevation. Although not strictly a hypsometric tint map Ritter's map systematically employs the convention by which the higher the altitude, the lighter the tone used. The opposite method-that is, increasing intensity of tone with elevation-had been employed in a very generalized hypsometric map of the world by Johan August Zeune (1778-1853) published in 1804. Later the Austrians Franz von Hauslaub (1798-1883) and Karl Peuker (1859-1940) developed the conventional layer (color) tint system now most commonly employed. This method, in which green is used for the lowest elevations followed by yellows at intermediate altitudes and brown at the highest peaks, was suggested by the humid European landscape and is not so suitable in all situations, especially mid- and low-latitude deserts.
Humboldt occupied a particularly influential position in the world of science in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was personally acquainted with many of the greatest thinkers of his time and became a statesman of science. Humboldt's early work was in mineralogy, chemistry, and botany, but later he embraced a wide range of knowledge, including physics, oceanography, and climatology, in his research. It was in the last of these fields of study that he made his most original contribution to cartography. But before devising his landmark map of isotherms (lines of equal average temperature), Humboldt journeyed extensively in the Americas with the French medical doctor and botanist Aime Bonpland. They were given permission to travel and to make scientific observations in the Spanish empire and left La Coruiia in 1799, when, ironically, Malaspina was languishing in jail in the same Spanish city. After his arrival in what is now Venezuela, Humboldt was able to confirm the existence of and to map the Casiquiare Channel, which connects Orinoco and Amazon drainage. Humboldt and Bonpland then went to Columbia and, via the Magdalena River, on to Ecuador, where they climbed nearly to the summit of Chimborazo (6,267 meters), believed to be the highest ascent by humans up to that time. More mapping was accomplished before they left for Mexico (New Spain), where Humboldt was impressed by the quality of training received by topographical engineers in the Viceroyalty, half of which was soon to be taken over by the United States. It was in Mexico City, with access to great archival resources, that Humboldt compiled his "Map of New Spain," the best delineation of Central and North America (from 15 to 40 degrees north latitude, and from 90 to 115 degrees west longitude) made up to that time, based on astronomical observations. On their way home to France in 1804 Humboldt and Bonpland visited President Jefferson in Washington, where, unwittingly, they provided cartographic intelligence on Mexico shortly to be of great value to the United States. Jefferson, following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, had just dispatched Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838) overland to the Pacific Northwest in an exploration lasting from 1804 to 1806. Information from the sketch maps of these explorers was later incorporated into more general works such as Samuel Louis's "A Map of Lewis and Clark's Track, across the Western Portion of North America from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean," published in Philadelphia (1814).
Humboldt's map of New Spain was first published in France in 1811, but it is his isothermal map, resulting from his travels and observations on both sides of the Atlantic and published in 1817, that is his most enduring cartographic legacy. He had noted that the average temperatures on the west sides of continents in the midlatitudes are milder, by and large, than those on the east coasts in the same latitudes, an idea that overthrew the classical idea of a strict zonality of climate according to latitude. To demonstrate this important concept, he drew a plane chart from the equator to 85 degrees north latitude and from 94 degrees west longitude eastward to 120 degrees east longitude, based on the prime meridian of Paris. Within this framework, every tenth parallel from 0 to 70 degrees north is drawn, but only three meridians. The average summer and winter temperatures of thirteen places are plotted in their geographical locations, but there are no coastlines or other geographical data. To this base Humboldt added isotherms, which reach their highest latitude at 8 degrees east longitude while the lows are at 80 degrees west and 116 degrees east longitude (the three drawn meridians). The curving isothermal bands contrast with the straight geographical parallels of the plane chart. Below the map Humboldt added a diagram to show the effect of altitude on the isotherms. Humboldt acknowledged his debt to Halley for development of the isoline concept, which was soon applied to other phenomena.
Among his other contributions to geography, which Humboldt expressed in beautiful maps and diagrams, was his theory of the vertical zonation of climate and vegetation. In other words, if a mountain-even one at the equator, such as Chimborazo-is high enough, all plant associations from the tropics to near the polar regions could be represented among the mountain's vegetation. He also greatly improved on Kircher's conception of the surface ocean currents, one of which, the cool Peruvian current, bears Humboldt's name on some atlas maps to this day. This rich harvest of scientific ideas was popularized by others, especially Heinrich Berghaus (1797-1884) in his Physikalischer Atlas (Gotha, 1845), which contains maps that show average barometric pressure at sea level (isobars), average annual precipitation (isohyets), isotherms, and so forth. Biogeography was also represented in Berghaus's atlas with maps showing the distribution of crop plants, while in The Physical Atlas (Edinburgh, 1848) of the Scot Alexander Keith Johnston (1804-71) we find maps of selected fauna and of phytogeographic regions. The latter are derived from the research of the Dane Joakim Fredrick Schouw (1789-1852), but all of these workers looked-to Humboldt for inspiration.
New genome research at Oxford University could change the way scientists view our evolution.Carl Holm
A meteorite found in Antarctica adds extra impact to the theory that the essential building blocks of life on Earth came from outer space, say US scientists.
The team from the University of Arizona say they have discovered a 'carbonaceous chondrite' meteorite - found in 1995 and called 'CR2 Grave Nunataks 59229' - contains relatively high amounts of ammonia and amino acids.
Carbonaceous chondrites meteorites contain abundant organic materials as they have not been melted, and much of their original chemical composition remains intact.
The research, led by Professor Sandra Pizzarello, is published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Search for ammonia sourceResearchers have been trying to explain the origin of the ammonia that triggered the formation of the first biomolecules on Earth.
It was initially thought that the early Earth's atmosphere would have freed up nitrogen to bond with other elements. But more recently, scientists have theorised that nitrogen atoms in the primordial atmosphere had a natural tendency to bond with each other, forming inert nitrogen gas N2. The bonds between the atoms in this gas are stable and strong, which makes it difficult to break the molecules down or to combine with other elements, such as hydrogen or carbon.
Under these conditions the nitrogen would not be available to bond with other elements in order to form the compounds and chains that form the building blocks of life.
"The current geochemical evidence of early Earth's atmosphere, combined with known photochemical destruction of ammonia, has left prebiotic scenarios struggling to account for a constant provision of ammonia," write Pizzarello and her co-authors.
That means scientists had to look for an alternative source.
Pizzarello and colleagues wanted to know if meteorites like 'CR2 Grave Nunataks 59229' could provide an answer.
They collected powder from the meterorite, treated it with water at high temperature and pressure, and analysed the resulting compounds.
They found the rock released compounds including hydrocarbon chains and a large amount of ammonia, which is rich in nitrogen.
This abundant release of ammonia from a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite is unprecedented, Pizzarello and colleagues write.
Chemical analysis of the nitrogen from the meteorite shows that the atomic isotope is not the same as those currently found on Earth. The researchers say that knocks out the possibility that the ammonia resulted from contamination during the experiment.
"The findings appear to trace CR2 meteorites' origin to to cosmochemical regimes where ammonia was pervasive," the authors write. That, they speculate, was the first step on the pathway to life on Earth.
A microscope image showing that a solution of tiny DNA molecules has formed a liquid-crystal phase. The DNA molecules pair to form DNA double helices, which, in turn, stack end-to-end to make rod-shaped aggregates that orient parallel to one another. Image by Michi Nakata, University of Colorado.
A team led by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Milan has discovered some unexpected forms of liquid crystals of ultrashort DNA molecules immersed in water, providing a new scenario for a key step in the emergence of life on Earth.
CU-Boulder physics Professor Noel Clark said the team found that surprisingly short segments of DNA, life's molecular carrier of genetic information, could assemble into several distinct liquid crystal phases that "self-orient" parallel to one another and stack into columns when placed in a water solution. Life is widely believed to have emerged as segments of DNA- or RNA-like molecules in a prebiotic "soup" solution of ancient organic molecules.
A paper on the subject was published in the Nov. 23 issue of Science. The paper was authored by Clark, Michi Nakata and Christopher Jones from CU-Boulder, Giuliano Zanchetta and Tommaso Bellini of the University of Milan, Brandon Chapman and Ronald Pindak of Brookhaven National Laboratory and Julie Cross of Argonne National Laboratory. Nakata died in September 2006.
Since the formation of molecular chains as uniform as DNA by random chemistry is essentially impossible, Clark said, scientists have been seeking effective ways for simple molecules to spontaneously self-select, "chain-up" and self-replicate. The new study shows that in a mixture of tiny fragments of DNA, those molecules capable of forming liquid crystals selectively condense into droplets in which conditions are favorable for them to be chemically linked into longer molecules with enhanced liquid crystal-forming tendencies, he said.
"We found that even tiny fragments of double helix DNA can spontaneously self-assemble into columns that contain many molecules," Clark said. "Our vision is that from the collection of ancient molecules, short RNA pieces or some structurally related precursor emerged as the molecular fragments most capable of condensing into liquid crystal droplets, selectively developing into long molecules."
Liquid crystals - organic materials related to soap that exhibit both solid and liquid properties - are commonly used for information displays in computers, flat-panel televisions, cell phones, calculators and watches. Most liquid crystal phase molecules are rod-shaped and have the ability to spontaneously form large domains of a common orientation, which makes them particularly sensitive to stimuli like changes in temperature or applied voltage.
RNA and DNA are chain-like polymers with side groups known as nucleotides, or bases, that selectively adhere only to specific bases on a second chain. Matching, or complementary base sequences enable the chains to pair up and form the widely recognized double helix structure. Genetic information is encoded in sequences of thousands to millions of bases along the chains, which can be microns to millimeters in length.
Such DNA polynucleotides had previously been shown to organize into liquid crystal phases in which the chains spontaneously oriented parallel to each other, he said. Researchers understand the liquid crystal organization to be a result of DNA's elongated molecular shape, making parallel alignment easier, much like spaghetti thrown in a box and shaken would be prone to line up in parallel, Clark said.
The CU-Boulder and University of Milan team began a series of experiments to see how short the DNA segments could be and still show liquid crystal ordering, said Clark. The team found that even a DNA segment as short as six bases, when paired with a complementary segment that together measured just two nanometers long and two nanometers in diameter, could still assemble itself into the liquid crystal phases, in spite of having almost no elongation in shape.
Structural analysis of the liquid crystal phases showed that they appeared because such short DNA duplex pairs were able to stick together "end-to-end," forming rod-shaped aggregates that could then behave like much longer segments of DNA. The sticking was a result of small, oily patches found on the ends of the short DNA segments that help them adhere to each other in a reversible way -- much like magnetic buttons -- as they expelled water in between them, Clark said.
A key characterization technique employed was X-ray microbeam diffraction combined with in-situ optical microscopy, carried out with researchers from Argonne and Brookhaven National Laboratories. The team using a machine called the Argonne Advanced Photon Source synchrotron that enabled probing of the "nano DNA" molecular organization in single liquid crystal orientation domains only a few microns in size. The experiments provided direct evidence for the columnar stacking of the nano DNA pieces in a fluid liquid crystal phase.
"The key observation with respect to early life is that this aggregation of nano DNA strands is possible only if they form duplexes," Clark said. "In a sample of chains in which the bases don't match and the chains can't form helical duplexes, we did not observe liquid crystal ordering."
Subsequent tests by the team involved mixed solutions of complementary and noncomplementary DNA segments, said Clark. The results indicated that essentially all of the complementary DNA bits condensed out in the form of liquid crystal droplets, physically separating them from the noncomplementary DNA segments.
"We found this to be a remarkable result," Clark said. "It means that small molecules with the ability to pair up the right way can seek each other out and collect together into drops that are internally self-organized to facilitate the growth of larger pairable molecules.
"In essence, the liquid crystal phase condensation selects the appropriate molecular components, and with the right chemistry would evolve larger molecules tuned to stabilize the liquid crystal phase. If this is correct, the linear polymer shape of DNA itself is a vestige of formation by liquid crystal order."
The Germanic invaders of the British Isles seem to have been less concerned with magic and with the aura of particular places in this world than were the Celts. The primary religious places among the non-Christian Northern Europeans were mythological: Yggdrasill or Von, the River of Expectation, formed by the slaver of the great wolf Fenrir. One exception might be burial mounds such as the one at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, a place associated with King Raedwald, who was converted to Christianity during a visit to the court of King Ethelbert, who himself had been converted by Augustine, the founder of what was to become one of the holiest of British Christian centers, the monastery and cathedral at Canterbury. Of the fifteen burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, the largest, containing an eighty-nine-foot Anglo-Saxon boat, is thought to have been a memorial to Raedwald, who died in about 625 ce. The Sutton Hoo excavations brought to light an amazing collection of valuable objects of primarily “pagan” or non-Christian origin. We know that Raedwald’s wife was an adamant follower of the old Germanic religion and that her husband, even after his conversion, placed both Christian and non- Christian objects and altars in his place of worship.
The Ruthwell Cross, Ruthwell churchThe Germanic conception of the world tree, along with the practice of venerating sacred groves and mighty trees, found a new mode of expression in Anglo-Saxon Christianity. The development of the Cult of the Cross was widespread throughout Christendom, to be sure, but it found particularly fertile soil in Britain, where its expression also was peculiarly Germanic and often martial in some aspects. As was mentioned in connection with The Dream of the Rood, the Germanic understanding of Christ as a young hero echoed Anglo-Saxon sensibilities concerning the nature of the Savior, both as God and as man; likewise, Anglo-Saxon perceptions of the Cross often recast it into a battle-standard of Christ Triumphant and of the hope of salvation. In this way the Anglo-Saxons of Britain put a uniquely Germanic spin on a Mediterranean and Near eastern cult of veneration.
Before the fourth century ce, the cross was not widely embraced as a sign of Christianity, symbolizing as it did the gallows of a criminal. This changed after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine; as the story goes, in a dream before a great battle against overwhelming odds, Constantine saw a shining cross in the night sky and heard a voice pronounce, “by this sign ye shall conquer.” He hastened to heed these words, and the Roman troops the following day were preceded by banners of the cross; they won a great victory over the host of Huns at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on the Danube, and Constantine ended the persecution of Christians, and converted before he died. It is worth noting that Constantine’s mother, Helen, is reputed to have found the True Cross on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and that one of the great Anglo- Saxon narrative poems, Elene, has to do with this discovery. Whether or not the story of Constantine’s vision is apocryphal, it is certain that after his conversion a great deal of prestige accrued to the cross, and it was eventually adopted as the primary Christian symbol.
The Cross became an object of great devotion in the East, and soon various ceremonies, cults, traditions, and relics sprang up as a result of this veneration. This popularity had migrated to Western Europe by the end of the seventh century, and before the middle of that century a number of cross legends are known to have been circulating in Britain. It is during this period that the Cult of the Cross took on a peculiarly British flavor, a flavor that combined subtle hints of Celtic and Germanic pagan traditions along with the predominant eastern Christian taste. In 633 ce Oswald of Northumbria erected a giant wooden cross before the Battle of Heavenfield in a none-toosubtle attempt to co-opt Constantine’s strategy for success; he prevailed, and for ages after this date miracles were attributed to fragments of that battle standard. The success of the Cult of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England was likewise assured.
The most notable and idiosyncratic Anglo-Saxon outgrowth of the Cult of the Cross was the widespread popularity of large, standing stone crosses, which became objects and locations of worship. By the mid-eighth century these icons had become so popular that Boniface complained that they were taking the place of regular churches; perhaps, indeed, the worshipers were hearkening back to the days of sacred groves and trees, and it is certain that the Rood of Christ was often likened to a tree. The poet who wrote The Dream of the Rood emphasized the cross’s identity as a tree, and also as a battle standard: he even called it “The Victory Tree.” Over 1,500 standing stone crosses survive in Britain to this day, and it is reasonable to assume that many more made of wood are lost to us. The most significant of these remaining roods is the Ruthwell Cross.
Standing nearly twenty feet high, the Ruthwell Cross is a striking combination of Celtic artistic traditions (intricate vine patterns known as interlace, interwoven with human and animal figures), biblical scenes, and Germanic runes and warrior conception of Christ, all bound together in an overtly Christian symbol. A number of other British crosses likewise blend cultural and mythic elements, perhaps most notably that at Gosforth. Particularly, the runic inscription running along the east and west faces of the Ruthwell Cross includes a passage from The Dream of the Rood describing Christ’s mounting of the Rood, and his death thereon; it has been noted that this passage is one that most emphasizes the Christ Militant of Anglo- Saxon belief. It also has been argued that this particular selection resonates with the scene of the death of Baldr. The lone manuscript known to contain The Dream of the Rood dates from the ninth century or so, but the Ruthwell Cross itself dates from the height of the Cult of the Cross in Britain— perhaps around the year 700—and therefore some early form of the poem must have, as well. This conception of the Tree of Christ—with all its pagan echoes and warrior ethos—thus predates the beginning of the Viking raids by almost a century, and therefore the Germanic aspects both of the poem and of the Ruthwell Cross are likely to be of mostly pure Anglo- Saxon derivation.