Egyptian papyrus discovered in Irish bog

Ireland’s National Museum announced on Monday, September 6th 2010, the discovery of fragments of Egyptian papyrus in the leather cover of an ancient book of psalms.

According to the museum ‘it is a finding that asks many questions and has confounded some of the accepted theories about the history of early Christianity in Ireland.’ Its significance may be huge, as the papyrus could be evidence of the first ‘tangible connection between early Irish Christianity and the Middle Eastern Coptic Church’, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

The manuscript known as the Faddan More Psalter was unearthed four years ago, on July 20th 2006, from a peat bog at Faddan More near the town of Birr in County Tipperary. The fragmented illuminated vellum manuscript is encased in an Egyptian style leather binding and dates to the eighth century. According to Raghnall O Floinn, head of collections at the Museum, it represents one of the top ten archaeological discoveries in Ireland. It was the first manuscript to be found in a water-logged state in a bog and its discovery posed unprecedented difficulties for the Conservation Department of the Museum.

About fifteen percent of the pages of the psalms, which are written in Latin, are believed to have survived. It is thought that the manuscript was produced in an Irish monastery and later placed in the Egyptian style cover. O Floinn explained that ‘the cover could have had several lives before it ended up basically as a folder for the manuscript in the bog. It could have travelled from a library somewhere in Egypt to the Holy Land or to Constantinople or Rome and then to Ireland.’

Irish scientists have analysed and restored the manuscript for the past four years. It was only as the restoration was completed this summer that the fragments of papyrus were discovered in the binding. However, many questions remain unanswered. The psalm’s leather binding appears to have come from Egypt; but did the papyrus come with the cover or was it added later?

O Floinn hopes that ‘the imperfections in the hide may allow us to confirm the leather is Egyptian. We are trying to track down if there somebody who can tell us if this is possible. That is the next step.’

The Fadden More Psalter is due to go on display in the National Museum of Ireland in June 2011. For further information, read the press release on the website of the National Museum of Ireland.

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Doctor Catches Infant Who Fell Seven Stories


AHN, Paris, France, 3 November 2010

A baby boy survived a fall from a seven-story window in Paris by bouncing off a café awning and into the arms of the doctor who saw the infant fall Monday evening.

The 18-month-old toddler was playing unsupervised with his 3-year-old sister when the accident occurred.

Doctor Philippe Bensignor was walking past a café when he looked up and saw the child falling 60 feet to the ground. He placed himself where he thought the child would bounce after hitting the awning.

Police said, "The child struck the fabric and ricocheted off and he dashed forward and caught it. Incredibly, the baby was completely unscathed but was taken into hospital for a routine check-up.”

The child cried for a few moments in the doctor's arms, then calmed down and fell asleep.

Authorities are investigating why the parents were not home and why the two young children were left unattended. Police arrested them for suspected child neglect and were still in custody last night.

What makes the child’s escape even more miraculous is that the café, located in the 20th arrondissement in north-eastern Paris, was closed for the All Saints bank holiday. The awning that broke the fall should have been folded, but it had jammed the day before.


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Cosmic Curiosity Reveals Ghostly Glow Of Dead Quasar

Space Daily, 4 November 2010

While sorting through hundreds of galaxy images as part of the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project two years ago, Dutch schoolteacher and volunteer astronomer Hanny van Arkel stumbled upon a strange-looking object that baffled professional astronomers.

Two years later, a team led by Yale University researchers has discovered that the unique object represents a snapshot in time that reveals surprising clues about the life cycle of black holes.

In a new study, the team has confirmed that the unusual object, known as Hanny's Voorwerp (Hanny's "object" in Dutch), is a large cloud of glowing gas illuminated by the light from a quasar-an extremely energetic galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its center.

The twist, described online in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, is that the quasar lighting up the gas has since burned out almost entirely, even though the light it emitted in the past continues to travel through space, illuminating the gas cloud and producing a sort of "light echo" of the dead quasar.

"This system really is like the Rosetta Stone of quasars," said Yale astronomer Kevin Schawinski, a co-founder of Galaxy Zoo and lead author of the study. "The amazing thing is that if it wasn't for the Voorwerp being illuminated nearby, the galaxy never would have piqued anyone's interest."

The team calculated that the light from the dead quasar, which is the nearest known galaxy to have hosted a quasar, took up to 70,000 years to travel through space and illuminate the Voorwerp-meaning the quasar must have shut down sometime within the past 70,000 years.

Until now, it was assumed that supermassive black holes took millions of years to die down after reaching their peak energy output.

However, the Voorwerp suggests that the supermassive black holes that fuel quasars shut down much more quickly than previously thought.

"This has huge implications for our understanding of how galaxies and black holes co-evolve," Schawinski said.

"The time scale on which quasars shut down their prodigious energy output is almost entirely unknown," said Meg Urry, director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics and a co-author of the paper.

"That's why the Voorwerp is such an intriguing-and potentially critical-case study for understanding the end of black hole growth in quasars."

Although the galaxy no longer shines brightly in X-ray light as a quasar, it is still radiating at radio wavelengths. Whether this radio jet played a role in shutting down the central black hole is just one of several possibilities Schawinski and the team will investigate next.

"We've solved the mystery of the Voorwerp," he said. "But this discovery has raised a whole bunch of new questions."


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Kingfisher's return crowns the great riverbank revival

Daily Mail, 1 November 2010

During last year’s harsh winter there were gloomy predictions that waterside wildlife would be devastated. However to the surprise of experts there has been a mini-renaissance in the birds and animals that depend on rivers, streams and ponds. It was feared that kingfishers, in particular, would starve to death as water froze over. But a survey of rivers and canals logged more than three times as many this year as last, proving the ‘river royalty’ to be more than a match for the weather.

The kingfisher is not the only species riding out the storm, with numbers of newts, toads and otters also on the rise. British Waterways, which conducts the annual poll, had feared that coldest winter for more than 30 years had taken a devastating toll on wildlife. Unable to break through the ice on ponds and streams to get food, thousands of kingfishers and other water birds were expected to starve to death. Last summer’s floods also washed away many nests. But against the odds there were 596 sightings this year, a 217 per cent rise on 2009.

Numbers of otters started to climb after harmful pesticides were banned in the 1970s and it became an offence to kill the animals intentionally. They are also benefiting from a clean-up of rivers, which has allowed fish to return. The resurgence of the otter is good news for the water vole. Once a common sight, it became the fastest declining native mammal thanks to pollution, loss of habitat and predatory mink.

The number of mink spotted this year dropped by more than a third, probably due to the rise of the otter. Mark Robinson, British Waterways national ecology manager, said: ‘The decrease in the number of mink could be related to the recent increase in number of otters, as our native otters out-compete mink for territory. Water voles often make a tasty meal for mink.’ He added: ‘Following last winter’s harsh weather we were concerned that some species, and in particular kingfishers, could suffer. I’m delighted we’ve had so many records of kingfishers this year. ‘The results really show the resilience of nature and the importance of our canal and river network in providing vital shelter and food for a wide variety of wildlife.’

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Google to Digitize Complete Dead Sea Scrolls

AOL News, 19 October 2010

The more than 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls -- one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time -- will soon be available for free, widespread access on the Internet, thanks to combined efforts from Google and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Already, Google Books offered excerpts of the Dead Sea Scrolls reprinted in English, including "Scrolls From the Dead Sea," an exhibition by the Library of Congress that ran over two decades ago, as well as several other academic versions.

Sebastian Scheiner, AP The Israel Antiquities Authority and Google announced Tuesday that they are joining forces to bring the Dead Sea Scrolls online. The new project, however, will widen access to the historical treasure -- addressing the limited use issue that scholars have long complained of -- and ensure that the original 30,000 fragments are preserved. In addition, the exact copies will be searchable and available in their original languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. An English translation will be available at first, with additional translations to follow.

Both the general public and scholars can expect the scrolls to be available online within the coming months. "Anyone in his office or on his couch will be able to click and see any scroll fragment or manuscript that they would like," antiquities official Pnina Shor told The Associated Press.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered an immensely important artifact because they contain segments of the Hebrew Bible and have played a critical role in explaining the origins of Judaism and Christianity. Watch this video to learn more: Google is already considered the bookworm of search engines, based on the company's efforts to count all of the world's books as step one in an even more ambitious plan to digitize all the world's books. (Although not everyone is buying it.) Not to be outdone, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities recently discovered a fifth-dynasty tomb near the Great Pyramids of Giza. Too bad they can't upload that to the Internet (yet).

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