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A stone age child buried with bird feathers, plant fibers and fur

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The exceptional excavation of a Stone Age burial site was carried out in Majoonsuo, situated in the municipality of Outokumpu in Eastern Finland. The excavation produced microscopically small fragments of bird feathers, canine and small mammalian hairs, and plant fibres. The findings gained through soil analysis are unique, as organic matter is poorly preserved in Finland’s acidic soil. The study, led by Archaeologist Tuija Kirkinen, was aimed at investigating how these highly degraded plant- and animal-based materials could be traced through soil analysis.

During the Stone Age in Finland, the deceased were interred mainly in pits in the ground. Little of the organic matter from human-made objects have been preserved in Stone Age graves in Finland, but it is known, on the basis of burial sites in the surrounding regions, that objects made of bones, teeth and horns as well as furs and feathers were placed in the graves.

Teeth and arrowheads found in the red ochre grave

The Trial Excavation Team of the Finnish Heritage Agency examined the site in 2018, as it was considered to be at risk of destruction. The burial place was located under a gravelly sand road in a forest, with the top of the grave partially exposed. The site was originally given away by the intense colour of its red ochre. Red ochre, or iron-rich clay soil, has been used not only in burials but also in rock art around the world.

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In the archaeological dig at the burial site, only a few teeth were found of the deceased, on the basis of which they are known to have been a child between 3 and 10 years of age. In addition, two transverse arrowheads made of quartz and two other possible quartz objects were found in the grave. Based on the shape of the arrowheads and shore-level dating, the burial can be estimated to have taken place in the Mesolithic period of the Stone Age, roughly 6,000 years before the Common Era.

What made the excavation exceptional was the near-complete preservation of the soil originating in the grave. A total of 65 soil sample bags weighing between 0.6 and 3.4 kilograms were collected, also comparison samples were taken from outside the grave. The soil was analyzed in the archaeology laboratory of the University of Helsinki. Organic matter was separated from the samples using water. This way, the exposed fibres and hairs were identified with the help of transmitted-light and electron microscopy.

Oldest feather fragments found in Finland

From the soil samples, a total of 24 microscopic (0.2-1.4 mm) fragments of bird feathers were identified, most of which originated in down. Seven feather fragments were identified as coming from the down of a waterfowl (Anseriformes). These are the oldest feather fragments ever found in Finland. Although the origin of the down is impossible to state with certainty, it may come from clothing made of waterfowl skins, such as a parka or an anorak. It is also possible that the child was laid on a down bed.

In addition to the waterfowl down, one falcon (Falconidae) feather fragment was identified. It may have originally been part of the fletching of the arrows attached to the arrowheads, or, for example, from feathers used to decorate the garment.

Dog or wolf hairs?

Besides the feathers, 24 fragments of mammalian hair were identified, ranging from 0.5 to 9.5 mm in length. Most of the hairs were badly degraded, making identification no longer possible. The finest discoveries were the three hairs of a canine, possibly a predator, found at the bottom of the grave. The hairs may also originate, for example, in footwear made of wolf or dog skin. It is also possible a dog was laid at the child’s feet.

“Dogs buried with the deceased have been found in, for example, Skateholm, a famous burial site in southern Sweden dating back some 7,000 years,” says Professor Kristiina Mannermaa, University of Helsinki.

“The discovery in Majoonsuo is sensational, even though there is nothing but hairs left of the animal or animals — not even teeth. We don’t even know whether it’s a dog or a wolf,” she says, adding: “The method used, demonstrates that traces of fur and feathers can be found even in graves several thousands of years old, including in Finland.”

“This all gives us a very valuable insight about burial habits in the Stone Age, indicating how people had prepared the child for the journey after death,” says Kirkinen.

The soil is full of information

Also found were three fragments of plant fibres, which are preserved particularly poorly in the acidic Finnish soil. The fibres were what are known as bast fibres, meaning that they come from, for example, willows or nettles. At the time, the object they were part of may have been a net used for fishing, a cord used to attach clothes, or a bundle of strings. For the time being, only one other bast fibre discovery dating back to the Mesolithic Stone Age is known in Finland: the famed Antrea Net on display in the National Museum of Finland, laced with willow bast fibres.

A fibre separation technique was developed in the study, and is already being applied in subsequent studies. The project has demonstrated the great information value of soil extracted from archaeological sites.

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What Are Fast Radio Bursts? – Worldatlas.com

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The universe is full of mystery. No matter how much becomes known about the cosmos, there always seems to be more that is unknown. Any time a question is answered, more questions seem to arise, and so the process of scientific discovery becomes never ending. There are many examples of what is unknown about the cosmos, yet one perfect example is a phenomenon known as Fast Radio Bursts (FRB). As the name suggests, an FRB is a burst of radio waves that originate from the depths of interstellar space. They usually only last up to three seconds long, yet whatever releases them emits more energy in one second than our sun does every day. This suggests that FRBs are created by high energy processes, yet exactly what causes them remains unknown. 

Where Do FRBs Come From?

Most FRBs orignate in distant galaxies. Image credit: NASA/ESA

Most FRBs detected originate beyond the Milky Way Galaxy, yet some have been detected within our galaxy. To date, astronomers have detected around 500 FRBs, yet there remains no consensus on what actually creates them. That isn’t to say there aren’t any possible explanations, however. Some popular theories claim that FRBs originate from stellar remnants such as neutron stars or black holes. Other theories posit that they may originate from collisions between black holes or neutron stars. Another interesting theory is that FRBs come from a type of stellar remnant called a magnetar. A magnetar is a type of neutron star that has an exceptionally strong magnetic field and emits high amounts of x-rays and gamma rays, and some FRBs have been traced back to regions around magnetars. It’s quite possible that FRBs form from multiple different events, with no single phenomenon able to explain the origin of every FRB. 

Alien Origin

Galaxy Hubble
Hubble image of a distant galaxy. Image credit: NASA/ESA

Whenever astronomers detect signals of unknown origin, there is always the question of whether or not the signal originated from another civilization. Ever since humans began using technology to transmit signals around the world, some of the signals leak into space and travel at the speed of light. Any civilization that happens to be pointing a radio telescope in the right direction at the right time would detect our signals. Assuming other intelligent civilizations develop radio technology, they too would emit signals out into space that could be detected by us. Thus, some astronomers have wondered if some FRBs are in fact the radio signals from another civilization. Interestingly, this isn’t the first time this has happened. When astronomers discovered the first pulsars, they thought they had come across an alien signal, yet it later turned out to be a rapidly rotating neutron star. In the case of FRBs, it is unlikely they originate from another intelligent species. This is mainly due to the fact that they do not appear to come directly from other solar systems, and the bursts themselves contain so much energy that it seems unlikely a civilization would be creating them. Rather, a natural explanation is more likely, yet it still remains unknown exactly where FRBs come from.

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How Old Is The Sun? – Worldatlas.com

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The sun formed around 4.6-billion years ago, and all the planets formed within the next 100-million years. The age of the sun and the planets is one of the most widely accepted facts about our solar system, and the reason for this is that every line of evidence points to the same age. How is the age of the sun determined?

Finding The Oldest Thing In The Solar System

One way to determine the approximate age of the sun is to find the oldest object in the solar system. Fortunately, there are countless objects that formed along with the sun, such as asteroids, meteors, and planetesimals. These forms of planetary debris remain virtually unchanged for billions of years, and by using radiometric dating methods, scientists can determine their age, in turn directly telling us how old the sun is. Radiometric dating uses precise chemicals to determine the age of rocks, and it works by using something called a half-life. For example, carbon-14 dating is a reliable method for dating things like fossils, as carbon-14 is only present in organic matter. Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,730 years, meaning that after 5,730 years, half of the carbon-14 will decay into another chemical, in this case, nitrogen-14. Every 5,730 years, another half will decay and so on. By determining the amount of carbon-14 present relative to the amount of nitrogen-14, scientists can determine the age of whatever it is that is being analyzed. While carbon-14 is a reliable method for determining the age of organic matter, it will not work for determining things that are billions of years old. 

To find out when the sun first began to form, astronomers look for iron-60, a rare isotope of iron that is only produced during a supernova explosion. A supernova likely preceded the formation of our solar system, and the energy released from the explosion likely ignited the formation of the sun billions of years ago. Iron-60 has a half-life of 2.26-million years, wherein it decays into nickel-60. Like with carbon-14 and nitrogen-14, astronomers analyze rocks from asteroids and meteors to determine the ratio between iron-60 and nickel-60, which produces an age of around 4.6-billion years. Furthermore, other dating methods used on Earth and the moon have produced ages of around 4.5-billion years, offering further evidence that the sun is at least that old.

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Lifespan Of The Sun

The Sun

The sun is 4.6-billion years old, and astronomers believe that it is only about halfway through its life. We obviously cannot see into the future, and so how do scientists estimate the amount of time the sun will exist for? The process is actually rather simple, and it involves knowing how much fuel the sun has and rate at which it consumes that fuel. Like every other star in the universe, the sun is powered by the nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei in its core. When hydrogen is fused together, it produces helium and vast amounts of energy that power the star. So long as nuclear fusion is maintained within the core, the sun will remain a main sequence star. However, that fuel will eventually run out, and when it does, the sun will enter into the final stages of life. By knowing the amount of fuel the sun has and the rate at which it uses that fuel, astronomers estimate that the sun will continue fusing hydrogen in its core for at least another 4 to 5-billion years. When the sun does begin to run out of usable hydrogen, it will evolve into a red giant, eventually blowing off its outer layers. Those outer layers will form a shell of stellar material called a planetary nebula. Meanwhile, the core of the sun will collapse and become a white dwarf. 

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UBC Okanagan study to investigate where Eurasian watermilfoil occurs in lakes – Vernon Morning Star

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A UBC Okanagan pilot project is seeking to better pinpoint and map where the beginnings of Eurasian watermilfoil (EWM) infestation occurs in the large lakes within the Okanagan Valley watershed.

If this pilot project proves successful, it could become a blueprint for other jurisdictions to follow in their own battles with this aquatic plant or other invasive aquatic species, says UBCO assistant professor Mathieu Bourbonnais.

Bourbonnais, with the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, is overseeing the project with the assistance of masters graduate student Mackenzie Clarke.

The data modelling prototype is using the technology of topobathymetric lidar, the science of simultaneously measuring and recording three distinct surfaces – land, water and submerged land up to 20 metres below the water surface – using airborne laser-based infrared imagery sensors.

Bourbonnais says being able to better identify potential or small milfoil patches will give better control management tools for the Okanagan Basin Water Board’s Euroasian watermilfoil harvest program, which currently is about an $800,000 a year initiative to try and control the growth and limit the damage of the invasive water plant.

It could also potentially target specific watermilfoil growth sites before they grow out of control near valley lake areas deemed sensitive by Environment Canada for the preservation of the Rocky Mountain Ridge Mussels.

He said EWM has been a formidable invasive aquatic plant species to control since it was introduced into the Okanagan Valley lake system some 40 years ago.

It has also illustrated to the water board the need to be stringent when trying to avoid the Zebra and Quagga mussels from being introduced into the lake system.

Like watermilfoil, there is no solution for removing the mussels once they are introduced into a lake system. It is a rooted submerged plant inhabiting the shallows waters of lakes across North America.

EWM originated from Asia, Europe and Northern Africa and has spread rapidly, introduced in North America from the ballast water of ships or aquarium activities.

Bourbonnais said a lake choked with watermilfoil growth impacts the biodiversity and food webs reliant on the lake habitat, alter the water temperature and impacts its recreational use for swimmers and boaters.

“The impact of invasive species on our lake aquatic systems costs billions of dollars to deal with across the country. It definitely has an impact both ecologically and economically,” he said.

The pilot project fieldwork will be done by early spring, he said, with the hope it provides data upon which to target areas for harvesting leading up to the permit application process next year.

“The goal is the Okanagan Basin Water Board can take the data generated from this research model and liaise with the province and federal government on how to go forward,” he said.

“We hope it can help the management strategy of where to send the lake rototillers to pull up the plants.”

READ MORE: Milfoil infestation continues to plague Okanagan watershed

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