2000 Year Old Extinct Tree is No Longer Extinct

By Anupum Pant

At Herod the Great’s palace in Masada, Israel, from the year 1963 to 1965 an excavation was carried out. It was an excavation which blew everyone’s mind. As a result of this archaeological endeavour, an ancient jar containing date palm (Judean Palm) seeds was unearthed. The radio dating of these seeds confirmed that they were about 2000 years old. Like all other excavated material, the seeds too were sent into a safe storage at the  Bar-Ilan University. For the next 40 years, these seeds remained in the storage.

The seeds which were unearthed belonged to a plant which in its time had flourished for thousands of years. Around 150 AD the tree went extinct. None of them remained. However, the seeds did…

In the year 2005, a researcher, Elaine Solowey, decided to plant the seed. Elaine was pretty sure that a 2000 year old seed would be totally dead by now, and there’s a little chance it would even sprout. She went ahead anyway.

Elaine did a deep research on how to revive old seeds. Then, she first soaked them in hot water. And then in a nutrient rich solution. Finally they were put in contact with an enzymatic fertilizer.

To her surprise the seed did germinate. But when it did come out, Elaine was pretty sure that the sapling would die out. It didn’t. Although there were claims of a 32,000 year old germinated seed later in the year 2012, in its time, the Judean palm’s name had gone into the record books as the oldest seed to have ever sprouted

The tree has been named Methuselah after the oldest person named in the Old Testament of the Bible. Today the plant still continues to grow and has even made its first flowers.

[More about it]

Ancient Brain Surgery 1000 Years Ago

By Anupum Pant

With specialized equipment and several other complications, we think we’ve come far with brain surgery. Today, brain surgery is supposed to be a modern advancement that enables us to treat obscure anomalies associated with the human brain. Of course we’ve advanced a lot, but there is no way we can reject the advancements in brain surgery attained during ancient times – Ancient brain surgery.

Trepanation: About 1000 years ago, ancient surgeons were already drilling through the human skulls; exposing the brain. Early Peru doctors were practicing a process called trepanation to treat a variety of brain related ailments.

The Story

Just a few days back, a research team led by UC Santa Barbara’s bioarchaeologist Danielle Kurin, excavated 32 skulls which illustrated that some sort of brain surgery was done on these Peruvian individuals back then. According to them, the skulls unearthed, had been drilled to treat swollen brains, or  of a neurological, spiritual or psychosomatic illnesses.

Around 1000 years ago, when a Peruvian empire was collapsing, on various skull, drilling and cutting methods were being employed to deal with challenges like violence, disease and depravation. This trend is seen as somewhat similar to how IED’s are driving exploration of prosthetic technology in the military now.  Exactly as guessed, not all of these ancient brain surgery procedures were successful, some of them did fail. But that is not the point.

According to Daniel Kurin talking about one of these 32 unearthed skull samples:

In one example, each hole is drilled a little deeper than the last. So you can imagine a guy in his prehistoric Peruvian medical school practicing with his hand drill to know how many times he needs to turn it to nimbly and accurately penetrate the thickness of a skull.

As noted by the lead researcher, a great amount of skill and practice was involved in these procedures. It is incredible to note that surgeons back then were using modern medical educational practices – using dead bodies to study physical sicknesses.

It wasn’t torture

Finally, if you’d argue that it could be a way to torture prisoners, scientists have something to disprove that theory too. What they were doing was not a way to torture people. They’ve found solid proofs that the skulls of individuals that were being drilled, were actually sick and were being operated upon by using proper operating procedures – like shaving hair before operating.

Lycurgus Cup – An Ancient Nanotech Marvel

By Anupum Pant

The concepts of modern nanotechnology must have been first seeded in the year 1959 by the renowned physicist Richard Feynman, but Romans were already doing it back in 300 AD (around 290-325 AD). About 1700 years back, utilizing the principles of Nanotechnology, Roman engineers had crafted a magnificent chalice – Lycurgus Cup (picture). Like the Prince Rupert’s drop, this is another glass marvel you should know about.

Side note: You can listen to the legendary lecture by Dr. Feynman on YouTube – There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, where he discusses the “possibility of synthesis via direct manipulation of atoms”, or Nanotechnology.

Lycurgus cup description

The Lycurgus cup was probably the first ever optical artificial [meta]material – Ruby Glass – engineered to have properties that may not be found in nature. Its unusual optical properties are something that makes it stand out.

Normally, the cup appears green, but if it is illuminated from the inside or lit up using a light placed behind it, it glows ruby-red; hence the name, ruby glass. This kind of glass is known as a Dichroic glass. Dichroic  literally means ”two colored” and is derived from the Greek words ”di” for two, and ”chroma” for color; in this case, the colors green and red.

The technology behind this cup baffled scientists for around 40 years (from 1950s to 1990s). It was only in 1990s that they figured out how it really worked. The goblet has been preserved well, and is presently at display in the British Museum.

Dichroic glass

Dichroic glasses do not use paints, dyes, or any coloring agents for the color. They are made using fine coatings on glass. The coatings themselves do not have a color, but rather they bend light to reflect colors like a prism does, to make rainbows.

These colors are visible due to the presence of very minute amounts of finely ground gold and silver particles in it. Romans could have included these powders unknowingly as contaminants or might have added them on purpose to achieve the very effect, we’ll never know.

Inspired by an age-old technology

NASA, in the 1950s, used a similar technology to fabricate a kind of glass that could selectively reflect light wavelengths. They achieved this by depositing a thin-film of metal on the glass.

With innumerable combinations of oxides, glass colors and patterns available, the possibilities to utilize this phenomenon for various useful purposes are endless.
The unusual properties of this cup have also inspired material scientists to create concepts for an invisibility cloak using modern nanofabrication technology. [Source]

I want to study interesting materials like these

If you think the Lycurgus cup, Wolverine’s claws and Aerogels (If you haven’t heard about it, you must definitely check this out!) are awesome. You can make a career in researching materials like these by making a foray into Materials Science and Engineering. Most good universities offer a course in it. It is a budding field, growing at a rapid pace, replete with real-world challenging conundrums waiting to be resolved.