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‘Once In A Generation’ Discovery Of 3,300-Year-Old Burial Cave Made In Israel

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An archeologist surrounded by the ceramic work discovered in the cave in Palmachim, Israel.
An archeologist surrounded by the ceramic work discovered in the cave in Palmachim, Israel.EMIL ALADJEM (AFP)

An excavator’s shovel has accidentally uncovered an Egyptian funeral cave on an Israeli beach with nearly 100 intact ceramic utensils and bronze artifacts dating to around 3,300 years ago, when the Pharaoh Ramesses II ruled over the region of the Ancient Near East then known as Canaan.

The discovery was made last Wednesday in the kibbutz of Palmachim, just south of Tel Aviv, with the artifacts apparently arranged as they had been millennia beforehand during the funeral rites, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Israel Nature and Parks Authority said in a press release. “We knew we were in an archaeological area, but a discovery like this is only made once in a generation,” Diego Barkán, Tel Aviv district head for the Antiquities Authority, told EL PAÍS.

Among the ceramic work are bowls, some of them painted red, chalices, cooking utensils, storage jars and oil lamps. In Ancient Egypt, death was considered to be only a temporary separation of the body and the soul and not the end of a person’s life, and as such it was assumed that such objects would be of use to those being buried.

Also among the objects uncovered were bronze arrowheads and spearheads. Archeologists examining the find believe that, due to the way they were arranged, they had been placed in a quiver made of organic material that has turned to dust over the passage of time.

Jugs and bowls were among the discoveries, some of which were imported from across the Mediterranean.
Jugs and bowls were among the discoveries, some of which were imported from across the Mediterranean.EMIL ALADJEM (AFP)

The excavator who made the discovery was carrying out maintenance work on the beach when she stumbled upon the entrance to the cave, which was excavated in a square shape with a central pillar. The archeologists who were dispatched to the find descended into the cave using a ladder. The artifacts will now be examined by experts to provide further knowledge of funerary customs in the late Bronze Age. “We already knew how people were buried during that era, but normally these caves were looted in ancient times. This is like entering a laboratory,” says Barkán.

The identity of the people put to rest in the cave remains unknown. Although they are extremely deteriorated, scientists will attempt to extract DNA and plants and teeth will also be analyzed for data. “As there are almost 100 receptacles, we do not know if more than one generation is buried there, which would imply several burial layers, or if they were wealthy people,” Barkán adds.

The discovery also provides further evidence of the importance of international commerce during the 66-year reign of Ramesses II, during Egypt’s Nineteenth Dynasty. The ceramics found in the cave include vessels imported from Cyprus and the ancient port city of Ugarit, in modern-day Syria, where a now extinct Semitic language, Ugaritic, was spoken. It is thought that some of the pottery also came from Ashdod and Ashkelon in Israel, the Gaza Strip and Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon, which shows that inhabitants of the region were clearly involved in intense commercial activity across the Mediterranean coasts, according to Dr. Eli Yannai, an IAA expert on the Bronze Age quoted in the press release.

An archeologist descending into the cave, which has now been sealed off by the authorities.
An archeologist descending into the cave, which has now been sealed off by the authorities.EMIL ALADJEM (AFP)

Ramesses II expanded Egyptian dominion to the east, extending as far as modern-day Syria, and to the south toward Sudan. The Palmachim beach, where the discovery was made, is situated on the Mediterranean coast, between Jaffa to the north and Ashkelon to the south, fiefdoms of powerful merchants during the era the finds in the cave date to. One theory as to the identity of the people buried in the cave is that they lived in some form of pirate port, of which no trace remains today, where traders attempted to sidestep the commercial taxes levied in Jaffa and Ashkelon.

There is also evidence – which the Israeli police are investigating – that someone may have removed artefacts from the cave shortly after it was discovered and before it was sealed off by the authorities. Barkán, though, calculates that around 95% of the discoveries remain in place.

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Rare Diamond Destined For A Jewelry Store Has Precious Geological Value

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Gemologist Tingting Gu was working at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in New York when a diamond came to her for analysis and appraisal. It was to be set in a ring and sold in a jewelry store before she realized the geological significance of the gem under her microscope. It was the second ringwoodite diamond ever discovered.

To validate her find, Gu contacted Fabrizio Nestola, a professor with the Department of Geosciences at the University of Padua (Italy). The IaB-type diamond is very rare because it shows a mineral accumulation of ringwoodite with ferropericlase and enstatite. “This is the first time that this combination has occurred, which validates our laboratory experiments and provides us with exceptional new knowledge about the composition and structure of one of Earth’s most inaccessible and remote places,” said Nestola, co-author of the study published in Nature.

The 1.5 cm diamond comes from the Karowe mine in Botswana (southern Africa). A chemical analysis of the gem indicates that it originated 410 miles (660 kilometers) below the Earth’s mantle where it came in contact with water. This finding changes scientists’ current understanding of the Earth’s subsoil in that water is now believed to be much more prevalent at that depth than previously thought.

This discovery provides us with exceptional new knowledge about the composition and structure of one of Earth’s most inaccessible and remote places

Fabrizio Nestola (Department of Geosciences, University of Padua, Italy.

Detailed plane of the diamond, where the analysis highlights a composition of ferropericlase (bluish center), ringwoodite (upper edge) and enstatite (lower edge).
Detailed plane of the diamond, where the analysis highlights a composition of ferropericlase (bluish center), ringwoodite (upper edge) and enstatite (lower edge).Nathan D. Renfro y Tingting Gu (GIA)

Diamonds are (geological) time machines. High pressure and temperatures formed diamonds in Earth’s depths millions of years ago. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tectonic plate movements then brought them up to the Earth’s crust. Diamonds are one of the best sources of information about what is happening deep inside the Earth, an environment to which scientists have no direct access.

The diamond that came into Tingting Gu’s hands contains ringwoodite, which is a magnesium silicate mineral first discovered in 1969 in a meteorite that struck Australia. The first terrestrial ringwoodite sample was excavated in 2014 from the Juína mine in Brazil, sealed inside a “super-deep” diamond, according to Nestola. The discovery confirmed scientific theories about the Earth’s mantle, which can only be studied via the deposits expelled by geological cataclysms. It most likely emerged millions of years ago from the depths through a “chimney” of kimberlite volcanic rock. “This was very helpful,” says Nestola, “because the longest manmade shaft ever built only goes 7.5 miles deep.”

Ringwoodite is nothing more than an olivine, one of the most common minerals in the Earth’s upper mantle, just below the crust, “… to which great atmospheric pressure has been applied,” says geologist Javier García Guinea, of Spain’s National Museum of Natural Sciences. García Guinea, who was not involved in the rare discovery, says the study is “continuist” in nature, but acknowledges that “this is science, which is done step-by-step.”

The analysis of the IaB-type diamond indicates that it comes from a transition zone between the second and third layers of the Earth, at a depth of between 250 and 420 miles. The diamond was formed at a pressure of 23.5 GPa (gigapascals), and a temperature of about 3,000ºF (1,650ºC). To help us comprehend these facts, Nestola explained, “The pressure that crushes the atoms of the mineral into a diamond is immense – a single gigapascal is equivalent to four Mount Everests on top of your head.”

The presence of H₂O in the Earth’s lower mantle has implications for the structure and evolution of the planet

Geologist Antonio García Casco (Department of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Granada, Spain).

The chemical composition of the IaB-type diamond suggests that there are oceans of water between the Earth’s substrata, “… which is not new information – this has been known for decades,” said geologist Antonio García Casco (Department of Mineralogy and Petrology, University of Granada, Spain). But at those extreme depths, water is not the liquid we see on the surface. “It [H₂O] is transformed into a fluid that’s half-liquid and half-gas. It adheres to minerals and can comprise between 10-20% of their weight,” said García Casco.

García Casco says the study about the IaB-type diamond is significant because it leads us to “infer the presence of free-flowing H₂O in the lower mantle,” which has implications for “the structure and evolution of the planet. For example, implications for mantle convection and plate tectonics, which permanently change the planet.” For García Casco, this study is an opportunity for mineralogists to observe transformation processes that only occur “at depths that will be forever inaccessible.”

The diamond, saved in the nick of time from ending up in an engagement ring, “freezes and captures its environment, and then ferries it up from the depths until it reaches the light of day,” says Nestola. For geologists like him, the more material a gem absorbs, the more valuable it is to science. “Just the opposite for a jeweler,” he laughs.

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Abanderado: The Unlikely History Of A T-Shirt Men Wore Because Women Told Them To

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A short-sleeved white t-shirt displays little hint of transgression, yet it is capable of defining its wearer’s personality to a large extent. In the case of Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, the garment eroticized the protagonist, underlining his status as a paragon of the prototypical masculine ideal of the era. On the opposite end is Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, dressed in a grimy, faded white tee in keeping with his carefree and lazy character. Between both those extremes lie endless possibilities. Fashion brands have riffed limitlessly on the timeless potential of the simplest of designs. In Spain, the success of the white t-shirt came about through Abanderado, a brand founded in the 1960s that managed to consecrate its shirt as a symbol synonymous with success.

From Mataró to the world

Abanderado was founded by Pere Sans in 1963 in Mataró, one of the hubs of the textile industry in Spain. In its early days, the company produced underwear for women, men and children. Before long, its white men’s t-shirt had triumphed. Maruca García Paredes, director of the fashion department at Madrid’s University School of Design, Innovation and Technology (ESNE), points out that the popularity of this basic item has fluctuated throughout history: “Its origins date back to the Middle Ages, but its spread began with the dawn of mass textile production. Curiously, its popularity plummeted in 1934 when Clark Gable appeared without an undershirt in the movie It Happened One Night. Marlon Brando restored its notoriety in A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Succeeding at selling a product as ubiquitous as the white t-shirt is not an easy task: there aren’t many obvious ways to stand out from competitors. So what made Abanderado different?

History of advertising in Spain

Decades before Calvin Klein revolutionized the fashion industry with provocative underwear ads starring a teenaged Kate Moss and a chiseled Mark Wahlberg, Abanderado had already made history on Spanish television: advertising was one of the brand’s strengths. At that time, the viewing audience was not as diversified as it is today and broadcasts on non-state run and regional channels had not yet begun. A TV advertisement was guaranteed to reach hundreds of thousands of potential customers. Thus, Abanderado became the first brand to advertise men’s underwear in Spain in the 1970s and sales skyrocketed.

The spots were hardly innovative. They extolled the values of the time by glorifying the “masculine” man. Although Abanderado’s clothing was designed for men, some of its advertisements were nonetheless directed at women. What is perhaps one of its most remembered spots ended with an eloquent musical slogan: “Men wear Abanderado because women buy Abanderado.” In the space of a few seconds, that song synthesized and legitimized a chauvinistic idea rooted in the era: that men wouldn’t dream of buying their underwear. This was a task reserved for women, that is, their mothers or wives.

The brand’s white t-shirts, with short sleeves or straps, became a consumer favorite. Children wore them to school and through adulthood. The lyrics of one of the jingles, sung by a woman, emphasized that idea of Abanderado as a signature present in the key moments of your life: “Since you were little you have always carried Abanderado within you. On the most important day, when serving as a soldier, when you fall in love, Abanderado.” The song alluded to the first communion and military service, two essential pillars for the most conservative sectors of Spanish society.

The message came at a time when Spain was facing great societal change following the death of the dictator Francisco Franco and the transition to democracy. On its website, the brand cites a 1980s study that listed Abanderado as the leader in men’s underwear sales, with a 37% market share. At that time, the company had more than 600 workers in its Mataró factory, making it one of the most important companies in the Catalonian municipality.

Michael Jordan signs with Abanderado

The turn of a new decade provided a huge boost for the brand. In 1991, Abanderado was sold to the American company Sara Lee. Its campaigns had borne fruit and Abanderado ads were already part of the collective imagination, although the firm ran the risk of appearing somewhat dated. The new parent company ensured it would reach a whole new generation by signing the biggest sports star in the world at the time: NBA star Michael Jordan wore Abanderado shorts in a spot that has become part of history. It was 1992 and Jordan and the Dream Team had just returned from the Barcelona Olympics with gold medals. According to the commercial, Jordan had also discovered Abanderado briefs while at the Games. The campaign signaled a powerful change in the brand’s mentality: women were no longer identified as the primary audience and an influential male figure was chosen to appeal to the interests of men, the primary wearers of Abanderado products.

At the beginning of the 2000s, Abanderado changed hands again. It was acquired by the Sun Capital fund, which moved its headquarters from Mataró to Madrid. Shortly afterward, the brand’s t-shirts ceased to be manufactured in Spain. As of 2014, Abanderado has been owned by the American multinational Hanesbrands, the parent company of other underwear labels including Dim, Wonderbra Champion and Playtex.

Where is Abanderado today? Has the company managed to keep its shirts relevant? Is the brand name familiar to younger generations outside of television and traditional advertising? The brand’s golden age may be in the past but the current panorama works in its favor. The white tank top has grown ever more popular among followers of current fashion trends. Luxury brands such as Prada and Bottega Veneta have not passed up the opportunity to include simple white shirts in their latest collections – with three-figure prices. “That has been the major change,” says stylist Inés Marinero, “the transition from an undershirt to a trendy garment. It’s something that started in 1990s and it’s now back in fashion. Sporty luxury is now a part of our lives, which is why the white shirt is now also worn with more elaborate and sophisticated fabric designs.” A few weeks ago, the style section of The New York Times dedicated an expansive article to the garment entitled: “Reinventing the Humble Tank Top.” García Paredes also links the popularity of the white t-shirt to “the informalization of the intimate garment”, adding that it has become “a staple whose versatility can go from elegance and sophistication to daring, comfort and simplicity.”

Almost six decades after announcing itself on the market, Abanderado is now just a shadow of what it was in its heyday, citing economic problems and a constant trickle of layoffs. But its white shirt remains ingrained on the minds of a large part of Spanish society. Its next task is to try and repeat its marketing success on the new generation.

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A Basement Full Of Worms Could Shed Some Light On The Secrets Of Aging

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Not far from the popular Barceloneta beach in Barcelona, Spain, an underground room houses 35 office scanners stored in refrigerated chambers. Nicholas Stroustrup, an American biologist, is the holder of the key to the door of this peculiar place that is flooded by the roar of a very powerful air conditioner. “This is the lifespan machine!” he shouts so he can be heard over the noise. The scientist carefully opens the lid of one of the scanning devices. Inside, there are hundreds of worms. Hundreds more appear under another lid. He estimates that there are more than 20,000 worms in the room. The youngest ones keep moving: restlessly, they explore their environment. It is easy to feel dizzy when looking through the microscope at the oldest, motionless and wrinkled, waiting for death. This unusual machine, claims Stroustrup, could reveal the secrets of aging in human beings.

The scientist shares a surprising reflection: there is a lot of randomness in aging which has nothing to do with genetics – a person can die at 60 years of age, while their identical twin reaches 90. His worms, he explains, are not that different from humans. They are tiny animals, barely a millimeter long, with a ridiculous and exact number of cells: 959, no more, no less, apart from the ovules and sperms. A person is made up of about 30 trillion cells. However, despite their tiny size, these worms have everything: a mouth, an anus, a nervous system with 302 neurons, skin, genes, muscles.

The biologist, who compares aging to the game of roulette, is trying to discover its enigmatic rules. His lifespan machine scans the worms every hour, from birth to death. They usually live about 18 days, but the scientists perform all kinds of experiments to see what happens: they change their diet, stress them out, drug them, modify their genes, expose them to pathogens, raise or lower their temperature. Stroustrup thinks back. He has worked with “millions” of worms, and remembers some that lived for 50 days, the equivalent of a person reaching 225 years. Why did they live for so long while their identical siblings didn’t? They do not know.

Biologist Nicholas Stroustrup shows a microscope image of his worms, at the Center for Genomic Regulation, in Barcelona.
Biologist Nicholas Stroustrup shows a microscope image of his worms, at the Center for Genomic Regulation, in Barcelona.CRISTÓBAL CASTRO

Stroustrup came up with the idea for the lifespan machine when he was a 22-year-old doctoral student at Harvard University. Lacking the money for fancy automated microscopes, he went to a store and bought an ordinary office scanner. The first time he scanned a worm, he was amazed at the resolution. With a meager investment he was able to study tens of thousands of animals at once.

His first results were published in the journal Nature in 2016, and the data was surprising. A multitude of groups of identical worms lived more or less in each experiment, but there was always a pattern: within the same group, some lived longer than others. There was a constant randomness in the aging process. Stroustrup’s team has now gone further, investigating another factor besides longevity: how long the worms maintain vigorous movement.

The intuitive idea is that animals, as well as humans, have a biological age that could be different, or not, from their real age. A person may be 70 years old based on their date of birth, but their cells could be more like 55. Stroustrup’s experiment suggests something else that is quite different. The worms that maintain vigorous movement for longer — a reflection of healthy living — also live longer. However, statistical differences indicate that they are two independent variables. His study, published recently in the specialized journal PLOS Computational Biology, states that worms have at least two biological ages: one that determines the end of vigorous movement and another that marks the moment of death. Stroustrup suspects that there is actually a “constellation” of biological ages, depending on what part of the body is seen.

Laboratory plates with the worms 'C. elegans', in the longevity machine of the Center for Genomic Regulation, in Barcelona.
Laboratory plates with the worms ‘C. elegans’, in the longevity machine of the Center for Genomic Regulation, in Barcelona.CRISTÓBAL CASTRO

Can the longevity of a worm really reveal the keys to human aging? Sarcastically, Stroustrup replies with another question: “Can aging research in humans themselves reveal the secrets of human aging?” Repeating his experiments on people, he argues, would take decades. Centuries, even. The current focus is to look for other variables that are strongly correlated with aging, like the so-called epigenetic clock, chemical marks on DNA that are used to measure biological age. If a drug that is administered to a person has an effect on this epigenetic clock, it could be assumed that there will also be an effect on aging, but it would take decades to confirm this. Stroustrup’s new study suggests it is not that simple. If there are multiple biological ages, one of these indicators may suggest greater youth, while another denotes old age. Many companies already sell these controversial tests to measure biological age.

The worms that Stroustrup uses belong to the species Caenorhabditis elegans, already the center of experiments that have won three Nobel prizes: two for Medicine (2002 and 2006) and one for Chemistry (2008). The first one was for Sydney Brenner, the South African biologist who in the 1960s researched the function of DNA in these worms. “Genetics is the master science of biology. In fact it’s the only science and all the others are ways of getting to understand what the genes do,” Brenner stated in his memoirs. In Stroustrup’s lab, Indian biotechnologist Natasha Oswal and Spanish neuroscientist Andrea del Carmen inactivate worm genes in the Barcelona basement. Del Carmen points out that other laboratories have managed to make their worms live 10 times longer with a single mutation. “Longevity is very malleable,” she emphasizes.

Biochemist Carlos López Otín, an expert in aging at the University of Oviedo, points out that Stroustrup’s new experiment shows “a negative correlation” between the period of vigorous movement of the worms and the duration of the subsequent period. “In other words, animals with a long healthy life would be doubly lucky, living a shorter phase of final functional decline,” he says. López Otín – who did not participate in this study – warns that more research is needed on the molecular mechanisms involved to confirm that the results in worms can be extrapolated to humans.

Italian hematologist Carolina Florian applauds the new work, and stresses that aging is a highly complex process. “Not everybody ages at the same rate, and the cells and tissues of our body can even age at different rates,” explains Florian, from the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute, in Hospitalet de Llobregat (Barcelona). “Given the complexity of aging, and the difficulties to even precisely define when a cell, tissue or organism is old, it is very easy to run into confounding factors,” she continues. “Precisely for this reason, this study in worms has really important implications for our current understanding of how biomarkers can predict human aging.”

Florian encourages the scientific community to keep going and develop innovative experiments that reveal the true mechanisms of aging. “We are already fully aware that aging is a biological process and that it is possible to treat it in order to extend the duration of life.”

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