CLOSE

Tuesday Turnip

It's time for another whimsical Tuesday Turnip search wherein I type a random phrase and we see what kind of interesting factoids "turn-up."

Today I typed in "largely assumed that" "“ unearthing the following:

  • It is largely assumed that every person's fingerprints are unique, or different from every other person's. The odds against two people having identically matching fingerprints are astronomical. For this reason, fingerprints are one of the best ways to identify people. Other physical characteristics differ from one person to the next, including the voice, iris, retina, handprints, footprints, blood vessels in the wrist, and facial image.
  • In All Grown Up!, set approximately nine years [after Rugrats], Kimi Finster grew up to some extent. Her age is never clearly defined, but it is largely assumed that she is 10 years old.
  • In 1844, John Neely Bryan convinced J. P. Dumas to survey and lay out a 0.5 square miles section of blocks and streets near present downtown [Dallas]. The establishment was named Dallas, and though it is largely assumed that it was named after the then Vice President George Mifflin Dallas, there are at least six theories as to the origin of the name: Named after George Mifflin Dallas; Named after George Mifflin Dallas's brother Alexander James Dallas, a U.S. Navy commodore who was stationed in the Gulf of Mexico; Named after George and sailor Alexander's father, Alexander James Dallas, who was the United States Secretary of the Treasury around the end of the War of 1812; Named in a town-naming contest in 1842; Named after the friend of founder John Neely Bryan's son, who later stated that his father had said he had named the town "after my friend Dallas" (a person whose identity is not certain). Named after Joseph Dallas, who settled near Dallas in 1843[2]
  • Christopher Storrs presents a fresh new appraisal of the reasons for the survival of Spain and its European and overseas empire under the last Spanish Habsburg, Carlos II (1665-1700). Hitherto it has been largely assumed that in the 'Age of Louis XIV' Spain collapsed as a military, naval and imperial power, and only retained its empire because states which had hitherto opposed Spanish hegemony came to Carlos's aid. However, this view seriously underestimates the efforts of Carlos II"¦
  • A mobile robot is one of the simplest types of robot. The ANU mobile robot has wheels at the bottom for driving around, four car batteries for power, two 800MHz Pentium III computers and a large number of sensors, including video cameras, sonar and laser rangefinders. Mobile robotics research at the ANU focuses on the development of a reliable, robust robot that could drive around, automatically build a map and then navigate through an environment using the map. Building and maintaining maps in changing environments are the challenges at present. Previous research has largely assumed that the environment is unmoving and does not change. However, in most real-world applications, there are people moving around and objects, like furniture, are occasionally rearranged.
  • The Nephilim were an antediluvian race (pre-flood) race which are referred to in the Bible as giants. It is largely assumed that Adam and Eve were the only humans created in the beginning, but the Bible does not describe every person on earth, nor even everyone that was important to God.
  • Much of the debate surrounding embryonic stem cells has centered on the ethical and moral questions raised by the use of human embryos in medical research. In contrast to the widely divergent public opinions regarding this research, it is largely assumed that from the perspective of science there is little or no debate on the matter. The scientific merit of stem cell research is most commonly characterized as "indisputable" and the support of the scientific community as "unanimous." Nothing could be further from the truth.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
quiz
Begins and Ends: European Cities
iStock
iStock
nextArticle.image_alt|e
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
arrow
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios