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Dogs Join the Search for Amelia Earhart’s Remains

The quest to find Amelia Earhart’s final resting place just got a little more interesting, as four National Geographic-sponsored bone-sniffing border collies set sail for a remote Pacific island.

The famed aviatrix and her navigator were last seen on July 2, 1937, soaring into the sky above New Guinea. We know where they were headed—Howland Island, a mere speck in the ocean—but we don’t know where they went. There are plenty of theories, of course. Some people think Earhart was actually a spy who went into hiding after completing her final mission. Others think she was captured.

But some of the most compelling evidence comes from Nikumaroro, an uninhabited atoll located about 1000 miles north of Fiji. The island is just 350 nautical miles southwest of Howland Island. At low tide, its exposed reef could have made a welcoming spot to land an ailing plane. Most importantly, we’ve found bones there before; the British government recovered 13 human bones there in 1940.

Lagoon on the remote Pacific island of Nikumaroro.
Angela K. Kepler, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Those bones have since been lost, as has the precise location of where they were discovered, but archaeologists believe they know where to find more.

So the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) is sending a new mission to the island, bolstered with some very special experts. Berkeley, Piper, Marcy, and Kayle all trained as remains detection dogs by the Institute for Canine Forensics.

“No other technology is more sophisticated than the dogs,” expert Fred Hiebert told National Geographic News. “They have a higher rate of success identifying things than ground-penetrating radar.” Hiebert is archaeologist in residence at the National Geographic Society, which sponsored the collies’ involvement.

The dogs’ job is to follow the scent of human bones, then alert their human counterparts, who will excavate in a wide circle around the targeted area. It probably won’t be an easy job. Heat, vegetation, and scavengers can all throw off the scent, and Nikumaroro is sweltering, dense with greenery, and crawling with bone-cracking coconut crabs.

That last thing might not be terrible. “The crabs are our friends,” Hiebert says. It’s possible that they found the remains themselves, then dragged them back to their burrows. The dark, underground holes could actually help preserve the remains and their scent.

Hiebert and his colleagues at TIGHAR know it’s a long shot. The scent trail likely went cold ages ago, if the bones are even still there, if they ever were there at all.

“But if the dogs are successful,” Hiebert says, “it will be the discovery of a lifetime.”

[h/t National Geographic News]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Buckingham Palace Was Built With Jurassic Fossils, Scientists Find
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The UK's Buckingham Palace is a vestige from another era, and not just because it was built in the early 18th century. According to a new study, the limestone used to construct it is filled with the fossilized remains of microbes from the Jurassic period of 200 million years ago, as The Telegraph reports.

The palace is made of oolitic limestone, which consists of individual balls of carbonate sediment called ooids. The material is strong but lightweight, and is found worldwide. Jurassic oolite has been used to construct numerous famous buildings, from those in the British city of Bath to the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.

A new study from Australian National University published in Scientific Reports found that the spherical ooids in Buckingham Palace's walls are made up of layers and layers of mineralized microbes. Inspired by a mathematical model from the 1970s for predicting the growth of brain tumors, the researchers created a model that explains how ooids are created and predicts the factors that limit their ultimate size.

A hand holding a chunk of oolite limestone
Australian National University

They found that the mineralization of the microbes forms the central core of the ooid, and the layers of sediment that gather around that core feed those microbes until the nutrients can no longer reach the core from the outermost layer.

This contrasts with previous research on how ooids form, which hypothesized that they are the result of sediment gathered from rolling on the ocean floor. It also reshapes how we think about the buildings made out of oolitic limestone from this period. Next time you look up at the Empire State Building or Buckingham Palace, thank the ancient microbes.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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©Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Inside the Kitchen of Thomas Jefferson's Acclaimed—and Enslaved—Chef James Hemings
 ©Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello
©Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

James Hemings once prepared lavish dishes for America's founding fathers at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia plantation. Though enslaved, he trained in France to become one of colonial America's most accomplished chefs. Now, archaeologists have uncovered the kitchen where Hemings created his elaborate banquets, LiveScience reports.

Researchers at Monticello are conducting a long-term effort, the Mountaintop Project, to restore plantation premises, including slave quarters, to their original appearance. Archaeologists excavated a previously filled-in cellar in the main house's South Pavilion, where they found artifacts like bones, toothbrushes, beads, and shards of glass and ceramics. Underneath layers of dirt, experts also uncovered the kitchen's original brick floor, remnants of a fireplace, and the foundations of four waist-high stew stoves.

"Stew stoves are the historic equivalent of a modern-day stovetop or cooking range," archaeological field researcher manager Crystal Ptacek explains in an online video chronicling the find. Each contained a small hole for hot coals; centuries later, the cellar floor still contains remains of ash and charcoal from blazing fires. Hemings himself would have toiled over these stoves.

During the colonial period, wealthy families had their slaves prepare large, labor-intensive meals. These multi-course feasts required stew stoves for boiling, roasting, and frying. Archaeologists think that Jefferson might have upgraded his kitchen after returning from Paris: Stew stoves were a rarity in North America, but de rigueur for making haute French cuisine.

Hemings traveled with Jefferson to France in the 1780s, where for five years he was trained in the French culinary arts. There, Hemings realized he was technically a free man. He met free black people and also learned he could sue for his freedom under French law, according to NPR.

And yet he returned to the U.S. to cook for Jefferson's family and guests, perhaps because he didn't want to be separated from his family members at Monticello, including his sister, Sally. He later negotiated his freedom from Jefferson and trained his brother Peter as his replacement. Hemings ended up cooking for a tavern keeper in Baltimore, and in 1801, shortly after turning down an offer from now-president Jefferson to be his personal chef, he died by suicide.

"We're thinking that James Hemings must have had ideals and aspirations about his life that could not be realized in his time and place," Susan Stein, senior curator at Monticello, told NPR in 2015. "And those factors probably contributed to his unhappiness and his depression, and ultimately to his death."

Hemings contributed to early America's culinary landscape through dessert recipes like snow eggs and by introducing colonial diners to macaroni and cheese, among other dishes. He also assisted today's historians by completing a 1796 inventory of Monticello's kitchen supplies—and he's probably left further clues in the estate's newly uncovered kitchen, says Gayle Jessup White, Monticello's community engagement officer—and one of James's relatives.

"My great-great-great-grandfather Peter Hemings learned to cook French cuisine from his brother James on this stove," White tells Mental Floss. "It was a spiritual moment for me to walk into the uncovered remains of Monticello's first kitchen, where my ancestors spent much of their lives. This discovery breathes life into the people who lived, worked and died at Monticello, and I hope people connect with their stories."

[h/t Live Science]

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