Metal Salvagers Are Destroying World War II Shipwrecks in Asia

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iStock

Military shipwrecks are viewed as underwater graveyards, but some illegal salvage divers view their metal hulls as goldmines. Their quest for scrap metals and valuable materials has led to the partial or complete destruction of up to 40 World War II ships in southeast Asia, according to a detailed account by The Guardian.

Crews of divers pretending to be fishermen or researchers have raided submerged ships around Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. They might have been looking for steel scrap metal, or copper cables, phosphor bronze propellers, and radiation-free steel, the last of which is used in scientific and medical equipment.

Some ships have been found cut in half, while others have been completely removed. But these divers aren't just destroying history, according to veterans and archaeologists—they’re also desecrating grave sites, as the 40 destroyed or damaged ships may have held around 4500 corpses. They belonged to World War II servicemen from countries including the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, and Japan.

Important British warships like the HMS Exeter, HMS Encounter, and HMS Electra—all of which sank in the Java Sea in 1942—have fallen victim to scavengers. So have the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, which sank off the coast of Malaysia in 1941.

Australia, meanwhile, has suffered the loss of the HMAS Perth, which met its end in 1942, near the islands of Java and Sumatra. Nearly 60 to 70 percent of its hull is gone, according to archaeologists. And Japanese ships have also been destroyed, with hundreds still remaining vulnerable underwater. All of these ships likely had the bodies of crew members onboard.

UK and U.S. officials have requested that Indonesia protect historic sunken warships. In the meantime, Cambodian, Chinese, and Malaysian-registered vessels have all been spotted hovering around wrecks, and shipwreck scavenging appears to be on the rise. The UK Ministry of Defence is asking the Indonesian government to step in, according to a spokesperson quoted by The Guardian: "A military wreck should remain undisturbed and those who lost their lives onboard should be allowed to rest in peace."

[h/t The Guardian]

Advanced CT Scans Reveal Blood Vessels and Skin Layers in a Mummy's Hand

Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Mummies hold some intriguing secrets to their pasts, like the food they ate and the diseases they had when they were alive. Now scientists are using a tool originally designed for medicine to get an even deeper look at the clues mummified bodies carry with them into the present day, Gizmodo reports.

In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Radiology, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden detail how a new-and-improved CT scanning technique can be used to visualize the interior of mummies on a microscopic level. By creating detailed X-ray images, CT scans allow doctors to see inside their patients without invasive surgery. Archaeologists have been using this technology to study delicate ancient artifacts for years, but the level of detail that can be achieved this way—especially when it comes to looking at interior soft tissue—is limited.

The upgraded version of the tech, called phase-contrast CT scanning, measures the phase shift, or the change in the position of a light wave, that occurs when X-rays pass through solid objects. The images generated this way have a higher contrast level than conventional X-rays, which means they capture more detail.

Cross-section of mummy hand.
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Doctors have been using this 10-year-old technology to examine soft tissues like organs and veins in living patients, but it hadn't been used on a mummy until recently. Working with a mummified human right hand dating back to 400 BCE in Egypt, which they borrowed from the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, the researchers fired up a phase-contrast CT scanner. It produced images with a resolution of 6 to 9 microns, giving a clear picture of the different layers of skin, individual cells in the connective tissue, and the blood vessels in the nail bed—all without damaging the artifact. Previously, researchers looking to study these same tissues in mummies would have needed to use a scalpel.

As Ars Technica reports, a phase-contrast CT scanner is similar in cost to the conventional machine. The study authors hope their work will lead to phase-contrast CT scanning becoming just as common in archaeology as regular CT scanning, potentially creating new research opportunities in mummies that will be discovered in the future and even in artifacts that have already been examined.

[h/t Gizmodo]

A 2.63-Carat Diamond Was Unearthed by a Grandmother at an Arkansas State Park

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iStock

Visitors to the Crater of Diamonds Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas clearly have an objective in mind: Excavate one of the diamonds lurking on or beneath the park's soil, the onetime site of a volcanic crater. If they do, it's theirs to keep.

Earlier this month, a 71-year-old grandmother from Colorado made the biggest discovery on park grounds of 2018: a 2.63-carat ice white diamond. And she did it in about 10 minutes.

The retiree, who asked media outlets not to identify her by name, visited Crater of Diamonds with her husband, son, and grandchildren. After briefly scraping away dirt, she saw the gem on the surface. The diamond was so large and clear—roughly the size of a pinto bean—that she assumed it was just a piece of glass. Further inspection by her family and park personnel revealed it was a diamond.

Park officials told press that employees frequently till the soil, which can loosen the gems and allow them to catch the reflection of the sun, making them easier to spot. Roughly 33,000 diamonds have been found by visitors since the park opened in 1972.

It's hard to know the exact value of the diamond. While there is a certain fluctuating value assigned to a carat, appraisers also look at three other "Cs": clarity, color, and cut. A two-carat diamond is often more than double the price of a one-carat diamond because the larger gems are more rare. But tourists have profited from their finds: In 2015, a visitor retrieved a 8.51-carat white diamond that was cut down to 4.6 carats by a jeweler and valued by the American Gem Society at $500,000.

[h/t WGN TV]

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