Researchers May Have Found North America's Second Viking Site


Almost five centuries before Christopher Columbus was born in the early 1450s, a ship led by Viking explorer Leif Erikson crossed the Atlantic Ocean. It dropped anchor in present-day Canada, and the sailors built a temporary settlement on the northern tip of Newfoundland, complete with dwellings, a forge, and a carpentry workshop.

The site was abandoned after only a few years. Archaeologists discovered its 1000-year-old ruins in 1960, and called it L'Anse aux Meadows. For decades, it was the only known Norse settlement in North America outside Greenland. Now, National Geographic reports that researchers may have found evidence of a second Viking site in southern Newfoundland—a find that, if verified, could rewrite the timeline of European exploration in the New World.

The potential outpost is in Point Rosee, a remote spot 300 miles south of L’Anse aux Meadows. The area was identified as a potential Viking hotspot by “space archaeologist” Sarah Parcak.

Parcak uses satellite images taken by cameras 400 miles above Earth to find ancient cities, temples and tombs in Egypt. Last November, Parcak was awarded a $1 million TED Prize, which she is using to develop a platform called Global Xplorer. The citizen science initiative teaches individuals to scan satellite images for undiscovered—and potentially important—archaeological finds.

In 2015, Parcak used the same technology to examine the Canadian coastline. Satellite images hinted at potentially human-made shapes lurking underneath vegetation, and Parcak and her team visited one promising site to take a closer look. Magnetometer readings at the site revealed elevated iron levels. Subsequent digs uncovered an ancient fire-cracked stone hearth, scraps of iron, and Viking-style turf walls.

While there isn’t enough definite evidence to state that these finds are remnants of the seafaring Scandinavians, The New York Times reports that radiocarbon tests have dated the relics to the Norse age (late 8th century through the mid 11th century). Also, the site’s relics aren’t characteristic of any other cultures that might have existed in the area, Parcak told The Washington Post. Archaeologists didn't find any flint scraps, pottery shards, or iron nails left behind by later European colonists or indigenous Canadians. Plus, the only other known pre-Columbian iron processing site in North America is L’Anse aux Meadows.

“Either it’s … an entirely new culture that looks exactly like the Norse and we don’t know what it is,” Parcak said to The Washington Post. “Or it’s the westernmost Norse site that’s ever been discovered.”

Nobody knows whether the site was merely an iron smelting site or part of a larger settled community. Experts will continue to excavate and analyze the find, which will be featured in a two-hour PBS documentary called "Vikings Unearthed" airing on April 4. If it’s a true Viking site, Parcak says it might help researchers find additional Norse relics in the area. These discoveries could provide new evidence that these sailors had explored more of North America—and possibly arrived there earlier—than historians had previously thought.

[h/t National Geographic]

Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too

There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.


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