In 1969, the third man to walk on the moon, astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr., also became the first lunar archaeologist. As part of the Apollo 12 crew, he examined an earlier robotic lander, Surveyor 3, and retrieved its TV camera, aluminum tubing and other hardware, giving NASA scientists back on Earth the evidence they needed to study how human-made materials fared in the lunar environment.
This week’s planned robotic landing by the Chinese National Space Agency, the first controlled landing since the 1976 Luna 24 mission, signals a renewal of sophisticated lunar exploration. This time around, more countries will be involved, as will commercial entities. Private organizations are in hot pursuit of the Google Lunar X Prize, which offers cash rewards for achieving technical milestones, one of which is landing near the Apollo sites. A recent bill introduced in the House, called the Apollo Lunar Landing Legacy Act, proposes a novel form of protection. Unfortunately, it appears to interfere with existing space law. Continue reading
Researchers from the University of Granada collected mountain lake sediments from Laguna de Río Seco in southern Spain that had accumulated over 10,000 years, trapping deposits from the atmosphere. In these stacks of mud, they found fine layers of lead that reveal millennia of metalworking and migration, and may be the oldest evidence of air pollution in southern Europe. “[The mud] has been capturing the evolution of air pollution from the Neolithic to present times and giving us an idea of the activity of each of the populations that have passed through southern Iberia,” says team leader José Antonio Lozano, “such as the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and more.”
The team dates the first man-made uptick in pollution to between 3,900 and 3,500 years ago, which matches the appearance at nearby sites of coins, weapons, and decorations that, when made, left behind lead by-products. The lead records also attest to a quiet period, when mining moved elsewhere in Iberia, and to a spike corresponding with a period of Roman mining. But all those signals are dwarfed by a more modern surge, which the team attributes to the leaded gasoline in heavy use from the 1950s to the 1970s. The good news, the researchers report, is that present-day lead levels are already below those of the worst Roman deposits.
This From the Trenches item first appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Archaeology Magazine: [html] [pdf]
The warship survived the first blast of wind it encountered on its maiden voyage in Stockholm Harbor. But the second gust did it in. The sinking of Vasa, on August 10, 1628, took place nowhere near an enemy. In fact, it sank in full view of a horrified public, assembled to see off their navy’s—and Europe’s—most ambitious warship to date. The 220-foot, triple-deck, 64-gun leviathan, elaborately adorned, had been rush-ordered for King Gustav Adolf’s war against Poland. But before it faced an opposing ship or fired a single shot, Vasa slipped beneath the waves.
In some Icelandic sagas—embellished stories of Viking life—sailors relied on so-called sunstones to locate the sun’s position and steer their ships on cloudy days.
The stone would’ve worked by detecting a property of sunlight called polarization. Continue reading