Random Samples

Science  12 Nov 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5699, pp. 1129
  1. Life in the Ancient Andes

    CREDIT: ANTTI KORPISAARI

    Tiwanaku goblet Archaeologists have discovered a 1000-year-old trove of finely painted and beautifully sculpted drinking vessels and figurines on an island in Bolivia's Lake Titicaca. Some of the jugs, 20 of which are unbroken, are shaped like human heads and animals, offering a rare glimpse of the Tiwanaku culture.

    The finds, announced last month by Antti Korpisaari and Martti Pärssinen of the University of Helsinki working with Bolivian colleagues, also included the shards of hundreds of vessels that priests may have ceremonially tossed into a pit. The workmanship represents “some of the very highest artistic achievements of Tiwanaku potters ever discovered,” says Korpisaari.

    Because textiles haven't survived in the moist Andean highlands, archaeologists have little information on how the people were clothed. “To actually see what people might have looked like while alive is extremely valuable,” says Deborah Eileen Blom of the University of Vermont, Burlington. The ceramics also show jewelry and tattoos.

  2. The Definitive Mozart

    A filmmaker hopes to use DNA to settle a long-standing mystery: Does an Austrian foundation really have Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's skull? Researchers have already discreetly unearthed bones of several Mozart family members for a documentary celebrating the composer's 250th birthday in January 2006. In the coming months, they will attempt to compare DNA samples taken from the bones to a sample from the skull, held by the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg.

    The skull was supposedly unearthed by a gravedigger several years after the 35-year-old composer was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in December 1791. It passed through several hands before arriving at the Mozarteum Foundation in 1902. Decades of historical, dental, and even facial reconstruction studies have been frustratingly inconclusive, says foundation director Stephan Pauly.

    Journalist Burgl Czeitschner, who proposed the project, says the team has unearthed bones thought to be those of Mozart's maternal grandmother and his niece—both of whom would carry the same mitochondrial DNA as the composer. If the samples match, Czeitschner says, then scientists might be able to use the skull to learn more about how Mozart lived and the unresolved mystery of how he died. (One persistent rumor has him being poisoned by a jealous rival composer.) Czeitschner says producers plan to keep a tight wrap on any results until the film is broadcast.

  3. Betting on Bush

    In a year when pre-election polls fluctuated, election markets (Science, 30 July, p. 603) managed to send a relatively consistent message.

    From the end of the Republican convention on 2 September through Election Day, the odds on President Bush's eventual victory never dropped below 50% on the commercial Tradesports.com Web site. On election eve, a $1 contract for Bush to win closed at 53 cents on the dollar, meaning he was believed to have a 53% chance of winning.

    On the Iowa Electronic Market, run by the University of Iowa, Bush consistently led in the betting. A late Kerry surge brought the Democrat up to only 49.5% in the “vote share” market—a 1.5% overestimate (as calculated for a two-way race), which was nevertheless within the market's historical error rate. And there was no need to sweat all night over swing states Florida and Ohio: Election followers had only to log on to Tradesports.com to see that they were pegged in the GOP camp.

    According to Iowa accounting professor Joyce Berg, the Iowa market stayed steadier and closer to the final results throughout the year than polls, which underestimated Bush's final vote share before the Republican convention, then overestimated it until the first debate. Even after the last debate, “the polls were all over the map” compared with the markets, says Berg.

  4. AIDS Art in Paris

    CREDIT: ELIZABETH DELIRY ANTHEAUME/IRD

    This anti-AIDS mural photo-graphed in South Africa is part of a travelling photography exhibition, “Sciences au Sud,” focusing on French research efforts in the Southern Hemisphere, which opened in Paris last month.

  5. In Brief

    GAVI head. British health policy expert Julian Lob-Levyt is the new executive secretary of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), based in Geneva, Switzerland. He succeeds Tore Godal, who has held the post since the alliance was formed in 2000. GAVI, which is a partnership of government agencies and private foundations worldwide, and its financing arm—The Vaccine Fund—have so far given out $429 million for vaccinations in more than 70 countries. Lob-Levyt has worked at the United Kingdom's Department for International Development since 1998 and is a senior policy adviser to the executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

    New NPA chair. Keith Micoli, a postdoc in pathology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, has been named chair of the National Post-doctoral Association for 2005, succeeding founding chair Carol Manahan. The 2-year-old association has also elected five executive board members for 2-year terms starting 2005.

  6. Deaths

    CREDIT: NIH/NIAID

    Microbe expert. John La Montagne, deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), died on 2 November en route to a Pan American Health Organization meeting in Mexico City. The 61-year-old microbiologist was waiting in a passport line at the Mexico City airport when he collapsed suddenly. NIAID officials say he had no serious health problems, and the cause of death is as yet unknown.

    Born in Mexico, La Montagne worked at NIAID on a wide range of infectious diseases including influenza, malaria, and tuberculosis. “He had an encyclopedic knowledge of microbiology,” says Anthony Fauci, La Montagne's boss and longtime friend. “And he had to be one of the finest human beings anyone of us had ever met.” La Montagne is survived by his wife of 35 years.

  7. In Print

    Paleo buffs. Nothing gets between Fred Ransdell and his fossils—at least not when he's posing as Mr. March for a calendar put out by the Dallas Paleontological Society. “It's supposed to be educational, attractive, and funny,” says Ransdell, an amateur paleontologist and president of the society, which hopes the proceeds will finance two graduate scholarships awarded each year.

    The calendar features “revealing but tasteful” photos of local fossil enthusiasts, men and women, posing in the field with nothing but a smile and their favorite specimens. For their part, Ransdell and his son Brent are seen toting a cast of the femur of a sauropod called Pleurocoelus found at a quarry about 150 kilometers south of Dallas. In the background lurks a predator from that era, 110 million years ago, which is actually the image of a dino sculpture superimposed on the photo.

    To order a copy, visit dallaspaleo.org.

  8. Jobs

    CREDIT: FERMILAB/VMS

    Tackling big questions. University of Chicago cosmologist Edward Kolb has been chosen to head the new Particle Astrophysics Center at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.

    The center will bring together some 40 scientists from Fermi's experimental and theoretical astrophysics groups, along with new hires, to focus on the growing overlap between astrophysical observations and high-energy particle physics experiments. It will analyze findings from projects such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory to investigate questions on dark matter and the big bang.

    “There are so many new ideas and so much new data,” says Kolb, 53, who came to Fermilab in 1981 and helped found its theoretical astrophysics group. Kolb hopes to attract private funding in addition to in-house support for the new center, whose debut next month features a lecture by Nobelist Riccardo Giacconi and a workshop on galaxy clusters.

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