Findings

Science  02 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6145, pp. 442
  1. A New Twist on the Oldest Radiation

    CREDIT: D. HANSON/MCGILL UNIVERSITY

    Astrophysicists have spotted swirls in the afterglow of the big bang—the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The result suggests that scientists are closing in on a major discovery: gravity waves that rippled through the infant universe during a faster-than-light growth spurt called inflation.

    The CMB's microwaves are polarized, and gravity waves should produce swirls, or B-modes, in the polarization pattern in the sky. But B-modes can also arise when gravity from matter in the foreground distorts the CMB. Duncan Hanson, an astrophysicist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and colleagues working with the South Pole Telescope teased out those other B-modes starting with an estimate of the mass distribution in the universe from other data.

    "I take it as a hopeful sign that we can get to the gravitational-wave signal," says Charles Bennett, a cosmologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Several teams are racing for that prize, including one with European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft. Planck researchers "are pushing very hard on this," says David Spergel, a cosmologist at Princeton University. "They hear footsteps."

  2. ‘Llullaillaco Maiden’ Was Drugged Before Sacrifice

    Sacrificed.

    Radiological scans (left) show the maiden was chewing coca leaves when she died.

    CREDIT: A. S. WILSON ET AL., PNAS (AUGUST 2013), REPRINTED FROM J. REINHARD AND M. C. CERUTI, INCA RITUALS AND SACRED MOUNTAINS: A STUDY OF THE WORLD'S HIGHEST ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES (2010), UCLA COTSEN INSTITUTE OF ARCHAEOLOGY PRESS, LOS ANGELES, PHOTO BY JOHAN REINHARD

    The 500-year-old, naturally mummified bodies of three children, probable victims of an Incan sacrificial ritual known as capacocha, were found in 1999 atop Argentina's Llullaillaco volcano. It now appears that regular use of coca and alcohol might have played a more-than-ceremonial role in their deaths, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Most of what scientists know about the lives of the children—a boy and girl about 4 to 5 years old and a 13-year-old female called the Llullaillaco Maiden—comes from their hair. Key metabolite levels measured in the Maiden's hair suggest that her coca use peaked 6 months before she died, while her alcohol consumption skyrocketed in her final weeks. The boy and the girl also ingested the two drugs but in much smaller amounts.

    While other high-altitude Incan mummies show signs of head trauma, the Llullaillaco mummies appear to have died peacefully. The alcohol may have sedated the Maiden in the weeks before her death, and also impaired the shivering reflex, hastening her death of exposure, notes Andrew Wilson, an archaeologist at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom. http://scim.ag/cocamummy

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