16 June 2010

World's Oldest Leather Shoe Found in Armenia

The world's oldest leather shoe found in a cave in Armenia. (Credit: Image courtesy of University College Cork)

(ScienceDaily) -- A perfectly preserved shoe, 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and 400 years older than Stonehenge in the UK, has been found in a cave in Armenia.

The 5,500 year old shoe, the oldest leather shoe in the world, was discovered by a team of international archaeologists and their findings will publish on June 9th in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE.

The cow-hide shoe dates back to ~ 3,500 BC (the Chalcolithic period) and is in perfect condition. It was made of a single piece of leather and was shaped to fit the wearer's foot. It contained grass, although the archaeologists were uncertain as to whether this was to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe, a precursor to the modern shoe-tree perhaps? "It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman," said lead author of the research, Dr Ron Pinhasi, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland "as while small (European size 37; US size 7 women), the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era." The cave is situated in the Vayotz Dzor province of Armenia, on the Armenian, Iranian, Nakhichevanian and Turkish borders, and was known to regional archaeologists due to its visibility from the highway below.

The stable, cool and dry conditions in the cave resulted in exceptional preservation of the various objects that were found, which included large containers, many of which held well-preserved wheat and barley, apricots and other edible plants. The preservation was also helped by the fact that the floor of the cave was covered by a thick layer of sheep dung which acted as a solid seal over the objects, preserving them beautifully over the millennia!

"We thought initially that the shoe and other objects were about 600-700 years old because they were in such good condition," said Dr Pinhasi. "It was only when the material was dated by the two radiocarbon laboratories in Oxford, UK, and in California, US that we realised that the shoe was older by a few hundred years than the shoes worn by Ötzi, the Iceman."

Three samples were taken in order to determine the absolute age of the shoe and all three tests produced the same results. The archaeologists cut two small strips of leather off the shoe and sent one strip to the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford and another to the University of California -Irvine Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility. A piece of grass from the shoe was also sent to Oxford to be dated and both shoe and grass were shown to be the same age.

The shoe was discovered by Armenian PhD student, Ms Diana Zardaryan, of the Institute of Archaeology, Armenia, in a pit that also included a broken pot and wild goat horns. "I was amazed to find that even the shoe-laces were preserved," she recalled. "We couldn't believe the discovery," said Dr Gregory Areshian, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, US, co-director who was at the site with Mr Boris Gasparyan, co-director, Institute of Archaeology, Armenia when the shoe was found. "The crusts had sealed the artefacts and archaeological deposits and artefacts remained fresh dried, just like they were put in a can," he said.

The oldest known footwear in the world, to the present time, are sandals made of plant material, that were found in a cave in the Arnold Research Cave in Missouri in the US. Other contemporaneous sandals were found in the Cave of the Warrior, Judean Desert, Israel, but these were not directly dated, so that their age is based on various other associated artefacts found in the cave.

Interestingly, the shoe is very similar to the 'pampooties' worn on the Aran Islands (in the West of Ireland) up to the 1950s. "In fact, enormous similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of this shoe and those found across Europe at later periods, suggesting that this type of shoe was worn for thousands of years across a large and environmentally diverse region," said Dr Pinhasi.

"We do not know yet what the shoe or other objects were doing in the cave or what the purpose of the cave was," said Dr Pinhasi. "We know that there are children's graves at the back of the cave but so little is known about this period that we cannot say with any certainty why all these different objects were found together." The team will continue to excavate the many chambers of the cave.

The team involved in the dig included; lead author and co-director, Dr Ron Pinhasi, Archaeology Department, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland; Mr Boris Gasparian, co-director and Ms Diana Zardaryan of the Institute of Archaeology and Enthography, National Academy of Sciences, Republic of Armenia; Dr Gregory Areshian, co-director, Research Associate at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, US; Professor Alexia Smith, Department of Anthropology of the University of Connecticut, US, Dr Guy Bar-Oz , Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Israel and Dr Thomas Higham, Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, University of Oxford, UK.

The research received funding from the National Geographic Society, the Chitjian Foundation (Los Angeles), US, Mr Joe Gfoeller of the Gfoeller Foundation of US, the Steinmetz Family Foundation,US, the Boochever Foundation, US, and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, US.

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28 April 2010

Microsoft Understands How IT Guys Feel

(thenexweb) -- Microsoft suddenly has a fantastic sense of humor.

First, they sent flowers to the funeral of IE6. Now they’re rolling out a new webcomic series called “Where’s the ‘Any’ Key?” The site allows IT professionals to share their worst fail moments from their time doing tech support. From there, users can vote on these anecdotes.

The highest-rated anecdote every week wins its author a Sony Vaio X, £100 in gift certificates to the Microsoft store, and the anecdote is turned into the site’s weekly comic strip.

Why has Microsoft suddenly gotten a sense of humor?

It’s actually surprisingly simple. Microsoft knows that it has to do something to shake its reputation as being both the butt of jokes and the evil empire at the same time. By poking fun at its own flaws, it’s managed to put a human face on a previously imposing corporation.

As you can see from the above comic, it seems like Microsoft’s finally sticking to its core competencies regarding humor, as explained in this page (yes, that really is a MSFT page).

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A Tiny Apartment Transforms into 24 Rooms

In Hong Kong, one residential hi-rise looks much like the next. Tiny box-like apartments are home to most of the city's seven million people. Architect Gary Chang is one of them, although his place is just a little different.

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Night Vision Coming Soon To Cell Phones, Eyeglasses

An image taken through night vision glasses shows soldiers in northern Afghanistan. New technology could make night vision more widely available. AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

(Discovery) -- Adapting technology found in flat screen television sets, scientists have created a thin film that converts infrared light into visible light. The technology could give cell phones, eyeglasses and car windshields cheap, lightweight night vision.

"This device can convert any infrared image into a visible image and would weigh no more than a pair of eyeglasses," said Franky So, a scientist at the University of Florida who describes his new night vision technology in a recent article in the journal Advanced Materials that was funded in part by advanced technology powerhouse DARPA.

Most night vision devices today use massive amounts of electricity -- often several thousand volts, according to So -- and heavy, glass lenses that maintain a vacuum to make the night come alive. So's device takes a radically different turn, replacing glass with thin plastic, eliminating the vacuum and using energy-efficient, organic LEDs.

So does this by using technology borrowed from flat screen TVs. Infrared light enters the film and is detected by the first of seven separate layers, which generates a slight electrical charge. Additional electrical energy -- about three to five volts -- amplifies that signal, which is then converted back into visible light.

Like most of today's night vision cameras, So's device emits an eerie green light. Unlike most night vision technology today, however, So's design would weigh less than 100 grams (less than a quarter of a pound). Part of that weight is the proof of concept small size -- about one square centimeter -- but So says that even a full scale device could weigh as little as 10 grams and be only a few microns thick.

In other words, heavy and bulky night vision goggles could be replaced with a thin, lightweight coating weighing less than half a deck of playing cards.

It will take about 18 months to scale up the device for practical applications, such as car windshields, lightweight night vision eyeglasses and cell phones cameras.

"Ten years ago when people talked about putting cameras in cell phones, people asked why would you want to do that," said So. "Now you cannot find a cell phone without a camera. In the future, you might not be able to find a cell phone without night vision."

Night vision cell phones could be just the start. So said his team also plans to create cell phones that can see, and more importantly, measure heat as well. A cell phone equipped with heat vision could instantly take a patient's body temperature to see if they had a fever. A car windshield could make pedestrians crossing the street much easier to see and avoid.

Other scientists are enthusiastic about the new research. "This has a high potential to revolutionize night vision," said Yongli Gao, a professor at the University of Rochester. "It could be very useful in detecting heat loss from homes to reduce energy consumption, and for military applications as well."

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27 April 2010

Japan unveils humanoid robot that smiles, frowns

A model (R) smiles to her double -- a humanoid robot "Geminoid-F" (L) at a press conference in Osaka. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

(Xinhuanet) -- Japanese researchers have developed a humanoid robot that can laugh and smile as it mimics a person's facial expressions.

By receiving electric signals from the person it is modelled on, the robot can move its rubber facial skin to imitate expressions like a smile, a laugh and a grim look.

"I felt like I had a twin sister," the model said.

A model (R) smiles to her double -- a humanoid robot "Geminoid-F" (L) at a press conference in Osaka. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)

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