Earlier articles

Balkans: archaeologists puzzle over 7,000y old copper-find - a tremendous fire destroyed a flourishing city

by Angelika Franz
Der Spiegel, December 27, 2010
Translated from the German by Ami de Grazia

Scientists have discovered in Serbia the oldest copper implements in the world. Some 7000 years ago, tradesmen of great wealth flourished on the Balkan. They present the archaeologists with a puzzle: why did the age of copper begin there so early - and why did it find an abrupt end?

In the 5th millennium before Christ there was not a lot going on in Europe. Slowly the people living on the Continent were beginning to familiarize themselves with the new idea of agriculture which strangers had brought from the East. Great building projects like the circles of megaliths lay still far in the future. Slowly the population of humans on the planet grew from five to seven millions.

Yet in the deep Southeast of Europe, near today's village of Plonik in Serbia, there existed 7000 years ago a major city. It inhabitants lived in closely assembled huts and they melted copper to make jewels, tools and weapons. Archaeologists have now come to this surprising conclusion.

Up to 7,300 years is the age of the oldest pieces which they have found up to now in the settlement. That's a good 800 years older as any other copper implements which have been found anywhere on Earth to this day.

Until now, many researchers surmised that the mining of metal and its transformation had been invented in Northern Mesopotamia and had spread from there to the East. But the new discoveries in Plonik tell of a different story. They were not the results of casual experiments. The people of the Balkan had a good knowledge of how they could create jewels, tools and weapons out of earth with a high copper content.

Violets betray where the copper lays
"The soil around Plonik is rich in copper - the metal in a pure state lays often directly at the surface," says Raiko Krauss, Archeologist and Copper age specialist from the University Tübingen. Therefore, conditions had been ideal for experimentation.

The so-called "copper-violets" blossom all over. "They are related to the Alpine violets, which we know in Germany from flower pots," says Krauss. "But they grow only in a soil with a very high copper content. There - where the soil is too poisonous for the other plants, they blossom in wide carpets - and in so doing point to the presence of copper."
Already in the late stone age people picked up the beautiful stones. For instance, malachite. The green-hued mineral belongs to the class of carbonates. Copper content: 57 percent. Our ancestors made experiments with different stones over the fire. From there, it was only a small step to jewels and to more practical objects.
In Plonik, excavators found hatchets of copper. And weapons: axes and maces. With them a new area began. The stone age was gone, the copper age - chalcolithic - had begun.

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Climate's influence on European history

(About a comprehensive archive of climate data in Europe for the past 2,500 years established from tree-rings.) - Der Spiegel, January 13, 2011.
Translated by Ami de Grazia

We have all heard of the story of Hannibal crossing the Alps - but is it accurate? In 218 BC the Carthaginian general crossed the highest mountain range of Europe with 37 elephants, thousands of horsemen and ten of thousands of foot soldiers to fight Rome. All the elephants survived this ordeal. Is this possible?

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Ball-lightning hits German tourist bus

(Der Spiegel, Aug. 11, 2011)

It was a shock for a German tourist group: a ball-lightning hit their bus in the vicinity to the city of Kaliningrad in Russia. The rare natural phenomenon destroyed the entire on-board electronic - the passengers got away with the scare of their lives.

MOSCOW: An extremely rare natural phenomenon has brutally interrupted the trip of a German tourist group in Russia. Lightning struck their bus and damaged it severely ["irreparably," according to RIA News] According to Russian media, it was ball lightning. The 19 vacationers suffered no harm.

The bolt of lightning destroyed the entire on-board electronics of the bus, as well as the tyres, a spokeswoman for the city of Kaliningrad declared. At the time of the incident, several thunderstorms were developing in the area.

"The bus, of the brandname SETRA, was practically new and equipped with all kinds of electronic gadgets. Lightning hit the antenna, spread through the vehicle then exploded in the central electric block," said Tamara Toropova. The destroyed bus will now be transported back to Germany by ferry-boat.

These extremely rare forms of lightning, in the shape of spheres or "eggs," can, according to observers, float freely in the air or roll along the ground.

Are comet debris responsible for ball lightning?

Science has until now barely researched the phenomenon of ball-lightning, there exist hardly any pictures or videos of them occurring in nature. In many labs, though, artificial ball-lightning of brief duration has already been produced.

There are several theories as to the origin of these weather-phenomena. "For the formation of ball lightning, at least a thunderstorm in the vicinity is necessary," said Ute Ebert, a plasma physicist at the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica in Amsterdam. It is, for instance, conceivable, that ball lightning can be created by a normal lightning bolt hitting sandy soil.

Minuscule particles of matter could so become loaded electrically, ionized and thrown high up in the air. The result: a so-called plasma. Under certain conditions, which have not been definitely explained, this plasma could then form itself into a bright ball of lightning.

Other theories speculate that an electric charge in a thunderstorm-laden atmosphere suffices to produce ball lightning above water surfaces. Australian scientists emitted the hypothesis last year that fragments of comets could create the conditions for the creation of ball-lightning.

Cometary fragments may have triggered ball-lightning

(Der Spiegel, December 1st, 2010)
Green balls of fire lit up the night sky over Australia - evoking thoughts of alien visitors to many. Now a scientist has come up with another sensational theory: fragments of a comet may have triggered the heavenly show and sent a ball lightning down the slope of a mountain.

It was an evening which many inhabitants of the Australian federal state of Queensland will remember. On May 16, 2006, three green fireballs lit up the sky over the city of Brisbane. According to eye-witnesses, one of them even rolled down a slope of the Great Dividing Range.

Local television and newspapers reported on the strange phenomenon. Witnesses were interrogated at length. Yet for over four years, it remained unclear, what had been at the origin of the impressive light show. Many an observer mentioned the possibility of visitors from space. Now Stephen Hugues, from the Queensland University of Technology, has come up with a rational explanation - or the beginning of one.

A crumbling meteorite may have been responsible for these sky events, writes Hughes in the British journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society of Astronomy." Moreover: the object supposedly also created ball lightning.

Eyewitnesses have described the light apparition as brighter than the moon and less bright than the sun. Hughes believes that these were parts of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. The very rapidly flying objects provoked shock-waves in the Earth atmosphere and in so doing, they ionized oxygen - this green light is known from polar lights.

One clue: that same day, the pilot of an airplane en route for New Zealand reported to have observed an meteorite entering the atmosphere. It had fallen apart in the process and moved in the direction of Australia.

A ball lightning rolling down on a slope.

As for the spehere rolling down the mountain - according to eyewitnesses it was some 30 cm in apparent diameter - the scientist believes that it cannot possibly have been a piece of the meteorite. To begin with, round objects of this type are so far unknown on Earth. Second, according to the observers, the sphere rolled downhill very slowly. This would not be expected from a piece of a meteorite. And third, there are no traces of impact on the ground, such as a crater or burned surfaces.

Hughes believes that it may have been a ball lightning, triggered by one of the pieces of debris. It had strongly reduced the electric resistance between the surface of the Earth and the ionosphere - and in so doing, it had made possible a flow of electric current. This may have created the ball lightning.

The so-called Pasamonte Fireball, which was observed in 1933 in the US State of New Mexico, may have had a similar origin, says Hughes. Generally, such phenomena could be responsible for alleged UFO-sightings in many places in the world.

In his work, the researcher proposes several mechanisms, which could have been responsible for the stability of the path of lightning - but he does not privilege definitely any one of them. Hughes points to experiments made at the Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik (IPP) and the Humboldt University in Berlin. Scientists have been able to generate high-tension discharges of green, glowing plasma clouds over a watersurface. Maybe that these balls, which had a diameter of 10 to 20 cm, were comparable to the phenomenon observed in Australia, Hughes speculates.

Ball-lightning - why it still puzzles us

Zeus hurling a plasmoid (thunderbolt)

"Greek Zeus-Jupiter hurling a lightning-bolt. Juergens suggest that this 'unreal' bolt may be all too real, a plasmoid of electricity of immense power, well beyond the bi-dental fork that represents Jovean lightning in the typical artistic sublimations." (Alfred de Grazia,  Chaos and Creation, 1981).

Of all the phenomena of an "Electric Universe," ball lightning has been one of the least studied by Western science. Yet research in this subject has been carried forward more systematically in Russia and in Eastern Europe, in the frame of research on plasma phenomena.

The state of the art of Russian research in ball-lightning was exposed at the II. International AIS-2010 "Atmosphere, Ionosphere, Safety" Conference in Kaliningrad, Russia June 21-27. We present here, for all the buffs of electrical phenomena, and all those interested in physics, the abstracts in English of the presentations that were made at this conference, which was co-sponsored by the European Office of Aerospace Research and Development.

II. International AIS-2010 "Atmosphere, Ionosphere, Safety" Conference in Kaliningrad, Russia June 21-27.

Abstracts (in english) of papers on ball lightning delivered at AIS-2010 Conference in Kaliningrad, Russia, in July 2010.

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