Friday, July 16, 2010

The Stories You’re Dying To Write

Wrack thy brains no longer. From the farthest flung corners of cyberspace I have collected, mulled and otherwise digested a veritable ocean of tidbits from the real world of science and academia to produce these few cultured pearls shiny enough to light the fires of brilliant storytelling. Or maybe you’ll just yawn and click “next.” What do I know? I simply offer these up in the hopes of igniting a tiny spark in the tinder of your imagination:

An Archaeological Mystery in a Half-ton Lead Coffin
In the ruins of the ancient city of Gabii, an Italian city that pre-dates Rome and was located only 11 miles to the east, archaeologists last summer found a 1,000-pound lead coffin.
Who or what is inside is still a mystery. The sarcophagus will soon be transported to the American Academy in Rome, where engineers will use heating techniques and tiny cameras in an effort to gain insights about the contents without breaking the coffin itself.
Romans as a rule were not buried in coffins and when they did use them, they were mostly wooden.
This one is especially unusual because of its size. A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount of wealth in this era. “To waste so much of it in a burial is pretty unusual," said Nicola Terrenato, the University of Michigan professor of classical studies who leads the project. (Read more…)

Wow, that’s a lot of lead. Whoever’s buried in there must’ve been pretty important. But maybe not in a good way. What if all that heavy metal was meant to keep somebody in, permanently. According to historical records, the founders of Gabii played a key role in founding Rome, and worship of the goddess Venus, mother of Aeneas (forefather of Rome), was also said to come through Gabii, among several other villages. See where I’m going…?

What if one of the members of the dig, an expert in Roman and Greek history/mythology, notices some ancient inscriptions on the coffin, relating the latter days of Gabii, how the inhabitants’ worship of the goddess of love drove them to madness. Jealous rage and murder stalked the streets. Finally, sensing the city’s ruin, the inhabitants imprisoned their own goddess, desperate to be free of her.

This all seems like a fanciful tale to our protagonist, until several of the team members start acting strangely. They don’t eat or sleep, they barely talk. And when our trusty protag listens closely, he is shocked to hear they are muttering in ancient latin. Their eyes glaze and they go about their work as if in a dream, intent on nothing but opening the coffin, and releasing whatever, or whoever, is inside…

Scientists Demonstrate Mammalian Regeneration Through a Single Gene Deletion
A quest that began over a decade ago with a chance observation has reached a milestone: the identification of a gene that may regulate regeneration in mammals. The absence of this single gene, called p21, confers a healing potential in mice long thought to have been lost through evolution. In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from The Wistar Institute demonstrate that mice that lack the p21 gene gain the ability to regenerate lost or damaged tissue.
“Much like a newt that has lost a limb, these mice will replace missing or damaged tissue with healthy tissue that lacks any sign of scarring,” said the project’s lead scientist Ellen Heber-Katz, Ph.D. “While we are just beginning to understand the repercussions of these findings, perhaps, one day we’ll be able to accelerate healing in humans by temporarily inactivating the p21 gene.” (Read more…)

The image that leaps into my mind is from one of those generic movies with the comic book superhero with super healing ability who sustains a massive injury and then just looks at the bad guy with this kind of smug expression as he rapidly heals. Yeah, bad-ass.

But I’m thinking this story would go in a different direction. It’s not hard to imagine that one day humans would be engineered to develop this ability, but certainly not everyone. In fact, perhaps only a select few in the population would be able to heal like this, even to the extent of regrowing limbs and organs. These few would be prized beyond measure, valued for helping countless victims in need of transplants after disease or accidents. But would the benefit justify the cost to these individuals, raised like test subjects, parts periodically hacked off and regrown so the rest of society can prolong their lives? Maybe one of these lemmings finally says “no.”

Are Bees Also Addicted to Caffeine and Nicotine?
Bees prefer nectar with small amounts of nicotine and caffeine over nectar that does not comprise these substances at all, a study from the University of Haifa reveals. "This could be an evolutionary development intended, as in humans, to make the bee addicted," states Prof. Ido Izhaki, one of the researchers who conducted the study.
In order to examine whether bees prefer the nectar containing caffeine and nicotine, the researchers offered artificial nectar that comprised various natural sugar levels and various levels of caffeine and nicotine, alongside "clean" nectar that comprised sugar alone.
The results showed that bees clearly prefer nectar containing nicotine and caffeine over the "clean" nectar. The researchers are currently examining whether the bees do indeed become addicted to nicotine and caffeine. (Read more…)

I can just see bees jonesin’ for a pack of smokes and a cup a’ joe. Seriously, though, how much of a stretch is it to imagine a scientist of a particular bent training bees to respond to little “rewards” of nicotine and caffeine? How long before he has swarms of addicted bees ready to obey his every whim? And why stop with bees? They can’t be the only creatures with a capacity for addiction. Soon society would be threatened by packs of addicted beasts, constantly hunting for their next fix, and what happens when the nicotine and caffeine supplies run out? It’s a desperate battle between the humans and the crazed, drug-starved animals they’ve created.

3,200-Year-old Bronze Tablet Identified as Battle Chariot Linchpin

A 3,200-year-old round bronze tablet with a carved face of a woman, found at the El-ahwat excavation site near Katzir in central Israel, is part of a linchpin that held the wheel of a battle chariot in place. "Such an identification reinforces the claim that a high-ranking Egyptian or local ruler was based at this location, and is likely to support the theory that the site is Harosheth Haggoyim, the home town of Sisera," says Prof. Adam Zertal.
The excavated city has been dated back to the end of the Bronze Age and early Iron Age (13th-12th centuries B.C.E.). The city's uniqueness - its fortifications, passageways in the walls, and rounded huts - made it foreign amidst the Canaanite landscape. Prof. Zertal has proposed that based on these unusual features, the site may have been home to the Shardana tribe of the Sea-Peoples, who, according to some researchers, lived in Harosheth Haggoyim, Sisera's capital city. The city is mentioned in the Bible's narratives as Sisera’s capital, and it was from there that the army of chariots set out to fight the Israelites, who were being led by Deborah the prophetess and Barak, son of Avinoam. (Read more…)

The Sea Peoples were fierce raiders and warriors, but the origins of the blond Shardana tribe are shrouded in mystery. They were feared throughout the known world. Perhaps an expert in antiquities recognizes the chariot from an old, forgotten text, looks it up and to his surprise, sees that it is the exact representation of one of the chariots from the Book of Zechariah, supposedly linked with the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The newly discovered linchpin is the final missing piece. Before he can say anything, though, the ancient chariot is made whole.

The scientist who puts it in place goes rigid and becomes possessed, claiming he is one of the horsemen reborn. The chariot glows with unholy light, and the evil spirit takes off in it on a quest to raise his three evil companions. Our protagonist knows that their joining will mean the end of the world, and that only by following the clues left by Deborah the prophetess, who defeated the Shardana thousands of years ago, may the horsemen’s plans be thwarted.


But hey, these are just the feeble imaginings of my own poor excuse for a frontal lobe. I’m sure you could do much better. Or don’t even use these if they don’t trip your fancy. The point is, though, to latch on to something. Get that brain working, because your next great story is out there, waiting for you to just tilt your head a little sideways and say, “I wonder…”

-Jason Kahn
Mad Scribblings From the Edge
The Dark InSpectre

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