Hole in the Clouds

April 2013

Old and New #2

Apr 2, 2013

The new Acropolis Museum in Athens frames a view of the real acropolis, which at the time of this photo in 2009 was undergoing the final stages of restoration, a thirty-five-year project aimed at undoing thousands of years of neglect and abuse.

Back in the seventeenth century, for example, the Parthenon Colonnades had been destroyed by Venetian bombardment and then reassembled incorrectly. Beginning in 1975, the colonnade was dismantled again, this time by experts who put the pieces back properly, using original stone, titanium screws, and a few slivers of new marble from Mount Penteli.

Greece   Athens   Acropolis   Parthenon   (h/t: Tina Lackeos)  

Young Bones

Apr 3, 2013

In the mountains north of Missoula, Montana, is an old ranch that once supported healthy cattle on healthy grassland but currently lies more or less abandoned; several species of invasive plants had crowded out the native grasses, leaving nothing for animals to eat and also leaving much of the soil exposed to erosion. This summer, ecological restoration students from the University of Montana will work at this site, trying out various strategies to help the land recover.

Recently, the students visited the land to see how it had come through the winter. One elk, at least, did not do well; perhaps weakened by the cold and the poor fodder in the ruined grassland, it was apparently attacked and eaten by hungry predators. The bones looked fresh but were stripped clean.

University of Montana   Missoula   students   elk   skull   (Image credit: Hank Stein)  


Apr 7, 2013

After Drexel's women's basketball team won the National Invitational Tournament on Saturday, beating the University of Utah in the final seconds of the game, students poured onto the court to celebrate.

Yes, that's the wrestling team down in front, but they'd come to cheer the Lady Dragons, not to rassle. They were wearing their singlets in a team effort aimed at winning $250 being offered by the athletic department to whichever of Drexel's non-basketball teams showed the most spirit at the game. The wrestlers didn't win–the prize went to the women's crew team for their dragon-themed "Feel the Fire" display, complete with sideways tilted baseball caps–but in our opinion, everybody who dresses in a singlet at a basketball game is a winner. And the wrestlers, whose season on the mat ended a few weeks ago, looked well-fed and frisky on the hardwood.

The basketball was championship-caliber as well. Utah led until late in the second half, when Drexel caught up but never could pull ahead by more than a point or two. With 21 seconds to go, Utah again had the lead and the ball. But one Drexel woman managed to tip Utah's throw-in, another snagged the ball, a third drove to the basket for a layup through traffic, and they all won their program's first post-season championship.

sports   wrestling   Philadelphia   basketball   Drexel University  

Old Bones

Apr 9, 2013

Climate change–both the literal thaw in the Siberian permafrost and the political thaw in the Cold War militarization that long controlled life in the Soviet Arctic–is currently exposing long-frozen tusks of ancient wooly mammoths to the light of day and the vicissitudes of the global economy.

Until the end of the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago, woolly mammoths ranged the grasslands of eastern Siberia. As the icecaps melted and sea level rose, the grasslands became forest or were submerged in the Arctic Ocean, until hungry mammoths were eventually crowded together on isolated islands in the eastern Arctic. The last of them died there about 3,500 years ago.

A mammoth tusk like this one, which weighs 150 pounds, can sell for $60,000 in the Siberian town of Yakutsk, and it may fetch $200,000 or more in the ivory markets of China.

Each summer, thawing permafrost exposes more tusks in gravelly riverbanks and seaside bluffs, especially on remote, uninhabited islands north of easternmost Siberia. Each spring, Yakut tusk-hunters cross the frozen sea to begin searching for the new "crop" of ivory; they work alone or in small crews, living on scant rations in rough huts, until late-summer snowstorms once again hide their quarry.

The unlucky ones leave then, returning home emptyhanded in small boats in rough waters. The lucky ones hang on for a few more weeks, however, till the ocean freezes again and they can transport their tusks much more easily in sledges hauled by snowmobiles. 

Russia   Siberia   climate   prehistory   tusk   wooly mammoth   (Image credit: Nat'l Geographic online)