Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Past is Our Future

As the end of the year approaches, you see everywhere the lists of the best and the worst of the year in retrospective. It is, we think, an interesting commentary on our lives as humans that we spend more time, often, looking back than looking forward. And, as the warning etched in the mirror warns, what we see in the rear-view mirrors of our lives, are closer than they appear. Some of the greatest discoveries of the past year never really made big news, but as we look back, these discoveries may have an incredible impact on our future.

Skull 5
So, the tale begins, as we look back on some of the most intriguing scientific discoveries of the year, and ponder their impact of our lives.

Let's start with the discovery of an incredibly well-preserved skull found in Dmanisi, Georgia. This 1.8 million year old skull  may be a missing link suggesting we, the members of the Homo genus, may not have been a distinct species coexisting with the likes of Mr. Neanderthal, but instead, branches from the same tree which has brought us to us. This skull, referred to as Skull 5, was found with others of variable characteristics demonstrate that hominids flourished outside of Africa at a significantly earlier date than previously believed. This could be the turning point in rewriting the theories of how we became to be as we are.

And now, from evolution to faith, we have the completion of a ten year investigation and criminal trial involving an Israeli antiquities collector who acquired an ossuary, a limestone burial box inscribed with the earliest known references to Jesus. The conclusion: it's the real thing. On the side of the ossuary, the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," is chiseled in an Aramaic script, and the investigators have concluded it is legitimate.

Ossuary of James, brother of Jesus

This would be an unbelievably rare find scientifically, historically and spiritually -- physical evidence of Jesus and his family.

Now, from the awe-inspiring to the curious. The linguist in me was utterly mesmerized by this next little tidbit. Those who study such things, have known since the 19th century that all modern Indo-Eurpoean languages have descended from one root. This single tongue, aptly named Proto-Indo-European, (or PIE for short -- mmmmm, pie) was spoken by our ancestors from roughly 4500BC to 2500 BC. They left no written texts, yet academics working together all over the world have managed to recreate what they believe the spoken word may have sounded like. Click below to listen.

And now to the truly fantastic: the US Government finally released classified documents confirming the existence of Area 51 as a real government testing site. The report is a snoringly long 400 page (the pdf is available on the link below. Although significantly redacted before release this year despite having been written more than twenty years ago, the most interesting fact about this document, is that it makes no reference to the status of Area 51 after 1974.

From science fiction fantasies to science fact: 2013 also witnessed the confirmation of the existence of a new element, never before discovered. This 115th element, Ununpentium, is a super-heavy element discovered in Germany, and confirmed by Russian chemists. Now, not to get too excited, this element has an incredibly brief life-span (measured in milliseconds) and is in the company of five more elements awaiting confirmation. But it is exciting to think that since the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev published that first periodic table with fifty-nine elements in 1869, how much we have learned about our the make-up of our own planet. 

And now, for science fiction meets fact :  Voyager I has left the solar system. After a thirty five year journey, which began one year before this image made famous in the first Star Trek movie, Voyager has reached interstellar space. This is a milestone -- travelling almost 19 billion km from the sun, this is the first human creation to reach out beyond our own solar system neighborhood. 
 And so we end our trip looking back on 2013 with an eye to what lies ahead. Discovering the truth about ourselves, our past, and the world in which we live, is, we believe, a noble goal for the future of J and L.

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