Beneath the Muck: 5 Most Incredible Discoveries of the Week

Including one about ancient aspirin
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 11, 2017 5:28 AM CST
Beneath the Muck: 5 Most Incredible Discoveries of the Week
A boy rides his his bicycle past part of statue pulled from the mud of a Cairo slum. It may be of pharaoh Ramses II.   (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

A mammoth, royal statue in an unlikely spot and a new way of thinking about how creatures evolved to walk on land were among the discoveries of the week:

  • Surprise Find Beneath a Cairo Slum: Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered a massive statue in a Cairo slum that may be of pharaoh Ramses II, one of the country's most famous ancient rulers. The colossus, whose head was pulled from mud and groundwater by a bulldozer, is around 26 feet high. Historical sleuthing points to Ramses as the subject.
  • Fish Evolved in a Surprising Way: Some 385 million years ago, our watery ancestors evolved into land mammals, their fins slowly evolving into limbs. But a new study suggests it was their eyes that evolved first. The idea is that fish could see far better above the water line, and were likely tempted by tasty prey on land. As a result, they grew bulging peepers that migrated to the top of their heads. At that point, fins evolved into flippers, then limbs, the better to hunt down what the eyes had spotted. The evidence is in what happened to eyes over 12 millions years.

  • Potatoes Can Grow on Mars: If you've seen The Martian, you might think it's possible to grow potatoes on Mars. You just might be right. In the film, Matt Damon plays a botanist who survives on the Red Planet by growing the hardy tubers. Now, real-life scientists with the International Potato Center in Peru say they've grown potatoes under conditions that mimic those on Mars. The results may have implications for Earth as well.
  • Neanderthals Used Aspirin, Too: When Neanderthals weren't feeling great, they reached for aspirin kind of like us. Except they did it by chewing poplar bark, which contains salicylic acid, a key ingredient in our aspirin. The discovery was made by studying the plaque on ancient teeth, and the findings suggest Neanderthals had a decent grasp on how to handle the bacteria that ailed them.
  • Boy With Metal Detector Hits WWII Jackpot: Young boys tend not to forget fantastical stories told by their grandpas, especially if those stories involve downed World War II fighter planes. Klaus Kristiansen of Denmark couldn't get the tale his own grandfather had told him out of his head—that an aircraft had crashed behind their Birkelse farm in 1944—and so when his son had a homework assignment, he jokingly told the boy to "go out and find the plane that is supposed to have crashed." He did just that, though he found more than just metal.
Click to read about more discoveries. (More discoveries stories.)

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