In the Easter Islands, researchers say they cracked the mystery of the famous head statues. The statues were erected by the Rapa Nui people, who landed on the islands 900 years ago. Scientists already knew that the carved figures were important representations of ancestral figures. But when one of the islands was mapped, researchers found that the statues’ locations correlated with underground sources of a precious resource: fresh water.
In Lichtenau, Germany, a medieval woman’s teeth are causing a stir. An archaeological dig unearthed the remains of an 11th- or 12th-century woman with traces of lapis lazuli in her mouth. The semiprecious stone was as valuable as gold during the Middle Ages, and was used as pigment for illustrations in manuscripts. Researchers say that the lapis in the woman’s mouth indicates that she was likely a scribe or book painter – the pigment would have been embedded in her teeth as she licked her brushes to create fine points. Previously, researchers believed that book illuminators were exclusively male monks.
In the South Pole-Aitken Basin crater on the moon, plants grew. Chinese researchers sprouted cotton seeds in a controlled environment – that also contained fruit fly eggs – aboard the Chang’e 4 moon lander, which touched down on Jan. 2. The experiment was designed to test the feasibility of growing food in high-radiation, low-gravity environments in pursuit of the long-term goal of moon colonization by humans. The experiment was canceled after Chang’e 4’s biome was no longer able to protect the seeds from the temperature fluctuations on the moon’s surface.