Wreck of Australian World War I Submarine Found After 103 Years

Australian Government, Copyright Commonwealth of Australia
Australian Government, Copyright Commonwealth of Australia

During World War I, the Royal Australian Navy’s first submarine, AE1, was assigned to capture Germany's Pacific colonies. While the mission was a success, it turned tragic when AE1 and its crew disappeared—without a distress call—off the coast of Papua New Guinea on September 14, 1914. Now, following decades of mystery and multiple searches, AE1’s wreckage has finally been found, the Associated Press reports.

Furgro Equator, a Dutch survey vessel, located AE1 in mid-December as part of a search expedition funded partly by the Australian government. Submerged at nearly 1000 feet off the coast of Papua New Guinea's Duke of York Islands, the submarine is being treated as the grave site of its 35 crew members from Australia, England, and New Zealand.

Wreckage of Australian World War I naval submarine HMAS AE-1
Australian Government, © Commonwealth of Australia

According to a government press release, officials held a small memorial service for the deceased and are trying to contact their descendants. The Australian government will work together with the Papua New Guinean government to preserve the vessel’s wreckage and commemorate the tragedy.

As the first Allied submarine lost during World War I and the first ever lost by the Royal Australian Navy, AE1 holds a unique place in maritime history. It vanished just a day after the surrender of German New Guinea, but investigators ruled out enemy combat as an explanation for its disappearance; the only German ship nearby was a small survey boat.

Wreckage of Australian World War I naval submarine HMAS AE-1
Australian Government, © Commonwealth of Australia

Wreckage of Australian World War I naval submarine HMAS AE-1
Australian Government, © Commonwealth of Australia

Experts still don’t know what caused the vessel to sink. But because searchers at the time of its disappearance never found an oil slick, debris field, or bodies, experts assumed that the sub had struck a reef and sunk while remaining intact. While this theory hasn't been verified, the wreckage should provide more clues.

[h/t Associated Press]

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

Advanced CT Scans Reveal Blood Vessels and Skin Layers in a Mummy's Hand

Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Mummies hold some intriguing secrets to their pasts, like the food they ate and the diseases they had when they were alive. Now scientists are using a tool originally designed for medicine to get an even deeper look at the clues mummified bodies carry with them into the present day, Gizmodo reports.

In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Radiology, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden detail how a new-and-improved CT scanning technique can be used to visualize the interior of mummies on a microscopic level. By creating detailed X-ray images, CT scans allow doctors to see inside their patients without invasive surgery. Archaeologists have been using this technology to study delicate ancient artifacts for years, but the level of detail that can be achieved this way—especially when it comes to looking at interior soft tissue—is limited.

The upgraded version of the tech, called phase-contrast CT scanning, measures the phase shift, or the change in the position of a light wave, that occurs when X-rays pass through solid objects. The images generated this way have a higher contrast level than conventional X-rays, which means they capture more detail.

Cross-section of mummy hand.
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Doctors have been using this 10-year-old technology to examine soft tissues like organs and veins in living patients, but it hadn't been used on a mummy until recently. Working with a mummified human right hand dating back to 400 BCE in Egypt, which they borrowed from the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, the researchers fired up a phase-contrast CT scanner. It produced images with a resolution of 6 to 9 microns, giving a clear picture of the different layers of skin, individual cells in the connective tissue, and the blood vessels in the nail bed—all without damaging the artifact. Previously, researchers looking to study these same tissues in mummies would have needed to use a scalpel.

As Ars Technica reports, a phase-contrast CT scanner is similar in cost to the conventional machine. The study authors hope their work will lead to phase-contrast CT scanning becoming just as common in archaeology as regular CT scanning, potentially creating new research opportunities in mummies that will be discovered in the future and even in artifacts that have already been examined.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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