Robert Urich, The X-Files,
Tax Protests, Thor Heyerdahl,
New Yucatán Excavations,
John Carter of Mars
& More!
Robert Urich Dead at 55

LOS ANGELES April 16, 2002 (eXoNews) - Robert Urich, the embodiment of Robert Parker's tough guy detective Spenser in the TV series "Spenser: For Hire", died of cancer on Tuesday at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California. His wife, Heather, and three children, Allison, Ryan and Emily, were at his bedside. He was 55.

Urich was admitted to the hospital last week for breathing problems. He had fought a public battle with synovial cell sarcoma since the mid 1990s - a rare cancer that attacks the body's joints. The disease went into remission following chemotherapy, radiation treatments and two operations. In November, Urich told columnist Army Archerd of Daily Variety that some cancerous lumps had appeared that summer, but added "a wonder drug cleared them up."

Urich first appeared on television in the 1973 comedy series "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice." He won national recognition as Peter Campbell in "Soap" (1978) and as private detective Dan Tanna in "Vega$" (1978).

Born in Toronto, Ohio, Urich won a football scholarship at Florida State University. He later earned a master's degree in broadcast research and management from Michigan State University.

After college he worked briefly as an account executive for a radio station in Chicago and a television weatherman before linking up with actor Burt Reynolds, who was credited with giving him his first acting job in 1972 when he played Burt's younger brother in a stage production of "The Rainmaker." 

"Robert Urich was an athlete, artist, a wonderful friend and he was one of those rare people who never said anything unkind about anybody," said Reynolds, who in the early 1970s brought Urich to Los Angeles and let him stay in his home until he found acting work. 

"His professionalism was exemplary. I have known Bob for 35 years and in all that time he has been the kindest, and most loyal friend. I adore him, his wife and children, and we will all miss him greatly." Reynolds said.

The tall, dark and handsome Urich was a self-described television version of Harrison Ford, both known for playing "Everymen" in danger. He even took a swing at the Star Wars genre in the 1984 science fiction feature "The Ice Pirates". The adventure won a cult following, but Urich rarely ventured into features. He found his greatest success in television.

Fans of Robert Parker's best selling Spenser novels lauded Urich's characterization of the Boston private detective in the 1985 ABC series "Spenser: For Hire", and Spenser was undoubtedly Urich's ultimate role. Paired with co-star Avery Brooks as Spenser's caustic friend Hawk, Urich and Brooks captured Parker's tough guy team perfectly. The series ended in 1988, but Urich and Brooks returned as Spenser and Hawk in four TV movies (1993-95) . Recent attempts to bring Parker's heroes back to television with different actors hasn't quite worked.

Urich also won critical praise for playing the ex-Texas Ranger Jake Spoon who comes to a bad end in the mini-series "Lonesome Dove" (1989). He won an Emmy for his narration of the cable documentary "U-Boats: Terror on Our Shores", and a Cable ACE award as host of the National Geographic series "On Assignment." In 1998, he played the captain in a remake of "The Love Boat" and recently co-starred in the short-lived NBC sitcom "Emeril" (2001).

Urich announced his condition in 1996, just after the premiere of  a western TV series for TNT called "The Lazarus Man". Castle Rock Television canceled the show immediately, fearing he would not be able to work. In 2000, Urich sued Castle Rock for almost $1.5 million - the amount of his paycheck had the show continued into a second season.

Urich devoted much time in the last few years  to cancer research and education. He and his wife, Heather Menzies, established the Heather and Robert Urich Fund for Sarcoma Research at the University of Michigan to accelerate the pace of research into sarcoma.

Urich was writing his memoirs, "An Extraordinary Life" (with David Dalton), at the time of his death.

A memorial service is scheduled for Friday in Los Angeles.

[AP and Reuters wire reports were used in this story. Ed.]

Painting Discovered by Boy Worth a Million

NEW YORK April 15, 2002 (Reuters) - A long-forgotten Victorian masterpiece rediscovered by a 10-year-old Connecticut boy in his school library is expected to fetch more than $1 million at a June 12 auction in London, Christie's said on Friday. 

Bingham Bryant long admired the dusty old painting portraying one of his favorite Greek myths that sat above the bookcase behind the librarian's desk. One day he was moved to tell his antique dealer father about it. 

After some painstaking research by his father, Christopher Bryant, and a much needed cleaning, the painting -- which had sat in Old Lyme School for nearly 70 years -- was revealed to be Walter Crane's "The Fate of Persephone." 

"I think it's amazing, truly amazing," said Jonathan Horwich, Christie's International Director of British Art. 

Horwich said Crane was regarded as the primary painter of the Aesthetics Movement -- which was concerned with design in various mediums -- and painted the piece in 1878. 

"For a young man like Bingham to spot it is unbelievable," he said on Friday. "There are gifted people and Bingham certainly is." 

The painting depicts Pluto, lord of the underworld, and his two rearing black stallions emerging from Hades to abduct Persephone, the goddess of spring, as she picks flowers from a blooming garden. 

The schoolboy started the process that unearthed the masterpiece two years ago, when he was in the fifth grade. 

"I know quite a bit about art and I'm interested in Greek mythology and very classical painting," said Bryant, now a 12-year-old seventh grader at Old Lyme Middle School. "I was sure it was old. I just wasn't sure if it was good or no, so I just told dad." 

Christopher Bryant acted on his precocious son's suggestion and had a look. "I realized as soon as I saw it that it was really something quite special and quite wonderful," he said. 

Bryant found that the painting had been purchased in 1923 by Yale professor Brian Hooker, who lent the work to Old Lyme School in 1935 and never reclaimed it. Bryant tracked down the painting's legal heirs, Hooker's octogenarian daughters, who decided to auction the painting. 

"I was really excited," the young Bingham said about finding out the true value of the old painting. "It was very dark and dingy, there was a lot of dust. It was beautiful then and even more beautiful now." 

The Bryants would not comment on any financial arrangements struck with the Hooker sisters. Christie's expert Horwich said he felt destiny at work. 

"Somehow, I've always had this feeling that paintings have a life of their own," said Horwich. "They may well be inanimate objects but I just think somehow for great paintings there's a will to live there somewhere. I think somehow there was a will to live in this painting that somehow surfaced from its little place in the library and Bingham let it do that."

Exorcised Woman Accuses German Bishop of Abuse 

MAINZ, Germany April 16, 2002 (Reuters) - A German bishop resigned on Tuesday after allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman during an exorcism, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Mainz said. 

A spokesman for the archdiocese of Mainz said Auxiliary Bishop Franziskus Eisenbach, 58, had denied the allegations and his decision to resign was not an admission of guilt. 

The Roman Catholic Church has been rocked by a series of scandals after a number high-profile figures have been linked to sexual abuse. The Vatican said on Tuesday it hoped an extraordinary meeting of U.S. cardinals next week would help restore trust in the American Roman Catholic Church after pedophilia scandals. 

Juergen Strickstrock, a spokesman for the archdiocese of Mainz, told Reuters Eisenbach had "decided to resign for the good of the congregation because of the negative effect of the publicity." He would take up other duties in the diocese. 

"The woman was a Protestant and wished to convert. At the same time she had private visions that she couldn't cope with. The auxiliary bishop was familiar with the spiritual issues involved," Strickstrock said. 

He said Eisenbach accompanied the woman through the process of trying to exorcise her demons and converting to Catholicism. "During this long process there was close physical proximity. But contact was not sexual in a narrow sense." 

The woman, a science professor in her 40s, lodged a complaint with prosecutors in Koblenz, the state capital of the Rhineland Palatinate, in September 2000. 

A spokesman for prosecutors in Koblenz said Mainz prosecutors had been in charge of the investigation but decided not to proceed with charges. Mainz prosecutors were not available for comment. An official Church investigation was subsequently carried out, Strickstrock said, but Vatican investigators had decided there were no grounds for further action. 

Eisenbach was named auxiliary bishop in 1988. Until 1993 he worked in spiritual care for young people before setting up a church body to guide people working in the pastoral care area. The archdiocese of Mainz is one of the most important in the German church, home to 814,000 Catholics and the two historic cathedrals of Mainz and Worms. 

Karl Lehmann, archbishop of Mainz and one of Germany's best-known churchmen, said he was saddened by Eisenbach's decision to resign. 

"The decision by Auxiliary Bishop Franziskus Eisenbach to resign, even though no criminal trial had been initiated and no guilt can be apportioned to him, is a bitter loss for the archdiocese," Lehmann said in a statement.

Irish Priest Faces Heresy Charges
DUBLIN, Ireland April 8, 2002 (AP) - A Protestant minister who said he does not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ was formally accused of heresy by the Anglican church in Ireland this week.

Rev. Andrew Furlong was suspended from his duties in December after saying Christ was neither a savior nor divine.

In an article posted on his personal Web site last year, (Protestant minister) Furlong wrote that Jesus "was neither a mediator nor a savior, neither superhuman nor divine; we need to leave him to his place in history and move on." He also called Jesus a "mistaken and misguided" prophet.

Furlong, the rector of Trim, a parish northwest of Dublin, has refused an invitation to resign from Richard Clarke, the Anglican Bishop of Meath and Kildare.

A panel of bishops and lay judges at the Church of Ireland Court of the General Synod - the church's supreme court - must decide whether Furlong is guilty of heresy. The church said the Court of the General Synod had met only twice on matters of doctrine, both more than a century ago. The hearing, held Monday, was adjourned after Furlong's lawyer requested more time to prepare his case and will resume on May 10. If the court rules against Furlong, it has the authority to suspend, fire or defrock him.

An Anglican church, the Church of Ireland, says it has 350,000 members in northern and southern Ireland.
Genre News: The X-Files, The Lone Gunmen, Star Trek, Roswell, The Twilight Zone, Roy and Dale & More!

Carter Reveals X-Files Secrets

Hollywood April 17, 2002 (eXoNews) - In an interview published this week in Cinescape Magazine, X-Files creator Chris Carter said he was sorry to see his famed series go and cleared up a few points for loyal X-Philes.

“What’s sad is that I liked writing THE X-FILES and I love telling stories in this format,” Carter notes. “Luckily, we’re doing a movie and that will satisfy that craving.”

Despite negative reaction to new agents Doggett and Reyes, Carter will miss them.

“It’s been inventive and original this year. We’re telling stories we wouldn’t have told otherwise. I’m sorry that this season will be our last for these characters, Doggett and Reyes, because they are a joy to write for.”

“Even in its ninth season, THE X-FILES is original and inventive,” says Carter. “I’d like to believe that’s the hallmark of the show. I think we’re doing great work this year. Robert and Annabeth are hitting their marks and they’re growing as characters. I think the show is [now] under-appreciated.” 

CC also talked about the April 28th episode directed by David Duchovny (Fox Mulder).

“The David Duchovny directed episode comes up on the 28th of this month,” says Carter. “[It’s] a big mythology episode. It’s about the baby and the return of Mulder. It’s a question about whether you see him or not.”

Carter tipped his hat to fans who thought last season's "kiss" finale was a perfect ending for Mulder and Scully, but he promises that May's Season 9 finale will wrap more mysteries.

“That was an ending,” he observes. “This, in a weird way, is a culmination. So I think this functions as a more satisfying end to the series than when we ended with Gillian and David kissing. That had a certain amount of satisfaction too, but it didn’t do anything to address the larger themes. That’s what this episode should do.”

The full interview will appear online later this week and in the May Cinescape (Issue #60).

Cinescape online - 

The Official X-Files site - and there's that nice unassuming unofficial site - 

Carter Readies X-Files For Film 

Hollywood April 15, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - The X-Files creator Chris Carter told SCI FI Wire that the upcoming series finale would provide a good measure of closure to the show's mythology arc, while setting the stage for proposed X-Files movies.

"There was a lot of talk about what we needed to put into [the finale], what ground we needed to cover, [and what] answers we needed to answer," Carter said in an interview. "We realize that we can't answer every single thing, because there are too many threads to tie, but some of the bigger answers will take care of the littler questions."

Speaking of the proposed movies--the second of which will likely reach theaters in 2004--Carter said, "The movies are not going to depend on this finale, although there are important things in there. We are always going to be true to the characters, but we really see the movies as taking the best parts of the series--the Mulder [David Duchovny]-Scully [Gillian Anderson] relationship and the X-Files franchise--and doing stand-alone movies that are not dependent on the mythology [and that] are not dependent on the series. They are now their own thing: good, scary stories the way we've been telling them now for nine years, but for the big screen and with a lot of movie stuff in them."

The X-Files finale, "The Truth," will air on Fox May 19.

[Side note to CC: A Sci Fi poll this week shows that most visitors - last time we checked it was 45% - want to see The Lone Gunmen return in future X-Files movies by a wide margin over the Cigarette-Smoking Man and other X-Files featured characters. TLG return this Sunday on X-Files (see below). Add your vote to the poll this week at  Ed.]

The Lone Gunmen Return 

Hollywood April 12, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - An upcoming episode of The X-Files will wrap up the storyline of its ill-fated spinoff series The Lone Gunmen, bringing back Gunmen cast members Zuleikha Robinson and Stephen Snedden as guest stars, the official X-Files site reported.

The episode, "Jump the Shark," also brings back the recurring X-Files character of Morris Fletcher, played by Michael McKean.

Fletcher runs afoul of the Gunmen (Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood and Dean Haglund) and their pal, Jimmy Bond (Snedden), as he searches for the secret background of Yves Harlow (Robinson). Gunmen producers Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz wrote the script, which is directed by Cliff Bole. "Shark" is tentatively slated to air April 21.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by fans of The X-Files, fans of The Lone Gunmen are also planning to buy an ad in The Hollywood Reporter's special edition commemorating The X-Files upcoming series finale.

Lone Gunmen Thank You Ad Project -

TV Guide Auction Treks Out!

Hollywood April 17, 2002 (eXoNews) - If you hadn't heard, the April 20, 2002 print edition of TV Guide is a special 35th Anniversary issue featuring 35 different Star Trek covers (about half are shown in the Flash animation to the right.)

In addition to urging Trekkers to go to your local newsstand and spend $40+ to buy 35 copies of their magazine, TV Guide and Ebay are auctioning off autographed copies of the new Star Trek captain covers, one of Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway and Archer - each with all five Trek captains' autographs.

The web site says: "Profits from the auction go to benefit The For All Kids Foundation, whose mission is to provide financial support to nonprofit organizations serving children and their families nationwide, offering assistance in providing child care as well as educational and health programs primarily to those in low-income urban areas."

So grab your wallet and warp over to  before it's too late.

Or you can go to  where you can download a very cool free animated TV Guide screensaver (about 1.8 MB) featuring all the new and old Star Trek covers (77 in all) in the magazine's history. The same page has a link where you can send ecards with any of the 77 covers to other Trekkie friends.

The Official Star Trek site is, of course - and the ultimate ST fan site is Trek Today - 

Live long and pass it on :o)>

Roswell Finale All For The Fans
By Kate O'Hare

LOS ANGELES April 15, 2002 ( - Jason Katims, executive producer of UPN's "Roswell," has never let fan likes and dislikes dictate his writing, but the show's third-season -- and series -- finale on Tuesday, May 14 may be an exception.

"Normally, when I write," he says, "I try not to think too much about how the audience is going to respond. You just try to write the best story and hope that people are going to respond to it, because you'd drive yourself crazy [otherwise]." 

"In writing this episode, I had very much the audience in mind, particularly the loyal fans of the show. I wanted to write something that I felt would be a satisfying ending for people who have been with the show since the beginning." 

"I feel it certainly has a lot of story and twists and turns and all that, but what's more important to me, it has a lot of heart. We go back to what I think has been the central relationship of the series, which is Max and Liz." 

For three seasons (two on The WB, one on UPN), "Roswell" has centered on the dangerous liaison between two teens -- alien Max (Jason Behr) and human Liz (Shiri Appleby). Also in the mix since the beginning have been Max's sister, Isabel (Katherine Heigl), their alien friend Michael (Brendan Fehr) and Liz's best pal, Maria (Majandra Delfino).

"There's definitely closure for Max and Liz," says Katims. "At the end of the episode, our characters essentially are -- I'm not sure, I'm just thinking as I say this whether I should say this -- at the end, there's a sense of them going off together as a group, leaving Roswell, but being together." 

"I like the image of that ending, because it gives you the sense that these characters are still out there somewhere." 

Since its premiere, "Roswell" has lived on borrowed time, much of it bought and paid for by the dedication of the show's fans. Subject to time-slot shifting and frequent hiatuses while on The WB, "Roswell" lasted through two seasons there, in part, because fans deluged the network with letters, e-mails and bottles of the aliens' beloved Tabasco sauce.

While the most loyal fans followed "Roswell" to UPN, the show still fell short. Even putting it after fellow WB expatriate "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on Tuesday nights didn't keep ratings up in the competitive slot, home to several top dramas, including freshman hits "24" on FOX, and "Smallville" on The WB.

"We just got crushed," says Katims, who cites the ratings drop as his biggest disappointment.

But the fans make him proud. "They are responsible for keeping the show on the air, which is amazing," says Katims. "Their campaigns for the show had a real effect. The other thing that I'm very moved by is they have joined together not only to be fans of the show, but also to do things. They've raised money for different charities." 

"It makes you feel great. You feel like, in some way, you created this thing, and now it's doing some good out there. That's the thing I go to as the thing that's most meaningful to me, how these fans have responded to the show and how much it means to them. That really is humbling."

The Ultimate Roswell Fan site hasn't given up the ghost. Check out the latest Roswell news at 

Sinbad Returns for New DreamWorks Voyage

Hollywood April 16, 2002 (Sci Fi Wire) - DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg told SCI FI Wire that next summer's animated feature-film adaptation of the classic Sinbad stories will use a blend of traditional 2-D cel animation and computer-generated animation, like the studio's upcoming feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

"We hope [Sinbad will be] the next bar up in terms of taking what is this new form and pushing it the next level," Katzenberg said in interviews while promoting Spirit. "The character animation is being done by hand. We have a great cast, with Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer and Joe Fiennes."

Katzenberg added that the film will be based on all of the Sinbad stories, but would not specify which elements. Spirit opens Memorial Day weekend.

Whitaker Enters 'Twilight' for UPN 
By Melissa Grego 

HOLLYWOOD April 16, 2002 (Variety) - UPN has lured Forest Whitaker into its "Twilight Zone." 

The actor-director-producer has taken on the host role for the network's anthology series pilot. 

Whitaker, who also will have producing input, will take on the role that Rod Serling played in the original "The Twilight Zone" series, providing intros and outros to each episode's self-contained vignette. 

As an actor, Whitaker is known for roles in such features as current box office hit "Panic Room," "The Crying Game" and "Ghost Dog." He directed "Hope Floats" and "Waiting to Exhale." 

[As we reported previously Jonathan Frakes is directing the Twilight Zone pilot. Ed.]

Comedy Central picks up third season of "Glick" 
By Jim McConville

NEW YORK April 15, 2002 (Hollywood Reporter) - Comedy Central has picked up the Martin Short's faux celebrity talk show "Primetime Glick" for a third season, network officials said today. 

Comedy Central has placed a new 10 episode order for Short's series which will return for its third season in early 2003.

The 30-minute weekly show is executive produced by Short and Bernie Brillstein. Kimber Rickabaugh is co-executive producer and Michael Short and Paul Flaherty serve as producers. Launched last June, "Primetime Glick" features Short as overweight Hollywood talk show host Glick who typically talks over his own guests.

Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum For Sale 

VICTORVILLE, Calif. April 15, 2002 (AP) - A "for sale" sign has gone up at the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans museum in the Mojave Desert, which has been losing money for several years.

The signs recently went up on the building and the surrounding 50 acres along Interstate 15, but the property has been on sale for about a year, listing agent Bob Tinsley said last week.

"It's been losing money," he said. "They might sell it if the deal is right."

Museum officials said they will stay open unless they receive an offer for the property and the 33,000-square-foot building estimated to be worth $8 million.

The contents of the museum, including Rogers' stuffed and mounted horse Trigger and dog Bullet, are not included in the sale.

The family-run facility has been losing money and visitors since the King of the Cowboys died in 1998 and Evans, known as Queen of the West, died last year.

According to tax returns, revenues from admissions dropped from $402,568 in 1998 to $209,484 in 2000. There are no other attractions near the museum, which is halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

"Lots of people don't put their foot on the brake for one stop," Tinsley said.

Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Web site: 

Hog Farm Threatens Pennsylvania Town

By Marc Levy
Associated Press

CRYSTAL SPRING, Pa. April 12, 2002 (AP) — At first the neighbors of a new hog farm were upset about the persistent, sour smell. Lately the odor hasn't been the worst of their concerns. 

Late last month, diluted liquid manure from approximately 2,100 hogs spilled over from a 770,000-gallon lagoon, swamped a tiny brook, and emptied into the town's most treasured waterway, Brush Creek. 

Little environmental impact appears to have occurred. Instead, the damage appears to be along the fault lines between old-timers in this south-central Pennsylvania village and relative newcomers. 

The hog farm was proposed a few years ago to the chagrin of many area residents. The parade of "no trespassing" signs on the property also frustrated longtime property owners. "These people come and move in here and they get independent," said Allen Akers Sr., 79, whose family has been farming just up Hanks Road from Emmaville for more than 60 years. 

Emmaville, an unincorporated section of Brush Creek Township, is a jumble of about a dozen trailers, barns, and clapboard and vinyl-sided homes, surrounded by a patchwork of deciduous forest and grazing fields 100 miles east of Pittsburgh.

When Steve Fowler began constructing the hog farm on the family's 300 or so acres, the idea ruffled a few feathers in this old dairy farming community, where most residents farm for a living or at least grew up on a farm. 

After the spill, residents still bitter about the hogs felt their opposition to it had been justified. "We've had dairy farms for years and years and it never smelled that bad and nothing like this ever happened," said Bertha Deneen, 71. 

The Fowlers, who did not return telephone messages, have their defenders. "You have to keep in mind that this is farm country and we raise food here for people who can't do it for themselves," said Jennie Cejka, a farmer and teacher who is another relative newcomer to Emmaville, having moved there six years ago. 

When the spill happened, it drew the attention of residents in surrounding towns and at least two state agencies. The state Department of Environmental Protection is requiring Fowler to install a leak-detection system, and the Fish and Boat Commission is still determining what, if any, penalties might be imposed. 

It's unclear how long or how much manure flowed into the trout stream before a state contractor on March 29 dug a trench to stanch the flow and the lagoon was pumped out. Crews had to move earth a second time, on March 31, when a rain-swollen spring flowed into the trench and carried more manure into Brush Creek, said Sandra Roderick, a spokeswoman for the environmental agency. 

Fowler told state officials that a broken freshwater pipe — damaged by the hogs, apparently — had flooded the lagoon, Roderick said. 

Fears of contamination spread, but authorities say environmental damage is likely slight. A fish kill in Brush Creek has not been detected, and the creek does not supply any drinking water. 

On Wednesday, the meandering Brush Creek, which eventually drains into the Potomac River, was stocked with 700 trout — an encouraging sign, Cejka said. 

Still, despite her defense of her fellow Emmaville newcomers, Cejka doesn't actually like the presence of hogs or the stench of their manure. "It hangs like a heavy cloud on the neighborhood," Cejka said. "It almost takes your breath away."

Bacteria Send Air Mail To Each Other

Birmingham UK April 13, 2002 (BBC) - Superbugs may be developing a resistance to antibiotics by sending warning signals to each other, scientists believe. 

The growing problem of resistance to some antibiotics has been linked to more illness and death from infectious diseases. 

It is known that bacteria exchange messages by releasing substances into the fluid in which they are growing, but new research suggests they can send signals through the air. It is the first time airborne communication has been identified, say the team who carried out the study. 

The messages sent by bacteria are a wake-up call to other roaming bugs to head towards the bacterial colonies called biofilms. 

The findings of Richard Heal and Alan Parsons of QinetiQ, formerly part of the UK Government's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, are reported in New Scientist magazine. Heal and Parsons did their experiments in a Petri dish divided into two compartments. The only connection between them was a five-millimeter air gap between the top of the wall and the lid. 

In one compartment they placed 100 or so blobs of the bacterium E.coli, together with various antibiotics. When the other compartment was empty, the bugs simply died, killed by the antibiotics. However, if thriving colonies of E.coli were placed in the other compartment, the first lot of bugs not only survived, but began to multiply. If the gap between the compartments was sealed, the bacteria in the first compartment died. So the bugs in the second compartment must have sent some kind of airborne "survival" signs, Heal and Parsons conclude. 

The warning signal made the recipient bacteria turn on genes that make them resistant to at least three common antibiotics - ampicillin, tetracycline and rifampicin. However, the researchers have not yet identified the signal. Mr Heal doubts whether it could be any of the known chemical messengers or pheromones that bacteria use. Nor is it likely to be any of the volatile substances discharged into the air by some soil microbes. 

Mr Heal said: "We've tried without success to isolate the chemical signal from the air by dissolving it. Next we'll try gas chromatography." 

They hope that by identifying and neutralizing the signal, it might be possible to stop new colonies of bacteria growing or stop them developing resistance to antibiotics. Mr Heal says he expects the discovery to be of most use preventing the growth of biofilms, which often clog surgical prostheses and catheters. 

Microbiologist Professor Peter Hawkey, from the University of Birmingham, is intrigued by the findings. 

He said: "What I find unusual is that the signaling substance is potentially airborne. The levels of resistance being switched on by this substance are quite low. However it does help to stimulate research into fundamental control mechanisms of antibiotic resistance in clinically important bacteria, to understand how bacteria are spread and how bacteria can be switched on to resistance." 

Dr Douglas Kell, who studies bacterial pheromones at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth, said the results were "striking". He said he knew of no other reports of airborne signaling between bacteria, but said there were parallels in plants. 

Leaves wounded by biting insects send out a gas called methyl jasmonate that warns other leaves to prepare for attack.

Tax Protesters Burn Forms in DC

Associated Press 

WASHINGTON DC April 15, 2002 (AP) - Washington, D.C.'s nonvoting House delegate was among residents of the nation's capital who burned federal tax forms to protest having to pay taxes without full congressional representation.

The delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, can vote in House committees but not on the House floor. That makes Washington's 572,000 taxpayers the only ones without a vote in Congress. Residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Island and other U.S. territories have no vote but pay no federal taxes.

Norton has introduced a bill to give the district voting rights, and Congress is expected to hold hearings this session. Under the "No Taxation without Representation Act," D.C. residents either would be excused from federal taxes or would have a vote in Congress.

"Taxation without representation" has become a slogan of the city, available to residents on their automobile license tags.

Around 250 protesters, including a high school brass band, gathered at rush hour in a small park in downtown Farragut Square on tax-payment day to protest what they consider the inequity of their tax situation.

Because protesters were unable to obtain a permit to burn the documents in a metal can inside the park, the vessel was moved several feet away onto a section of a city street.

Norton told them IRS commissioner Charles Rossotti promised her during a hearing Monday that those who send protest letters with their tax returns will not be subjected to unfriendly audits.

IRS Pays Millions in Nonexistent 'Slavery' Credits
WASHINGTON April 14, 2002 (Reuters) - The Internal Revenue Service mistakenly paid out more than $30 million in 2000 and 2001 for nonexistent slavery tax credits, The Washington Post reported in its Saturday's editions. 

It had been known for years that some fraud artists advertised the false credit and offered to help blacks obtain it for a fee, but this marked the first hint the cost to the government was so high, the newspaper said. 

Some African-American leaders have argued for payments to compensate blacks for the United States' legacy of slavery, but no law has been enacted. 

But rumors and erroneous reports of the existence of slavery tax credits have circulated, prompting claims to the IRS for the credits. Claims in 2001 amounted to $2.7 billion. 

The newspaper said at least 12 current and former IRS employees applied to receive the credit. One employee was under investigation for allegedly helping process tax returns that claimed the credit, the Post said. 

The IRS is trying to recover the money it mistakenly paid out.
Space Station Gets 3-D Presentation

Associated Press Writer 

WASHINGTON April 16, 2002 (AP) — Millions of Earthbound viewers will soon get a chance to experience life in the international space station up close and personal. 

They will ride on the station's long loading arm during a space walk, drift frighteningly free in space testing an individual propulsion pack and dodge pieces of fruit during a playful meal inside the station. And they will do it without leaving the safety of a theater — though at points in the new giant screen Imax movie "Space Station 3D'' it's hard to believe you aren't actually in space. The filmmakers built special 3-D cameras, trained seven crews of astronauts and cosmonauts to use them, and sent them into space to make the film. 

The combination of the massive Imax screen and three-dimension projection put the result right in the viewer's face, with many in the audience ducking as objects float by. 

"There were some parts of it that gave me goose bumps,'' said retired astronaut Brian Duffy. 

"It does take you right back to being in space,'' added astronaut William M. Shepherd. 

The film's premiere is Wednesday at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. It opens at 24 more theaters in the United States on Friday and is scheduled in more than 100 in 14 countries. Duffy and Shepherd spoke at a preview session Tuesday. Both were among the crews who made the film using specially built cameras. 

The theater itself seems to shake from the massive power of launches from the Kennedy Space Center and Russia's rocket center in Kazakstan. Flying debris sails toward the viewer, cracking a protective cover on the camera at Russia's launch. 

Outside the space station, the giant screen fills with the view of Earth below while inside, the 3-D technology provides an intimate view of daily life — exercising on a stationary bicycle, repairing plumbing, installing equipment. 

For producer-director Toni Myers, making the film posed some unusual challenges, beginning with having to train seven crews of novice film makers what works and what doesn't in a 3-D movie. And having to direct them from Earth. 

Then there was the problem of the camera itself. The normal Imax 3-D camera is the size of a small refrigerator, not something you can easily lug into space. So a new, smaller camera had to be built to NASA size specifications — it turned out about the size of a microwave oven. At that size the camera can take only 108 seconds of film before reloading, so it was important to get a shot right the first time. 

Normally when you return from a Space Shuttle trip you know how things went when you have landed, Duffy said. But on these flights it could be weeks before Myers called with the good news that the film was usable. Three new cameras were made, one to train the crews, one to take on the state station and one for the Space Shuttle trips ferrying material up and down. 

Myers said she couldn't estimate the cost of the film. Typically Imax movies cost between $5 million and $12 million and she indicated this project was likely more costly than that. 

Imax Space Station site - 

Teacher-Turned-Astronaut Says Space Worth Risk

By Jeff Franks 

HOUSTON April 16, 2002 (Reuters) - Despite warnings from Christa McAuliffe's mother, teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan said on Tuesday it was worth the risk of death to fly on the space shuttle so she could interest young people in space exploration. 

Morgan, 50, a California native, was scheduled to be the first teacher sent to space since McAuliffe died with six other people when the shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. 

"As a teacher, we encourage our students to take risks in our classrooms. If they don't risk a little bit they're not going anywhere," she said in a news conference at Johnson Space Center. 

"If it's important, it's worth doing and I can't think of anything more important than our children and their future and the exploration of the universe." 

Morgan, who taught grade school in Idaho for 20 years, trained as McAuliffe's backup for the New Hampshire teacher's ill-fated flight and has been waiting ever since for her chance to fly. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced last week that she would finally get to go on a space mission, but not until at least 2004. 

He said on Tuesday that Morgan's flight was part of NASA's plan to expand its education programs from space to inspire interest in younger people the agency needs to replenish its aging workforce. 

Morgan described McAuliffe's mother, Grace Corrigan, as "excited and happy" about her flight, but admitted that she had advised against it. 

"I know she's called my mom and said 'don't let her do it,"' she said, laughing nervously. 

McAuliffe's parents watched in horror as the Challenger's fuel tanks exploded a minute after takeoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and sent the shattered shuttle plunging into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all seven on board. Her father, Ed Corrigan, died of cancer in 1990. His wife has said she believes his bitterness over the loss of their daughter hastened his death. 

Morgan said she understood the risks of space flight, but was not afraid of them. 

"You do exactly what all the astronauts do -- you go forward with a happy heart and you don't dwell on risk. You train for it, you prepare for it, but you don't dwell on it," she said. 

Morgan said the subjects she will teach from space would be dictated by the objectives of the mission, which she does not yet know because she has not been designated for a specific flight. 

O'Keefe said she would fly to the still-under-construction International Space Station, but only after its "core elements" had been completed. He said NASA hoped that putting teachers in space would help attract new blood to the space agency. 

"Our under-30 population at NASA is about a third of our over-50 population, so as a consequence, just the actuary tables tell you we need to think proactively about future generations," he said. "We definitely need to recruit and recruit earnestly."

Billions of Planets Like Earth

London April 10, 2002 (BBC) - The search for life in outer space has received a boost. 

British scientists say that in theory there could be a billion Earth-like planets in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. It may be only a matter of time before telescopes spot them. 

The prediction has been made by two astronomers at the Open University using a mathematical model. According to computer simulations, some of the newly discovered distant Solar Systems should contain smaller, Earth-like planets. 

"We do know that there are a lot of known planetary systems beyond our own Solar System," Dr Barrie Jones told the BBC. "But what we don't know is if there are any Earth-like planets up there." 

Astronomers have identified nearly 100 planets in orbit around distant stars. These so-called "exoplanets" are not the sort that could support life. They are enormous and of the same gaseous make-up as Jupiter. 

Dr Jones believes that smaller Earth-like planets may exist in some of these far-flung planetary systems. 

"What I've been doing is saying: 'Well we can't see Earths yet - but let's suppose that they are there - could they actually exist or would they be flung out into interstellar space by the presence of these big giants?'" he said. 

He said a computer model to see whether Earth-like planets could survive among the giants had produced "some rather encouraging results". It suggests that more than one billion habitable planets could exist in our own galaxy. 

Dr Jones said it would be 10-15 years before telescopes are powerful enough to spot any smaller planets that might be present. But astronomers will at least know where to look. 

The Solar System most like ours discovered so far is centered around a distant star called 47 Ursae Majoris. Two planets orbit the star - one twice the size of Jupiter and the other slightly smaller. 

The findings were presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in Bristol on Wednesday 10 April.

[Earth Day is Monday April 22nd. Don't miss our Earth Day 2002 tribute cartoon at Ed.]

Norway Explorer Thor Heyerdahl In Critical Condition

OSLO, Norway April 16, 2002 (AP) - Explorer Thor Heyerdahl, whose 1947 Kon-Tiki expeditions captured the world's imagination, slipped into a coma Tuesday, a week after he started refusing food, water or medical treatment.

At the time, doctors gave the 87-year-old Norwegian, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, hours or at most days to live.

A week later, Heyerdahl, who made a career of challenging the views of the scientific mainstream, was still alive but comatose, his son said.

"He is so strong that he warned us that it could take a long time," Thor Heyerdahl Jr. said.

"The doctor said he does not think he will ever open his eyes again," he said by telephone from Lillehammer, Norway.

The scientist and adventurer was taken to the Santa Conora hospital on the Italian Riviera nearly three weeks ago after becoming ill during a family gathering at Colla Micheri, an ancient Italian village he bought and restored in the 1950s.

At his request, he was released from the hospital and brought back to his beloved Colla Michari to spend his final days surrounded by family.

Experts scoffed at Heyerdahl when he set off to cross the Pacific aboard a balsa raft in 1947, saying it would get water logged and sink within days.

After 101-days and 4,900 miles, he proved them wrong by reaching Polynesia from Peru, in a bid to prove his theories of human migration.

His later expeditions included voyages aboard reed rafts, Ra, Ra II and Tigris. His wide-ranging archaeological studies were often controversial and challenged accepted views.

Heyerdahl maintained a high pace of research, lectures and travel until his sudden illness. He moved to Tenerife in 1990 but kept Colla Micheri as a retreat.

His son said his father has expressed satisfaction with his life, had been happy and was ready to "ride into the sunset."

[See last week's eXoNews for another story about Thor Heyerdahl. Ed.]

Court To Hear Victoria's Secret Case

Associated Press 

WASHINGTON April 15, 2002 (AP) - The Supreme Court chose an unlikely case Monday to settle a trademark fight: Victor's Little Secret v. Victoria's Secret.

On the line is the name of the family-owned lingerie store in central Kentucky.

Justices will use the store's four-year-old dispute with the giant lingerie chain to settle a contested area of trademark law. At issue is whether a company with a famous trademark has to prove actual damages under a law designed to stop copycat business ventures.

The court said it will review Victor Moseley's claims that he has a right to sell adult toys and men's and ladies' lingerie under the name "Victor's Little Secret."

Victor and Cathy Moseley opened their store in a strip mall in Elizabethtown, Ky., in 1998 with the name "Victor's Secret." They contend they chose the name because Victor wanted to keep his new store a secret from a previous employer.

After the chain complained, the couple added a small "little" over the name, court records show.

The change didn't satisfy Victoria's Secret Catalogue Inc., which has had a trademark on its name since 1981, or the courts. The Moseleys were ordered to rename their store.

The case has the makings of a good fight, with arguments that Victoria's Secret's image could be tarnished because of the racy offerings of Victor's Little Secret. The store's motto is "Everything for romantic encounters."

The Moseley's lawyer, James R. Higgins Jr., told the Supreme Court that the judges who have considered the case so far "clearly were uncomfortable with (the Moseley's) business, legitimate though it is."

And Higgins said Victoria's Secret is no angel, either. They sell alluring women's lingerie modeled by attractive, scantily clad models in fashion shows, he told the court.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said that the Federal Trademark Dilution Act of 1995 protected Victoria's Secret. The chain proved that it had a famous name and that the similarly named store would likely tarnish its image, the court ruled.

"While no consumer is likely to go to the Moseleys' store expecting to find Victoria's Secret's famed Miracle Bra, consumers who hear the name 'Victor's Little Secret' are likely automatically to think of the more famous store and link it to the Mosely's adult toy, gag gift, and lingerie shop," the court said.

Some other courts have ruled that the law requires proof of injury.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, has said that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey could not stop Utah from using the phrase "greatest snow on earth" without proving "actual economic harm." The circus' slogan is the "greatest show on earth."

Victoria's Secret sued the Moseley family in 1998. The company told the Supreme Court that more than 3.5 million Kentucky residents get the lingerie catalog each year, including 39,000 in Elizabethtown, which is in central Kentucky. Over the past five years, Kentucky residents ordered about $30 million in lingerie from the catalogs, the court was told.

The case is Moseley d/b/a Victor's Little Secret v. V Secret Catalogue Inc., 01-1015.

Haunting Lennon Image Is Auctioned

New York April 15, 2002 (BBC) - A photograph which shows Beatle John Lennon's glasses covered in blood is being auctioned off for charity. 

The photograph was taken by Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and is one of only six prints in existence. It is expected to fetch up to £10,000 when it is put up for sale at Bonhams in London on Wednesday. 

The photograph is of Lennon's trademark spectacles beside a glass of water on a table set against the New York skyline as seen from the couple's flat. It was taken after Lennon was shot by Mark Chapman outside the Dakota Building in Manhattan in 1980. 

The composition of the photograph represents the ancient Oriental tradition of the Butsudan, or household family altar. 

In Buddhist homes, the Butsudan serves as a home for the souls of deceased family members who are worshipped daily. Ono arranged the photograph to create the same tribute, the glass of water representing the food and drink intended to feed the souls of the dead. 

The six copies of the photograph were printed in 1994, under Ono's supervision. 

Four of them were given to close friends of the couple and Ono kept one for herself, which was later used on the front cover of her album Seasons of Glass. The sixth was exhibited in New York and later sold to Johnnie Walker, a fundraiser for Artist Residencies of Tokyo (ART). 

He agreed to abide by Yoko's express wish that should he ever sell it, all the proceeds would be donated to charity.

Genetics News

China and Japan Launch Genome Project

By Ania Lichtarowicz 
BBC science Reporter 

Shanghai, China April 15, 2002 (BBC) - Genetic research looking into diseases that specifically affect people living in Asia is to be launched in China and Japan. 

Scientists meeting at the Seventh International Human Genome Meeting in Shanghai hope the project will place particular emphasis on creating treatments for people in the developing world. The work will initially look at diseases caused by errors in single genes, but the scientists behind the idea want to move quickly into looking at more complex illnesses, like cancer and diabetes. 

The Asian Human Genome Project, as it has been dubbed, could be the first of many major initiatives to look at the genes of specific ethnic groups. The Shanghai gathering marks the first time that the Human Genome Organisation (Hugo) has met in a developing country. 

Previous Hugo annual conferences have been held in the US, Australia and Europe. 

The Chinese event, scientists say, emphasizes that the latest genetic research can be applied and used all over the world and not just in the richest countries. And researchers working in Asia are keen to start work that will look specifically at genes found only in people living in the region. 

It appears from initial research that 80% of so-called SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms - simple errors in our genetic code) in humans all over the world are the same - but the remaining 20% vary between populations. 

SNPs - or "snips" - occur when there is an error in one of the bases or "letters" holding our DNA together. A wrong letter appearing in the genetic code can either prevent a cell from making a normal protein needed to build and maintain the body, or make a protein that does not work properly. In some cases this can have little or no effect on our health; in other cases it can have very damaging consequences. 

For example, the disease PKU is caused by a single gene not working properly. It means the body cannot break down certain compounds found in food and if not diagnosed very early in life will lead to severe mental retardation. 

Professor Yoshi Sakaki, the new president of the Human Genome Organisation, says that certain conditions are only found in Asia. 

"For example, some Orientals can't drink alcohol because they have a genetic defect in alcohol dehydrogenase (the enzyme that breaks it down), but in Caucasians I think no one has such a mutation. So, Orientals are very susceptible to alcohol but Caucasians are not." 

Out of the 3.2 billion bases that make up the human genome, only one single base is mutated to cause this type of intolerance to alcohol. 

Looking at more complex diseases, where many genes may be to blame, is a daunting prospect - but could be simplified by looking individually at ethnic groups instead of the human race as a whole. 

It is expected that there will be similar differences between other populations. Some diseases are much more common in certain groups compared with others - sickle-cell anaemia in Afro-Caribbeans, or thalassemia in Cypriots, for example. Professor Bartha Knoppers from Montreal University, Canada, heads the Hugo Ethics Committee. She says that looking into the genetics of ethnic groups will be of great benefit to the whole of humanity. 

"The more we learn about genetics in populations, between populations and between individuals, the more all these differences will make us totally equal," she said. 

This type of genetic knowledge, the scientists say, will not only help develop drugs suited for people all over the world, it may also tell us about our evolution as a species.

Human Genome Organization Condemns Human Cloning 

By Lee Chyen Yee 

SHANGHAI April 15, 2002 (Reuters) - Scientists at the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) on Monday condemned plans for human cloning, saying it raised deep concerns over moral issues and arguing that the technology was far from mature and side effects were unknown. 

Human embryo cloning as proposed by the creators of Dolly the cloned sheep, Britain's Roslin Institute, was a dangerous step leading to reproductive cloning which should be banned, HUGO scientists said at their annual meeting in Shanghai. 

"I don't think we should play with human beings, even the idea of human cloning," Bartha-Maria Knoppers, chairwoman of London-based HUGO's international ethics committee, told reporters when asked about her view on the Roslin Institute move. 

"Scientifically, it took over 400 tries to get Dolly the sheep," Knoppers said. 

Earlier this month, international media reported Italian fertility expert Severino Antinori had been successful in using human cloning to make a woman pregnant. Antinori has refused to confirm or deny the reports. 

Cloning is a new scientific area and uncertainty swirls around what effects the genetic manipulation will have. 

"First of all, the ethical issue is far from being resolved and secondly, the technology itself is far from mature," Zhu Chen, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a HUGO member, told a news conference. 

Some scientists have said if a woman in a cloning program was pregnant, it could pose a serious threat to the unborn child and raise risks of the mother developing a rare womb cancer. 

The Roslin Institute, which startled the world in 1996 when it produced Dolly, said last Thursday it would apply to the British government for a license to experiment on human embryos. 

Reproductive cloning is illegal in many countries, including Britain, but it has said the cloning of human embryos for research should be allowed under strict conditions. 

Proponents say cells taken from embryos within two weeks of fertilization are seen as potentially useful for research into finding cures for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. 

But critics say cloning of stem cells -- the undifferentiated cells which develop into the different tissues of the body -- from adults could achieve similar results. 

"The use of nuclear transplantation technology in order to develop stem cells for debilitating diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, however, is a completely different phenomena," scientist Mary-Claire King told the news conference. 

"It's something that we do support," said King, professor of Genome Science and Medicine at the Washington State University.

Smile! Botox Approved for Cosmetic Use by FDA

Associated Press 

WASHINGTON April 15, 2002 (AP) - The government has approved Botox, a purified strain of the toxin that causes botulism, to smooth frown lines - a decision likely to lead to even wider use of the wildly popular injections.

Botulinum toxin is one of the most poisonous substances on Earth. But injected in purified, extremely small doses, it can be used safely to treat certain neuralgic disorders by temporarily paralyzing muscles that cause involuntary spasms.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the medical use of Botox years ago. But it is legal for doctors to use a prescription drug for other reasons - and two years ago, Botox suddenly became the rage among plastic surgeons and their customers eager for new ways to ease wrinkles.

By formally approving a cosmetic use for Botox on Monday, the FDA cleared the way for maker Allergan Inc. to advertise the injections as a wrinkle-smoother, potentially making it even more popular.

Frown lines, those furrows between the eyebrows, are typically formed by excessive contraction of two forehead muscles. Injecting small doses of Botox into those muscles can weaken or paralyze those muscles, thus temporarily improving the appearance of the wrinkles.

It is only temporary: In one study of Botox injections, the severity of frown lines was reduced for up to 120 days.

Botox should be injected no more often than once every three months, and the lowest effective dose should be used, the FDA cautioned.

There are side effects, including headache, droopy eyelids, nausea and flu symptoms. Some patients - less than 3 percent in the study - also experienced face pain, redness at the injection site and muscle weakness. Those side effects were generally temporary but could last several months, the FDA warned.

Cost varies around the country but average about $400 a treatment.

Analysts estimate Botox did $300 million in worldwide sales last year, with up to half that amount related to cosmetic use.

Maya News

New Yucatán Excavations

Yucatán April 9, 2002 (UniSci) - Archaeologists of the University of Bonn have just begun the first of three series of excavation programs in Xkipché on the Mexican peninsula of Yucatán. 

They are investigating the living conditions of the population shortly before the city was finally abandoned towards the end of the 10th century, as well as the city's role as the residence of local princes during the turbulent period of its decline.

The location of the find is in the vicinity of the world-famous ruined city of Uxmal (recently accorded the status of world cultural heritage site), and, like Uxmal, goes back to the classical and late classical culture of the Mayas, being inhabited from ca. 500 to 1000 A.D. 

The focus of the current excavations is smaller buildings with a C-shaped ground plan, which are regarded as a reliable indicator of the last large-scale settlement of the Puuc region of Yucatán. 

A second focus of this research project, which is mainly funded by the German Research Association, is to investigate the living conditions of the less prosperous sections of the population. 

The Xkipché Archaeological Project is the first research project in the north of the Yucatán peninsula to specifically focus on the peasant class in the late classical period of the Maya culture; almost all of the other archaeological excavations in this region have been predominantly concerned with the role of the local and supra-regional élites.

German exploration of the ruined city of Xkipché is about a century old: between 1886 and 1893 the explorer Teobert Maler visited approximately a hundred large and small ruined sites in the Puuc zone of the Yucatán peninsula, which he recorded in descriptions, drawings and photographs. A large number of these ruins were subsequently lost in the dense scrub of this impassable hilly terrain and were only rediscovered in the last few decades.

Xkipché was one of these, which Professor Hanns J. Priem of the Institute of Ancient American Culture and Ethnology (IAE) was able to reach in 1989 after a great deal of effort. From 1991 to 1997, archaeologists of the University of Bonn excavated a palace complex there, which, with its two stories and over 40 rooms, some of which were still well preserved, was one of the biggest in the entire region.

At around 1000 A.D., leadership was taken over by a different sector of the population, whose buildings can be distinguished, among other things, by their poor workmanship. 

Finally, the region was abandoned for almost a millennium. As yet it is only possible to speculate as to the reasons for this. 

Excessive strain on the natural resources by the traditional method of slash-and-burn cultivation may have been a factor, which presumably coincided with an extensive period of successive years of low rainfall. 

This had catastrophic effects on an area without expanses of surface water, where the population was dependent on storing water from the rainy season for their water supply in the dry season. However, research findings show that social upheavals as a consequence of local wars and social unrest also seem to be increasingly probable factors. 

The Xkipché project is being carried out at the invitation of the Mexican government by the IAE, a university institute which specializes in research into the ancient cultures of America.

The excavation is envisaged as being purely for research purposes, with subsequent access to the site for visitors not intended.

Radar May Reveal Maya Rituals

By Vincent Landon

Zurich April 15, 2002 (SwissInfo) - An archaeologist from Zurich is hoping to shed light on the Mayan civilization of Central America using computer modeling techniques he has successfully employed in Switzerland. 

Jürg Leckebusch of the cantonal archaeology office is a specialist in the use and interpretation of ground penetrating radar (GPR). 

He has been asked to take part in a project in Mexico at Chichén Itzá, a Unesco World Heritage Site, in Yucatan. 

Leckebusch will be helping to investigate an area near the Castillo pyramid - also known as the pyramid of Kukulcan - where United States archaeologist, Larry Desmond, believes a cave used by the Maya for ritual purposes is located. 

“We are trying to determine where it is and we will use GPR and computer programs, used by Jürg, to generate a three-dimensional model of the subsurface,” said Desmond.

In the central part of Chichén Itzá, the Maya created a large flat open space or plaza for ritual purposes and processions. They topped the bedrock with four meters of fill, which they paved with a kind of plaster concrete. 

Within the fill, archaeologists have already detected what seem to be the foundations of previous buildings, as well as an unexplained trench, which was dug about ten to 15 meters from the west side of the pyramid. 

The trench, which runs in a north-south direction, is at least 100 meters long and five meters wide, and, in places, goes into the bedrock. It was dug after the plaza was completed and then refilled. 

“One theory is that it might have been used as an access to a chamber underneath the pyramid – maybe a burial chamber or a ritual chamber,” said Desmond. “Maybe it was used on a one-time basis when they buried a later king of Chichén Itzá. 

“We don’t really know and that’s why we’ll be doing a ground-penetrating radar project to try to generate a 3-D model to give us a better idea. If needed, we will follow that up with an excavation.”

Desmond, a senior research fellow with the Mesoamerican archive at the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, said it would take some “fancy GPR footwork” to detect the cave under the pyramid. “All sorts of indirect evidence will need to be reinterpreted,” he added. 

That is where Leckebusch comes in with his ability to generate three-dimensional computerized models based on the GPR data. This has already been successfully demonstrated at the Roman city of Augusta Raurica near Basel. 

In his office in Zurich, Leckebusch can call up on his computer screen, models of structures which are still standing underground - pillars, water channels, former entrances, which were subsequently covered up, and the heating floors of a Roman bath. Thanks to GPR, all this is visible without the need to excavate. 

“With geophysical prospection methods, you can see into the ground without touching any of these structures,” said Leckebusch. “Using geophysical techniques, you can understand what’s in the ground and then start to excavate.”

Non-intrusive methods are particularly important at a World Heritage site, added Desmond. “Ground-penetrating radar and other geophysical methods can identify specific locations so you can focus your work.” 

Leckebusch is quick to stress that his techniques do not provide all the answers. 

“Unfortunately, geophysical prospection does not replace conventional excavation,” he said. “If you want to know the exact date or the exact relationship of several walls together, you have to dig it out; and also today you’d never be able to capture any ceramics or any single objects. They’re too small to be detectable by these methods.”

In Switzerland, Leckebusch uses a unique contraption he designed himself – essentially a drivable lawnmower on which he has installed all his electronic equipment. He can survey up to a hectare a day. 

“This was all done manually,” he said, pointing to the computer models of Augusta Raurica. “It took quite a few weeks to get a complete understanding of the structures, but even if it’s done by hand, it’s much faster than excavating it. Excavating an area of one hectare would take more than ten years.” 

Now the hope is that he will be able to generate similar models by surveying the Great Plaza of Chichén Itzá. 

Chichen Itza boasts some of the most impressive ruins of Mayan civilization. Most archaeologists agree that it was settled for the first time between 550 and 900AD. 

Leckebush and Desmond will be working in collaboration with Mexican archaeologists from the National University. They hope to have funding for the project arranged by next year.

Railroad Site May Be Key to Ancient Puzzle

Belleville News-Democrat

BROOKLYN, IL April 14, 2002 (BN-D) - For more than a hundred years, railroad workmen unwittingly helped to preserve a layer of compact, yellow soil that today may help solve an old archaeological puzzle.

Just east of the tiny village of Brooklyn, workers disposed of gravel and rocks from railroad construction by spreading it over fields on either side of the tracks.

The debris protected the remains of a prehistoric Mississippian Indian village that is more than 1,000 years old and lies about four or five feet below the surface.

The soil in this grassy area of several acres is basically undisturbed because the proximity of the railroad prevented foundations for modern-era buildings.

Because the site is intact, archaeologists may finally solve an old archaeological question: Did several Mississippian Era villages that existed around 1,000 years ago in the vicinity of Cahokia Mounds once stretch west and then south in a loose chain to East St. Louis? Is this village part of the chain?

Archaeologist Brad Koldehoff thinks that about 800 to 1,000 years ago, East St. Louis was an ancient port for the canoes of native traders from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico. They sent goods overland through small villages to the urban center at Cahokia Mounds.

"This is a major excavation in an area where digging is usually hard to do because construction tore up so many sites. We're finding a lot of little stuff, broken pieces mostly,'' said Koldehoff, who heads the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Project based at the University of Illinois.

Project archaeologists work with the Illinois Department of Transportation to excavate prehistoric and historic sites that lie in the path of highway construction. Several years from now, a portion of the fields will eventually become a road leading to a new bridge over the Mississippi River, about a mile away.

Koldehoff said that this village predated the rise in about 1,000 A.D. of the city at Cahokia Mounds, which is less than five miles away. A layer of finely packed, yellowish and very sandy dirt at the site contains fire pits, trash pits and the remains of earthen cellars dug below ancient huts.

This is where Koldehoff's team members will sift the soil for bits of pots, animal bone, fire-blackened rock, chips from projectile points and knives, charcoal, an occasional piece of native copper and other debris from everyday Mississippian life. This ancient trash, Koldehoff said, should reveal the trading role of this long forgotten village that may have been home to about 200 people.

Trying to ward off a local rumor, Koldehoff said that several large pits dug by backhoe did not contain human remains and have nothing to do with a small, nearby cemetery containing headstones of people born in the 1850s. That cemetery will be preserved and is not in the path of new construction, he said.

Paramount Options Burroughs' 'John Carter of Mars'

By Claude Brodesser 

HOLLYWOOD April 12, 2002 (Variety) - Paramount Pictures sees green in the red planet, inking a deal to acquire rights to an 11-volume science-fiction adventure series written decades ago by Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the original "Tarzan" legend. 

Under the deal, Paramount has agreed to option the "John Carter of Mars" serial for a $300,000 upfront fee and to pay a $2 million sum if the studio brings the work to production. 

Paramount-based producers Jim Jacks and Sean Daniels' Alphaville Prods. plans to turn the first book into a movie. 

Although Rice Burroughs is best known for having penned the iconic "Tarzan of the Apes," the English writer's first book was "A Princess of Mars." Written in 1912, it was serialized in All-Story magazine under his nom de plume, Normal Bean. 

Jacks told Daily Variety that three of the best-known books (which include "Gods of Mars" and "The Warlord of Mars") are likely to be made into films of a scope "akin to 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Star Wars,' but were impossible to make before, because CGI (technology) wasn't there." 

The massive scope and special-effects demands of the project weren't the only reasons the film was not made previously. 

For almost a decade, Disney spent millions developing the "Mars" books as both a live-action and animation franchise for Cinergi, the production venture of Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna. Disney showered millions on the projects, developing for Tom Cruise to star and John McTiernan to direct.

The Mouse House ultimately failed to greenlight production of either incarnation. 

Jacks acknowledged that there "is a complicated legal situation and significant rights (still) need to be acquired." 

Still, the deal is interesting for Paramount. Other than its "Star Trek" franchise, Paramount is not usually the home to pricey effects-driven fantasy films, though it found success with "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." 

Studio brass obviously take comfort in knowing Jacks and Daniels are on the job -- the duo made Universal's wildly successful "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns" movies, which have a combined worldwide gross of more than $840 million. 

An offshoot of that franchise, "The Scorpion King," which Alphaville also produced, opens this month -- though Jacks noted the "Mars" books were not necessarily intended as a starring vehicle for "King" star Dwayne Johnson (aka the Rock). 

Coupling science-fiction and romantic derring-do, "A Princess of Mars" is the first adventure of John Carter, a veteran of the American Civil War who, while resting in a cave, finds himself transported to Mars. 

Instead of a dusty, lifeless rock, Carter finds Mars populated with giant (predictably green) men, and creatures both friendly and ferocious, disembodied and embodied. Along the way, Carter must save a princess, Dejah Thoris. 

Danton Burroughs, grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs and a director of the rights holding company, noted that Disney was hardly the first to have tried to create an animated film from the John Carter series. In 1936, Rice Burroughs collaborated with Warner Bros. animator Bob Clampett (who as a teen in 1930 had developed the first licensed Mickey Mouse doll for Walt Disney) to make a cartoon feature from the Carter books. 

Deal was brokered by attorney Sandra Galfas on behalf of the Rice Burroughs estate; she was not available for comment.

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