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Tuesday, November 20

Silver excavated from Mexican mines by the Spanish  has been detected in English coins dating to the 1550s. Silver from Bolivia was also being mined by Europeans at this time, but it didn’t show up in their coins until later. Geologists Anne-Marie Desaulty and Francis Albarède of the Ecole Normale Supérieure speculate that Mexican silver was easier to ship east to Europe. Bolivian silver would have had to travel across Brazil before traveling to Europe, so it was probably sent west, to China.

An analysis of bones from a collection of Norse skeletons at the University of Copenhagen shows that the Viking settlers in Greenland ate plenty of sea food, and gradually came to rely upon seals as a major source of nutrition. It had been thought that the Norse attempted to farm in Greenland for 500 years until the cold climate made it impossible and the colony failed. “Nothing suggests that the Norse disappeared as a result of a natural disaster. If anything they might have become bored with eating seals  out on the edge of the world. The skeletal evidence shows signs that they slowly left Greenland,” said Niels Lynnerup, a member of the university’s department of forensic medicine.

A new analysis of the remains of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe  shows that his famous silver nose prosthesis was actually made of brass. Archaeologist Jens Vellev of Aarhus University found traces of copper and zinc in a bone sample taken from the astronomer’s nose. The investigative team has also ruled out mercury poisoning as the cause of Brahe’s death. Scientists who examined his bones in 1901 claimed to have found mercury in his remains, suggesting that he’d been murdered. The mercury levels are low, however. That brings researchers back to the traditional story surrounding Brahe’s death in 1601: that he died from a ruptured bladder after failing to excuse himself during a royal banquet.

In the 1950s, the naturally mummified remains of a dog  were found in a burial cave in arid northern Mexico. The mummy and thousands of other artifacts from the cave have now been placed in the care of scientists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History. They estimate that the animal died 1,000 years ago, but further tests will be conducted in order to determine its age and breed. Dog skeletons have been found in other parts of Mexico, but this is the first mummy.

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