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The Warsaw Voice » Other » July 9, 2008
The Polish Science Voice
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In brief
July 9, 2008   
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Digging in Syria…
A Polish archeological expedition from the University of Warsaw's Mediterranean Archeology Center has examined the Allat temple and a cathedral in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, one of the most important and largest archeological sites in the Middle East that covers around 50 hectares.

The Allat shrine, modeled after Greek temples, blends Eastern and Western architecture. The presence of the shrine in Palmyra proves that the goddess Allat was still worshipped there after Christianity became the official religion in ancient Syria. The research carried out by the Polish archeologists shows that the local authorities allowed the worshippers to rebuild the temple after it had been destroyed in a Roman invasion.

Another part of the Palmyra site recently investigated by the Poles is a cathedral district located in the center of the ancient town. So far, the archeologists managed to partly unearth three churches. A fourth one, built on a basilican plan, was presumably Palmyra's cathedral. Next season, the archeologists plan excavations and reconstruction work on the Damascus Gate, which led into a large merchant complex of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The Polish excavations are important for international studies of Palmyra's urban planning system.

…and Sudan
Polish archeologists working in Sudan under Bogdan Żurawski, a researcher from the University of Warsaw, have found the remains of an early Christian church and a palace that is even older. While working in the vicinity of the village of Selib, located on the east bank of the Nile River between the Third and Fourth Cataracts, the archeologists stumbled across the remains of a building on a large rectangular plan. It soon turned out that this is one of the most unusual churches ever found in ancient Nubia, which is now northern Sudan.

Geophysical surveys and aerial photographs taken from a kite show that the main building is adjoined by a circular structure of red brick-a rotunda with a diameter of 8 meters. It is a groundbreaking discovery because until recently bread ovens and lime and brick kilns were the only buildings on a circular ground plan that were found in Nubia. The Polish archeologists have found a stone reliquary and parts of an altar and oil lamps, which show beyond a doubt that the building served as a church. According to Żurawski, the church in Selib is the most mysterious religious building in Nubia. Not only is it surrounded by a perfectly rectangular wall, but it stands on a two-meter podium or on an earlier building that served an unknown purpose.

Even more surprising are the results of work on a site a kilometer away from the church. The archeologists have found a building of 900 sq m there. There is every indication that the building was a palace-one of just a few palaces known to archeologists from Nubia's Meroitic period between 300 BC and 350 AD. The palace was surrounded by a residential district. Its large size indicates that Selib was a major administrative center of the Meroitic Kingdom. It may have been the seat of a governor or another local ruler, the Polish archeologists say.

Non-Surgical Cataract Treatment
Surgery is at present the only way of treating advanced cataracts, a condition that is among the biggest causes of loss of sight. An alternative approach would be to restore the molecular structure of the lens in a patient's eye through the use of nanotechnology. This is exactly what Prof. Barbara Pierścionek of the University of Ulster is working on, in conjunction with her colleagues from the University of Texas-Prof. Wei Chen, a nanotechnologist, and Prof. Ron Schachar, an ophthalmologist and physicist. Their research is likely to improve our understanding of changes taking place in the lens and help develop non-surgical cataract treatment.

The mechanical and optical properties of the lens in the eye are relatively easy to determine. But in order to learn about its biochemistry, one needs to have access to the interior of the lens. Unfortunately, this is extremely difficult. As a result, it is impossible to determine the structure of proteins in the lens before and after the development of a cataract.

A cataract is a clouding that develops in the lens of the eye. Initially, it impedes vision and eventually leads to the total loss of sight. Some 40 percent of people aged over 75 develop a cataract in one or both eyes. At present, cataract treatment involves the surgical removal of the diseased lens and its replacement with a plastic lens. Owing to the high cost of such surgery, there are still around 20 million people in poor countries who are blind because of their cataracts.

Innovative Knee Implant
An operation to insert a Journey-Deuce bicompartmental knee implant has been performed at the Military Research Hospital in Bydgoszcz. The innovative procedure, carried out for the first time in Poland, is designed to treat degenerative arthritis of the medial compartment and the femoro-patellar joint. It enables treatment of degenerated parts, improving joint mobility and the way the patella moves. The new system allows cruciate ligaments in the knee to remain in place and fits various types of patellar implants and unicompartmental systems.

The first Journey-Deuce systems were implanted in patients in 2006 and so far 800 such operations have been performed throughout the world, 200 of them in the United States. In Europe, most of the procedures have been performed in Belgium, Spain and Germany. The new-generation system is implanted in patients aged under 50. The patient stays in the hospital around five days after the operation.

Compiled by Tadeusz Belerski
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