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The Warsaw Voice » Other » September 16, 2009
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In brief
September 16, 2009   
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Archeological Finds in Silesia
The remains of a complex of medieval wells that supplied water to residents but also served as coolers have been discovered during construction work in the center of Bytom, a city in the southern Silesia province.

Archeologists found the first well-preserved remains of 15th-century infrastructure in early May. Initially, they thought that the uncovered timber structure was a small shaft for mining silver and lead ore, but it later turned out this was a well. There are more similar wells in the vicinity. They were once built to supply the townspeople with water.

In all, the archeologists have found four wells. Two of them are special, they say. Apart from well-preserved side walls, one well had a timber bottom with no vertical corner piles to support the structure from the inside. Inside the well, the archeologists came upon a large wooden bucket with a handle, a wooden winch, and a clay mug for drawing water.

Another well, which at first glance looked ordinary, contained animal bones. Deeper down, archeologists found some excellently preserved clay jugs covered with enamel and remnants of string around the handles. This suggests that the well may have been used as a cooler, the archeologists say; the jugs were probably filled with food and placed deep down where the temperature was low.

Preliminary studies show that the wells were built between the mid-14th and the end of the 15th century. Their depth ranges from 6.5 to 8 m below the present street level. One more well, lying outside the historical town walls, remains to be investigated.

Digs in Syria
A group of Polish archeologists headed by Prof. Rafał Koliński from the Adam Mickiewicz University's Institute of Prehistory in Poznań have unearthed several tombs dating to the Khabur period (1900-1750 BC) in the ancient city of Tell Arbid, Syria.

Two of these are hollow structures with a barrel vault. Leading into the tombs were two-meter shafts in which the people of the time placed their dead, the archeologists say. The shafts were protected from landslides by walls built above the tomb's entrance.

In another burial ground from a similar period, scientists have finished studying two box graves covered with a row of vertically standing mud bricks. Bone remnants were found in both. Only one grave contained a large set of jewelry, including bronze pins, over 100 beads and a ring.

The discovery of another burial ground came as a surprise. The archeologists have identified one chamber tomb and several vessel tombs. The shaft leading to the former contained an anatomically arranged skeleton of a dog; the animal may have belonged to one of the people buried in the grave.

More excavation work is being conducted in a post-Acadian settlement dating back to the 21st century BC. The studies are focused on a large building whose walls are covered with reddish clay plaster. The floor has miraculously survived undamaged, the archeologists say. Among the most interesting finds is a bronze sickle with a cuneiform sign carved in its blade.

Geophysical Studies of Ancient Pelusium
Polish archeologists are conducting excavation works combined with electrical resistance tests and magnetic studies in the ancient city of Pelusium, Egypt.

In the Greek-Roman era, Pelusium was the second-largest seaport after Alexandria. It was home to a stronghold that guarded the eastern border of the land of the pharaohs. The city was located at the northwestern edge of today's Sinai, along the route of caravans making their way to Egypt.

The archeologists have determined the look of a quarter with monumental buildings, in front of an ancient theater, with a network of streets and a road separating the quarter from the port's waterside. They have also established the city's boundary in the north and discovered a mysterious structure built on a circular plan next to the remnants of an ancient theater that is currently under conservation. All these structures were made from sun-dried mud bricks. Due to the local climate, fired bricks were used the most often in coastal areas during Roman times, as they were more resistant to moisture, the archeologists say.

The project combines a number of different research methods, including magnetic studies, which make it possible to determine building outlines, and electrical resistance tests, which in some cases can offer detailed plans of the foundations of homes and precise outlines of individual rooms, says Tomasz Herbich from the Department of Applied Sciences at the Polish Academy of Sciences' Institute of Archeology and Ethnology in Warsaw.

Sewage as an Energy Source
Researchers are working to develop a method to generate energy from sewage produced by sailboats and motorboats plying the Great Mazurian Lakes in northeastern Poland.

Sewage combined with plant biomass could be used in biogas generation plants, says Prof. Mirosław Krzemieniewski from the Environmental Protection Department of the University of Warmia and Mazuria in Olsztyn.

Statistics show that from 10,000 to 12,500 sailboats ply the Great Mazurian Lakes every year, with about 50,000 people on board. Half these boats are equipped with chemical toilets that deodorize, dissolve and dehydrate human waste. The chemicals used for this are strongly germicidal and the resulting mixture of feces and chemicals requires special treatment. Anaerobic biodegradation processes are the best option, experts say. Microorganisms in anaerobic sediment are capable of decomposing toxic chemical compounds. In addition, as a result of fermentation, chemical toilets can provide biogas containing high-energy methane.

There are biogas generation plants fueled by corn silage in Poland. But generating energy from plant biomass alone is expensive, Krzemieniewski says. To reduce the cost, the silage could be mixed with animal feces or sewage from chemical toilets used on sailboats, he adds.

Fish for the Bay
Tasty fish species such as rainbow trout may soon replace small and inedible fish like three-spined sticklebacks in the Bay of Puck, northern Poland, under a project overseen by the Marine Station of the University of Gdańsk's Institute of Oceanography in the town of Hel. Under the Fish for the Bay campaign, batches of 30,000-50,000 rainbow trout are being let into the Bay of Puck.

In the past, the Bay of Puck was home to various valuable species of fish, both freshwater and saltwater varieties. But environmental pollution and intensive fishing caused the bay to be dominated by inedible fish varieties such as round goby and stickleback, the researchers say. These feed on the larvae and eggs of utility fish and compete for food with young fish of other species.

Research by the Hel Marine Station has shown that sticklebacks are the favorite food of rainbow trout. This American species does not breed naturally in the Baltic, so its population can be easily controlled, the researchers say. Rainbow trout is highly valued by anglers, fishermen and gourmets, which should have a beneficial impact on the incomes of the local population.

Beware of Ticks
The incidence of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) has grown by 400 percent in Europe over the past 30 years. In Poland, regional epidemiological stations are recording a growing incidence of the disease, at about 300-330 cases per year, with experts warning that this data may be underestimated. According to doctors, more than 30 percent of TBE cases end in long-term paresis, paralysis and neurological damage, and in a minority of patients-in death.

At the same time, there is no causal treatment for this dangerous disease; the only effective method of combating it are vaccinations, doctors say. Statistics show that in countries that use mass-scale vaccination against TBE, incidence has dropped substantially. In Austria, where almost 90 percent of the population is vaccinated, incidence has decreased from about 700 to 40-60 cases per year. In Poland, meanwhile, despite the Ministry of Health's recommendations, such prevention measures are used by less than 1 percent of the population.

Epidemiologists are trying to determine which regions of the country are especially abundant in the ticks that carry the virus (endemic regions). According to official epidemiological data, the majority of TBE cases in Poland occur in a dozen or so counties, mainly in two provinces, Podlasie and Warmia-Mazuria. However, preliminary studies by the National Institute of Public Health show that the risk of contracting the disease has increased significantly in other regions as well.

In 2008, the institute's experts launched a project to make a precise map of TBE endemic regions. They are focusing on counties with a theoretically lower risk level in Pomerania, Kujawy-Pomerania, West Pomerania, Wielkopolska, Lower Silesia, and Małopolska provinces. They are working with the most widely used and most reliable method for estimating endemic regions, based on hand-picking ticks and checking how many carry the dangerous pathogens. This method has made it possible to determine that in Starogard Gdański county, for example, the tick infection rate is 12.2 percent.

Studies have shown the same incidence in endemic regions as those that until now were considered non-endemic. These preliminary tests have been confirmed using other methods, for example checking the number of TBE-infected goats-animals that are frequent carriers of the virus. In both cases, 1-8 percent of the goats were infected.

Compiled by Tadeusz Belerski
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