Notes and shorts from around the world


Dead languages brought to life
A new technique for examining ancient parchments has led to the retrieval of languages spoken more than 1,500 years ago and assumed lost to history. Parchment was such a valuable commodity in ancient times that it was commonly reused, with the result that many ancient texts were lost to early recycling. Copies of the Bible, for example, were often written on top of them. The technique involves photographs of the manuscripts from several angles, using different visible and invisible parts of the light spectrum so as to highlight traces of the ink that had been washed away. These are then analysed by a computer algorithm. Scientists have now used this method on ancient manuscripts recently discovered in St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The monastery contains the oldest continually operating library in the world and lies below Mount Sinai, where God is said to have revealed the Ten Commandments. Among the writings recovered by the method are “lost languages” such as the extremely rare and barely known Caucasian Albanian. They also include the first known copies of the Bible in Arabic, as well as versions of medical texts by the Greek physician Hippocrates. By means of this technique, said Michael Phelps, of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, “we will recover lost voices from our history”.
A little surprise under the lid
A five year old boy had a nasty shock when he lifted the lid of the lavatory at his home on Southend, Essex, and discovered a 0.9m long python coiled within. “He was frantic, and shaking, and I could tell something was wrong, but that was not what I expected,” said his mother, Laura Cowell. She called a pet shop, Scales and Fangs, which sent a specialist to remove it. “It smelt of bleach and a bit toilety,” said Ethan Pinion, from the shop, but it should make a full recovery. The harmless python is thought to have belonged to a neighbour who had recently moved away. It is not clear, however, how it ended up in the sewers.
PM's wife facing charges
Israel's attorney general has formally notified Sara Netanyahu, wife of PM Benjamin Netanyahu, that she is facing potential criminal charges for using more than $130,000 of State money on lavish meals at the couple's official residence. The announcement, which follows a two year long investigation, is a major blow to the Netanyahus and is expected to be the first step in a protracted legal battle. Meanwhile, several of the PM's close associates have been arrested on suspicion of corruption in a separate case.
Bons mots
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” – Ancient Greek philosopher, Plato

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