The Leaning Tower of Pisa Just Got a Little Bit Straighter

Flickr/Neil Howard

Pisa’s famous bell tower has just lost a little bit of its lean, according to a new report by researchers. The Italian tower, which has been tilting perilously for more than 800 years, has straightened by 2.5cm (1 inch) since 2001 thanks to a massive restoration project.

The Tower of Pisa has been leaning to one side pretty much from the beginning-the tower took nearly two centuries to build and it was obvious from the start that things were a little off kilter.

By the early 1990s, the tower was leaning nearly 18 feet, and each year, the tower was tilting more and more, with the incline increasing by more than a millimeter (0.04 inches) a year. That might not sound like much, but experts feared the building could collapse all together.It has taken engineers years to stabilize the tower, which included digging tunnels under one side of the structure to give its foundation room to shift, and attaching steel cables to the tower to keep it upright. It worked, and the tower has been straightening as predicted. In fact, engineers say that theoretically, they could straighten the tower completely. That, however, is unlikely to happen. More than 6 million people visit Pisa each year lured by the sight of the leaning tower, so while locals are happy to see the building restored, they’re not eager to see it straightened anytime soon.

Secret Toilet Discovered In Scottish Castle

castle, Drum Castle
Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologists working on a conservation project at Drum Castle near Aberdeen, Scotland, have discovered two secret chambers, one of which includes a medieval toilet complete with its wooden seat.

Drum Castle features a 13th-century castle keep that’s the oldest intact example in Scotland. Besides the hidden toilet, the team found a second secret chamber that’s reputed to have been where one of the men of the clan hid out for three years after the defeat at the Battle of Culloden. The chamber with the toilet was hidden by bookshelves installed in the 19th century, while the second chamber was a real-life safe room for rebellious Scots. Both were found in the medieval keep.

From 1323-1975, Drum Castle was the seat of the Chief of Clan Irvine. In addition to the keep, the property features Jacobean and Victorian additions. It is now open to visitors and is only 10 miles outside Aberdeen. Visitors can see the historic interior and stroll through the surrounding ancient oak woodland, a rare survival of primeval forest that’s been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Scientists Preserve Cannons That Started The Civil War

Civil War
National Park Service

Historic cannons from Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, that date to the Civil War have been meticulously conserved and returned to the fort, the National Park Service announced. Some of these big guns, weighing up to 15,000 pounds each, were used to fire on Fort Sumter just across Charleston Harbor. It was this attack on a federal fort that was the official start of the Civil War.

Scientists removed several layers of old paint from the 17 cannons and applied a coat of epoxy to protect them from rust. They also applied a durable coat of fresh paint. The cannons are exposed to the elements as well as salty, humid sea air, so choosing the right coating can make the difference between an evocative, educational exhibit and a rusting heap of trash.

Fort Moultrie is part of the Fort Sumter National Monument and has the world’s largest collection of American seacoast artillery from the 19th century. Last year a team of conservators visited Fort Sumter and treated several artillery shells from these cannons, many of which have been stuck in the fort’s walls since the day they were fired.

Civil War
Billy Hathorn One of the cannons prior to conservation.

Thieves Steal Rhino Horns From National Museum Of Ireland

rhino, rhino hornA gang of masked men broke into the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin on Wednesday night and made off with four rhino heads.

Museum officials said in a press release that the thieves overpowered a security guard and tied him up. They then entered a storeroom and removed the heads. The heads had previously been on display but had been put into storage a year ago for fear of their being stolen.

The security guard was eventually able to free himself and notify police. So far no arrests have been made.

Rhino horns are especially prized in Asia where they are used in traditional medicines. Police estimate the street value of the horns to be about $650,000. Normally rhinos are poached in the wild and their horns are smuggled to their destination. This photo, courtesy the UK Home Office, shows two rhino horns found wrapped in cling film, concealed in a false sculpture. These were from a different crime. The rhino horns from the Dublin museum have not been found.

This raid may herald a new phase in rhino poaching. With poachers facing increased policing, and even firefights, at national parks and rhinos becoming hard to find thanks to their being hunted to the edge of extinction, some may turn to taking horns from natural history collections.

[Photo courtesy the UK Home Office]

Tanzania Government To Fishermen: ‘Stop Catching Dolphins, It Upsets The Tourists’

Tanzania
The government of Tanzania is urging fishermen to stop hunting dolphins, a report in the Daily News says.

The report says dolphin hunting has become common practice in the Dar es Salaam and Tanga regions. It’s often done by “dynamite fishing,” in which explosives are chucked into the water to kill all marine life in a large area. Dolphin meat is used to bait sharks, which is what the fishermen are really after. Shark fins are a delicacy that sell for high prices.

Tourists have even spotted fishermen catching dolphins in Tanga Coelacanth Marine Park. Tourism is big business in Tanzania thanks to its diverse wildlife and being home to the Mt. Kilimanjaro part of the Serengeti. Seeing Flipper being blown up, hauled into a boat, cut to pieces and used as shark bait would definitely ruin an ecotourist’s vacation.

Dolphins have been a protected species in Tanzania since 2009. It’s not clear how well this is known among fishermen, however. Even if fishermen do know they’re flaunting the law, the need to be breadwinners for their families may outweigh any concerns about conservation or the health of an industry of which they are not a part.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user hobbs_luton. There is no indication that these particular Tanzanian fishermen are engaged in dolphin hunting]