Antarctica: A journey to the edge of a frozen continent

In early 2018 Reuters photojournalist Alexandre Meneghini travelled to the beautiful and vulnerable world of Antarctica.

The edge of Antarctica seen from aboveImage copyrightREUTERS

The trip, organised by Greenpeace, was to raise awareness of a European Union proposal to create a protected area in Antarctica, promoting a safe haven where marine life can thrive.

Penguins walking along a beachImage copyrightREUTERS

After a four-day voyage to reach the icy continent, the expedition encountered whales, penguins and enormous glaciers.

A penguin feeding a baby penguin by regurgitating food in to its mouthImage copyrightREUTERS

The proposed Weddell Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) would cover some 1.8 million sq km (1.1 million square miles) of natural habitat for whales, seals, penguins and many kinds of fish.

If successful, it would be the largest protected area on the planet.

The tail of a whale seen sticking out the waterImage copyrightREUTERS

Starting in Punta Arenas, Chile, the crew set out to document the effects of climate change, pollution and fishing on native wildlife.

A large group of penguins on the beachImage copyrightREUTERS

“Antarctica itself is currently protected under the Antarctic Treaty, but there is a lot of scope for abuse of the waters around Antarctica,” said Tom Foreman, Greenpeace expedition leader. “So, the chance to protect these areas, which are so vital to such a huge number of species in so many ways, can’t be missed.”

As well as penguins, the group also encountered seals, seen here from a helicopter.

Seals on a beach in a photo seen from aboveImage copyrightREUTERS

The islands, bays and harbours visited by the group included: Curverville Island, Half Moon Bay, Danco Island, Neko Harbour and Hero Bay.

The edge of Antarctica seen from aboveImage copyrightREUTERS
A penguin walking on iceImage copyrightREUTERS

The crew also visited Deception Island, which is the caldera of an active volcano in Antarctica. A caldera is a large cauldron-like depression in the landscape that formed when the volcano previously emitted magma.

On the island were the remains of an old whaling factory and a small cemetery.

A derelict wooden buildingImage copyrightREUTERS
A pile of stones denoting a graveImage copyrightREUTERS
A lone penguin walking on a beach with a wooden building in the backgroundImage copyrightREUTERS
A derelict wooden boatImage copyrightREUTERS

“Contrary to what some may think, the Antarctic is full of life. Penguins, seabirds, and different species of seals and whales could be seen at all times,” said Alexandre Meneghini.

A group of penguins on iceImage copyrightREUTERS

“My encounters with the penguins were wonderful and joined my list of unforgettable moments.

“They do not see humans as predators and can surround you for hours if you do not move much. Along with my dog, I think they are the sweetest things in this world.”

Penguin footprints in snow and iceImage copyrightREUTERS

“As my long trip proved, Antarctica is remote from civilization. But it is not untouched. I hope my pictures reveal some of the region’s beauty.”

He added: “None of my pictures do justice to the experience of seeing these places first-hand.”

A glacier seen from aboveImage copyrightREUTERS
A glacier seen next to a land massImage copyrightREUTERS
Penguins walking along a iceImage copyrightREUTERS

All photos: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

How Radioactive Isotopes are Used in Medicine

Symbol radiation on grass background
© Lebedev Alexey/Dreamstime.com

Radioactive isotopes, or radioisotopes, are species of chemical elements that are produced through the natural decay of atoms. Exposure to radiation generally is considered harmful to the human body, but radioisotopes are highly valuable in medicine, particularly in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Nuclear medicine uses radioactive isotopes in a variety of ways. One of the more common uses is as a tracer in which a radioisotope, such as technetium-99m, is taken orally or is injected or is inhaled into the body. The radioisotope then circulates through the body or is taken up only by certain tissues. Its distribution can be tracked according to the radiation it gives off. The emitted radiation can be captured by various imaging techniques, such as single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) or positron emission tomography (PET), depending on the radioisotope used. Through such imaging, physicians are able to examine blood flow to specific organs and assess organ function or bone growth. Radioisotopes typically have short half-lives and typically decay before their emitted radioactivity can cause damage to the patient’s body.

Therapeutic applications of radioisotopes typically are intended to destroy the targeted cells. This approach forms the basis of radiotherapy, which is commonly used to treat cancer and other conditions involving abnormal tissue growth, such as hyperthyroidism. In radiation therapy for cancer, the patient’s tumor is bombarded with ionizing radiation, typically in the form of beams of subatomic particles, such as protons, neutrons, or alpha or beta particles, which directly disrupt the atomic or molecular structure of the targeted tissue. Ionizing radiation introduces breaks in the double-stranded DNA molecule, causing the cancer cells to die and thereby preventing their replication. While radiotherapy is associated with unpleasant side effects, it generally is effective in slowing cancer progression or, in some cases, even prompting the regression of malignant disease.

The use of radioisotopes in the fields of nuclear medicine and radiotherapy has advanced significantly since the discovery of artificial radioisotopes in the first decades of the 1900s. Artificial radioisotopes are produced from stable elements that are bombarded with neutrons. Following that discovery, researchers began to investigate potential medical applications of artificial radioisotopes, work that laid the foundation for nuclear medicine. Today diagnostic and therapeutic procedures using radioactive isotopes are routine.

WRITTEN BY:  Kara Rogers
PUBLISHED: 

Dozen black holes found at galactic centre

Black holeImage copyrightSCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

A dozen black holes may lie at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, researchers have said.

A new analysis provides support for a decades-old prediction that “supermassive” black holes at the centres of galaxies are surrounded by many smaller ones.

However, previous searches of the Milky Way’s centre, where the nearest supermassive black hole is located, have found little evidence for this.

Details appear in the journal Nature.

Charles Hailey from Columbia University in New York and colleagues used archival data from Nasa’s Chandra X-ray telescope to come to their conclusions.

They report the discovery of a dozen inactive and low-mass “binary systems”, in which a star orbits an unseen companion – the black hole.

The supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), is surrounded by a halo of gas and dust that provides the perfect breeding ground for the birth of massive stars. These stars live, die and could turn into black holes there.

In addition, black holes from outside the halo are believed to fall under the influence of Sgr A* as they lose their energy, causing them to be pulled into its vicinity, where they are held captive by its force.

Some of these bind – or “mate” – to passing stars, forming binary systems.

Previous attempts to detect this population of black holes have looked for the bright bursts of X-rays that are sometimes emitted by black hole binaries.

Faint and steady

“The galactic centre is so far away from Earth that those bursts are only strong and bright enough to see about once every 100 to 1,000 years,” said Prof Hailey.

Instead, the Columbia University astrophysicist and his colleagues decided to look for the fainter but steadier X-rays emitted when these binaries are in an inactive state.

“Isolated, unmated black holes are just black – they don’t do anything,” said Prof Hailey.

“But when black holes mate with a low mass star, the marriage emits X-ray bursts that are weaker, but consistent and detectable.”

A search for the X-ray signatures of low-mass black hole binaries in the Chandra data turned up 12 within three light-years of Sgr A*.

By extrapolating from the properties and distribution of these binaries, the team estimates that there may be 300-500 low-mass binaries and 10,000 isolated low-mass black holes surrounding Sgr A*.

Prof Hailey said the finding “confirms a major theory”, adding: “It is going to significantly advance gravitational wave research because knowing the number of black holes in the centre of a typical galaxy can help in better predicting how many gravitational wave events may be associated with them.”

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time. They were predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and detected by the Ligo experiment in 2015. One way these ripples arise is through the collision of separate black holes.

By BBC Science

The last unmapped places on Earth

In 1504, an anonymous mapmaker – most likely an Italian – carved a meticulous depiction of the known world into two halves of conjoined ostrich eggs. The grapefruit-sized globe included recent breaking discoveries of mysterious distant lands, including Japan, Brazil and the Arabic peninsula. But blanks remained. In a patch of ocean near Southeast Asia, that long-forgotten mapmaker carefully etched the Latin phrase Hic Sunt Dracones – “Here are the dragons.”

Today it is safe to say there are no unknown territories with dragons. However, it’s not quite true to say that every corner of the planet is charted. We may seem to have a map for everywhere, but that doesn’t mean they are complete, accurate or even trustworthy.

For starters, all maps are biased toward their creator’s subjective view of the world. As Lewis Carroll famously pointed out, a perfectly objective and faithful 1:1 representation of the world would literally have to be the same size as the place it depicted. Therefore, mapmakers must make sensible design decisions in order to compress the physical world into a much smaller, flatter depiction. Those decisions inevitably introduce personal biases, however, such as our tendency to place ourselves at the centre of the world. “We always want to put ourselves on the map,” says Jerry Brotton, a professor of renaissance studies at Queen Mary University London, and author of A History of the World in 12 Maps. “Maps address an existential question as much as one that’s about orientation and coordinates.

“We want to find ourselves on the map, but at the same time, we are also outside of the map, rising above the world and looking down as if we were god,” he continues. “It’s a transcendental experience.”

How Africa was seen in the 1700s (Thinkstock) (Credit: Thinkstock)

How Africa was seen in the 1700s (Thinkstock)

Which is why, he says, the first thing most new Google Earth users do is to look up their own address. Modern technology enables this exercise in ego, but the tendency itself is nothing new. It dates back to the oldest known world map, a 2,500-year-old cuneiform tablet discovered near Baghdad that puts Babylon at its centre. Mapmakers throughout history adopted a similar bias toward their own homeland, and little seems to have changed since then. Today, American maps still tend to centre on America; Japanese maps on Japan; and Chinese ones on China. Some Australian maps are even rotated so that the southern hemisphere is on top. It’s such an ego-centric approach that the United Nations sought to avoid it when they created their emblem – a map of the world neutrally centered on the North Pole.

Similarly, maps can overestimate their creators’ geographic worth, or reveal bias against certain places. Africa’s true size, for example, has been chronically downplayed throughout the history of mapmaking, and even now, non-Africans tend to underestimate the size of that truly massive continent – which is large enough to cover China, the US and much of Europe.

Missed a bit?

Missed a bit?

Religious, political and economic agendas also come into play, adulterating a map’s objectivity. The maps of World War II, for example, were incredibly propagandist, depicting “dreadful red bears and red perils,” Brotton says. “The maps were distorted to tell a political message.

“A map,” he continues, “will always have an agenda, an argument, a proposal about what the world looks like from a particular perspective.”

Skewed view

Even today’s digital maps adhere to this rule, he says. Google and other digital mapmakers turn the world into “one enormous web browser”, he explains, driven by commercial interests.

But Manik Gupta, the group product manager at Google Maps, counters that Google Maps’ primary goal mirrors that of its company: to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Commerce is just one part of that. “At the end of the day, technology is a tool,” Gupta says. “Our job is to make sure it’s super accurate and works. Users then decide how they want to use it.”

(Google) (Credit: Google)

(Google)

Nevertheless, even digital maps skew toward the things that their users deem most important. Those areas that the majority sees as unworthy of attention – poor neighbourhoods like the Orangi shanty town in Karachi, Pakistan, or the Neza-Chalco-Itza slum in Mexico city – as well as those places that mapmakers do not often go – war-torn regions, North Korea – remain grossly undermapped.

This neglect means maps of remote regions can contain errors that go unnoticed for years. Scientists paying a visit to Sandy Island, a speck of land in the Coral Sea near New Caledonia, recently discovered that the island simply did not exist. The “phantom island” had found its way onto Australian maps and Google Earth at least a decade ago, probably due to human error.

Google has two approaches to addressing these problems: sending mapmakers out into the wildernesswith Street View cameras attached to backpacks, bikes, boats or snowmobiles, and launching Map Maker, a tool created in 2008 that allows anyone anywhere to enhance existing Google maps. “If it’s important, then most likely the users will put it on the map,” Gupta says.

Favelas may be close to well-known cities, but they are not well-mapped (Thinkstock) (Credit: Thinkstock)

Favelas may be close to well-known cities, but they are not well-mapped (Thinkstock)

But while many communities have literally put themselves on the map, others have not. (Most likely, mapping Rio de Janeiro’s favelas or the floating slum of Makoko in Lagos isn’t a top priority for those living there.) Traditional paper maps tend to neglect these areas as well. “They’re places that the state denies or doesn’t want to portray as part of its landscape,” says Alexander Kent, a senior lecturer in geography and GIS at Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK. “Far from being something objective that just reflects what’s on the ground, the person behind the map has the power to determine what goes on it or not.”

In recognition of this problem, a new effort called the Missing Maps Project – organised by the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team – recruits volunteers to fill in the cartographical blanks in the developing world. It’s too early to tell whether the project will make a substantial dent, but launch parties are scheduled in London and Jakarta to try and drum up interest among potential volunteers.

Coastlines often change faster than maps can track them (Getty Images) (Credit: Getty Images)

Coastlines often change faster than maps can track them (Getty Images)

The ocean, likewise, is one of the most poorly mapped areas of the planet, despite the fact that it occupies the most space. “The great terra incognita is the ocean bed,” Brotton says. In light of increasing interest in underwater mining and drilling, certain countries – especially Russia – are looking to lay claim on large tracts of ocean floor. Additionally, with sea ice quickly receding, more and more territory will come up for grabs. “As the landscape changes, it becomes possible to exploit more mineral resources, so mapping becomes extremely powerful and important,” Brotton says. To draw attention to this gap of knowledge, Brotton and artist Adam Lowe are creating a 3D map of the ocean floor without water. “I think geographers are beginning to understand that mapping the oceans is one of the great untold stories,” he says.

Low quality

For others, though, untold stories abound even in some of the most prolifically mapped places in the world. Dave Imus, an award-winning mapmaker based in Oregon, acknowledges that much of the world has been mapped in a basic sense, but believes that the vast majority of maps are not good enough.

“So many maps are difficult to understand, forcing the eye and mind to work overtime trying to perceive what it’s looking at,” he says. And a digital map, with spoken directions, “is good for helping you find a restaurant, but you’re no more connected with your surroundings than looking for the next turn”.

Frustrated with the maps on offer for the US, he set out to make his own, turning to the “really exquisite, expressive” mapping style of Swiss cartographers as inspiration. “It’s my hypothesis that the reason Europeans are so much more geographically aware than we Americans is that they have these maps that make their surroundings understandable and we don’t,” he says.

(Dave Imus) (Credit: Dave Imus)

The Essential Geography of the United States – for a zoomable version, visit imusgeographics.com/usa-maps (Dave Imus)

The fruit of his labour is the Essential Geography of the United States of America, a highly informative map that does away with the muddle of rainbow-coloured states of traditional US maps, instead delineating boundaries in green and allowing each state’s actual features – mountains, forests, lakes, urban centres, highways – to characterise those places. City populations are indicated in yellow patches, and rather than cram in as many towns as possible, Imus uses census data to standardise rural places in terms of what counts as a hub in that particular area – whether that means 500 or 5,000 people. Major landmarks and transportation centres like airports are marked; Native American reserves are included (something lacking on many maps); and elevation of not only of mountains but also cities is noted. “The National Geographic map of the US has some elevations of mountain peaks but doesn’t even tell you the elevation of Denver, Colorado,” Imus says. “As a consequence, it doesn’t communicate anything meaningful about what that place is like if you’ve never been there.”

High standard

Such maps are incredibly time consuming and expensive to produce, however. Imus spent 6,000 hours on his. As a result, as far as Imus knows, only Europe, Japan, New Zealand and now the US have maps available that meet these high standards. “We think we’re living in this modern age and everything’s been done, but for people who look at mapping at a slightly different angle, they’ll see things that still need to be done virtually everywhere,” he says. Still, Imus dreams of a day when such maps will be widely available everywhere and at increasingly fine scales, such as at the state and city level. Ultimately, he hopes this would foster a more geographically literate society. “I’ve felt misunderstood at times,” Imus says, “but I’ve gotten so much great feedback on this project that I feel like people now get it and it’ll continue on.”

Shifting climates change the shape of the land, rendering maps outdated (Getty Images) (Credit: Getty Images)

Shifting climates change the shape of the land, rendering maps outdated (Getty Images)

But even the most detailed maps cannot get around one fundamental problem in the way of creating a near-perfect cartographic representation for any place in the world: the incredible pace of change, both human and nature-made, that characterises life on the planet. Some cities in Asia and Africa, Gupta says, are undergoing so much construction that Google Maps have been unable to keep up. At the same time, natural landscapes are constantly in a state of flux – now, more so than ever. Islands are being devoured by the sea, ice floes are disappearing, shorelines are eroding and forests are being cleared. “The very moment you build a perfect map of the world is the moment it goes out of date,” Gupta says. “The real world will always be a little bit ahead of how we represent it, because change is constant.”

In that sense, the entire world is undermapped, and it will always remain that way. A birds-eye view of a city tells you it’s there, but not how to navigate through all corners of it. A foldout map is a relic of the time it went to print, unable to take into account earthquake destruction, new roads or renegotiated borders. And Google Maps can provide turn-by-turn instructions for biking from London to Brighton, but fails utterly when asked to do the same for traversing a Brazilian favela or the Gobi desert’s dunes.

Even our best maps, then, are merely more up to date and truer to place than others. Our age-old quest to capture uncharted land and space will never end.

By Rachel Nuwer

Lake Chad: Can the vanishing lake be saved?

Lake ChadImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Lake Chad – a source of water to millions of people in West Africa – has shrunk by nine-tenths due to climate change, population growth and irrigation. But can a scheme dating back to the 1980s save it?

“It’s a ridiculous plan and it will never happen.” That’s the reaction many people have to the idea of trying to fill up Lake Chad and restore it to its former ocean-like glory by diverting water from the Congo river system 2,400km (1,500 miles) away.

Sceptics in Nigeria, who have seen successive governments fail even to make the lights work, wonder if the region’s politicians have nodded off and have been dreaming a little too hard.

But the government ministers and engineers who were recently sipping mineral water in the capital, Abuja, at the International Conference on Lake Chad had good reason to be thinking outside the box.

Lake Chad

Lake Chad has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s, due to climate change, an increase in the population and unplanned irrigation. Its basin covers parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and has been a water source for between 20 million and 30 million people.

But with the desert encroaching further every year, it is getting increasingly difficult for families to make a living through agriculture, fishing and livestock farming. The UN says 10.7 million people in the Lake Chad basin need humanitarian relief to survive.

“We used to pass fields of maize on our way to the lake and there were vast numbers of boats bobbing up and down on the water back then, and huge fish markets,” says Bale Bura, who grew up by the lake in the 1970s and now works for the Lake Chad Fishermen’s Association.

Drawing of Transaqua planImage copyrightGROUP BONIFICA
Image captionTransaqua would cost tens of billions of dollars to build

Now far fewer farmers are able to earn a living on the mineral-rich but bone-dry shores.

This is one reason why the delegates in Abuja decided to dust off a scheme first mooted back in 1982 by the Italian engineering company Bonifica Spa.

It came up with Transaqua – a plan to construct a 2,400km (1,500 mile) canal to transfer water from the upstream tributaries of the mighty Congo River all the way to the Chari River basin, which feeds Lake Chad.

‘Deafening silence’

It proposed the transfer of up to 100 billion cubic metres (3.5 trillion cubic feet) of water a year and featured a series of dams along the route to generate electricity.

“I sent one of our engineers to the USA, to purchase the only reliable maps of Africa, which were made by the US Air Force and were the only maps with contour lines,” says Marcello Vichi, the Italian engineer who was asked to look into the idea during the early 1980s.

“After a couple of months of solitary study, I announced to the then chief executive that this thing could be done.”

He says 500 copies of the plans were sent out in 1985 to government representatives of every African country, as well as international financial agencies.

“The response was a deafening silence,” he adds.

But more than three decades later, minds are finally focusing on the lake’s shrinkage, prompted by its link to the deadly geopolitical crises of Islamist militancy and migration.

Freed schoolgirls in NigeriaImage copyrightEPA
Image captionBoko Haram recently seized more than 100 schoolgirls, before releasing most of them a month later

In 2014, I headed out of the north-east Nigerian city of Maiduguri towards Lake Chad in a new minibus. There were armoured vehicles in front as well as behind, and right next to me was a Nigerian soldier – fast asleep. Our destination was Kirenawa, the latest village that the marauding Boko Haram jihadists had terrorised.

As the road became steadily sandier, we entered a long-neglected area, passing the faded signs of abandoned government projects in ever hotter and sleepier villages.

Buildings had been torched and people had been left terrified, watching as others were killed in front of them.

In all the villages, people complained there was nothing for young people to do, nothing to dream of except getting out.

‘Ugly kinds of jobs’

It had become a perfect recruiting ground for the Islamist militants. The offer of a little cash and the promise of some training and a gun persuaded many to join.

Of course, Lake Chad’s decline is not the sole reason for the rise of violent extremism – a number of factors including poor governance have also played a role – but there is clearly a link.

“I know many young people from my own village who got into these ugly kinds of jobs,” Mr Bura says.

As if the delegates gathering in Abuja last month needed reminding of how dire the security situation had become, more than 100 schoolgirls had just been seized from Dapchi, Nigeria.

At the meeting, it was agreed that Bonifica and PowerChina, the company that helped build the Three Gorges dam spanning the Yangtze River, would complete a feasibility study. They announced that the effort to raise $50bn (£35bn) for the Lake Chad Fund should begin immediately.

Camels crossing Lake ChadImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Bonifica says its plan will use less than 8% of the water the Congo River discharges into the Atlantic and would not be a threat to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s continuing Grand Inga Dam project, which would create the world’s largest hydropower generator if it is completed.

Further engineering work would be needed to enable the Chari River to handle the increased flow of water. The project can be done in a staggered way, with each completed stage immediately adding to the flow of water into the Lake Chad basin.

Other options that have been considered include one which involves pumping the water uphill from Palambo, in the Central African Republic.

As well as the funding challenge for Transaqua, there will be resistance from environmental campaigners to overcome. And even carrying out the feasibility study properly requires peace.

Chinese media has reported the transfer canal would be 100m (328ft) wide and 10m (33ft) deep and would be flanked by a service road and eventually a rail line.

“It is a project which responds to the never-tackled infrastructural needs of the African continent, which maybe will give birth to a real African renaissance,” says Mr Vichi, who sees all along the route of the canal vast potential for agro-processing and transforming agricultural products for African and foreign markets.

Ministers know life is likely to get ever tougher for the people who live around Lake Chad. That’s why they are paying attention to the plans to bring it back to life.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World existed simultaneously for fewer than 60 years

Featured image

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is a well-known list of the most impressive constructions from classical antiquity. Even today, they never fail to dazzle the human imagination.

As most of us know, only the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the ancient wonders, has survived to present day. The Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Statue of Zeus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and the Temple of Artemis are all sadly gone, and we will never see their beauty as the ancients did.

The final item on the list, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, has disappeared as well, although nobody is quite sure where exactly it was in the ancient world. In fact, some historians speculate that this seventh wonder might have never existed at all.

Today we have many literary accounts of these architectural masterpieces from ancient travel pamphlets and poems, especially from Greece. The set list of seven as we know it today did not emerge until the Renaissance, though.

 

By the fourth century BC, the Greeks had conquered much of the then-known world. They came into contact with many ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. Astounded by the grand buildings of these societies, Greek travelers began to record what they saw. Consequently, the first writings that referred to a list of wonders of the world appeared around the first century BC, in Greece.

At first, the ancient Greeks spoke of “theamata,” meaning “sights,” or “things to be seen” (Tà heptà theámata tēs oikoumenēs [gēs]). The word “wonder” came around later. Diodorus Siculus, a first-century BC Greek historian, provided one of the first references to a list of seven landmarks. The poet Antipater of Sidon, who lived around 100 BC, mentioned a list as well. He described the wonders in a poem, which goes as follows: 

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labor of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.’” — Antipater, Greek Anthology IX.58

 

Philo of Byzantium also produced a short writing called “The Seven Sights of the World,” which only survives in fragments. It covers six of the supposed seven wonders, and matches up with Antipater’s description. There were earlier lists too, from the historian Herodotus and the architect Callimachus of Cyrene, but these survived only as references in the Museum of Alexandria.

According to literary accounts, the Colossus of Rhodes was the last of all seven wonders to be completed, probably around 280 BC. It was also the first of the seven to be destroyed, by an earthquake around 226-225 BC. This means that all seven landmarks would have existed at the same time for fewer than sixty years.

Most of the landmarks were around the Mediterranean, with the exception of Babylon. This was the world as the ancient Greeks knew it, so sites beyond this realm were never considered. Five out of the seven wonders are in fact Greek architectural and artistic accomplishments, which did not go unnoticed by Hellenic writers. Only the Egyptian Pyramids of Giza and the mysterious Mesopotamian Hanging Gardens of Babylon were non-Greek.

The Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus were destroyed by fires, while the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Colossus of Rhodes, and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus all fell in violent earthquakes. Sculptures from the Mausoleum, as well as some from the Temple of Artemis, survived — they can now be seen in the British Museum in London, England.

This practice of cataloging the greatest human architectural achievements continued beyond the times of Ancient Greece. Later Romans similarly indexed wonders from around their empire, reflecting the rise of Christianity and celebrating both Roman and Christian sites. Such lists included the Colosseum in Rome and Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, incorporating the traditional pagan culture with those of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Writers continued to produce lists of wonders throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and even as recently as 2006, as people continue to celebrate their contemporary achievements of engineering. The original list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World may never be surpassed in grandeur, though, having set the standard for such a practice.

 Stefan Andrews