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Scientists Discover 240 Million Year Old Lizard in the Alps

Scientists say they tracked down the oldest known lizard, a tiny creature that lived about 240 million years ago, when Earth had a single continent and dinosaur species were still new. Found in the Italian Alps, scans of the fossilized skeleton of Megachirella revealed the chameleon-sized reptile was an ancestor of today’s lizards and snakes, which belong to a group called squamates. The finding suggests that group survived the Permian/Triassic mass extinction of 252 million years ago, in which 95% of marine life and 75% of terrestrial life on Earth died out. There are 10,000 modern squamate species alive today and up until now, scientists have had gaps in the understanding of their evolutionary history. Being hailed as the “mother of all lizards,” this newest finding may be as important to scientists as the Rosetta Stone has been for linguists and anthropologists.

EU Increasing Funds to Italy

The European Union has proposed spending more on Italy and other member countries hit by the economic and migrant crises, but less on increasingly wealthy eastern states such as Poland. Development policies in the EU are aimed at bringing about equitable economic conditions in the 28-nation union. Previously, greater stimulus was provided for poorer eastern countries in an attempt to bring them up to the higher western levels. The change of proportionate spending is viewed as necessary, especially in light of the increased competitiveness of Slovakia, Poland and Baltic countries who have not had to shoulder the burden of migrants. Although not viewed as a punishment for those countries, the response from those nations has been unsurprisingly less than favorable. According to the plan, Italy will receive 6% more funding.

What’s in a Name (Part II)

Last week we mentioned that an Italian couple were compelled by a court to select a new name for their baby girl called Blu. Now the parents of baby Benito Mussolini have received a court summons. The parents of the 14-month old baby are to appear in a Genoa court due to the selection of their son’s controversial name. Young Benito was named after one of his grandfathers, a common enough practice, but when the family name is Mussolini, authorities expressed concerns for the child’s welfare, not at present, but as he gets older. Although of no relation to the fascist dictator, the parents will have to explain the full reasoning behind the controversial choice of the baby’s name; the court will decide on what measures to take.

Whose Fault is it?

Central Italian water authorities in Rome recently surveyed the ground under the capital and measured over 12 square miles of subterranean cavities, prompting them to call for some quick fixes. Underground holes weaken the surface above, increasing the risk of sinkholes and in rare cases, severe shifts that almost look like fault lines. Rome averages 30 sinkholes per year, which is not unexpected, given how the Eternal City has been constantly been built layer upon layer for well over than 2,000 years. In the past decade, authorities have noted that the number of sinkholes have increased and in the first five months of this year alone, 83 incidents have already been reported. The most seriously affected areas are the oldest parts of the city along the ancient Appian Way, which has everything from catacombs to mushroom cellars beneath it. Authorities blame the unusually heavy rains in the first part of the year for the current dilemma, but the city has announced a multi-million-euro plan to fix its streets.

At Pompeii – Look but Don’t Touch!

A young French tourist who posted on social media a photo of himself sitting on the base of one of the columns of the Basilica in Pompeii has raised the ire, criticism and scorn of both archeologists and tour guides at the historic site. Said one guide, “Never lower your guard against imbecility.” The casual attitude and behavior of the tourist in the ancient Italian city is not an isolated case. Similar examples can be found all over social networks. In Pompeii, where several extraordinary discoveries have recently been made, inappropriate behavior by visitors seems to be on the rise. Incidents range from a tourist kicking over terracotta while trying to take a picture, to a 52-year-old French visitor who was found to have 13 fragments from the excavation site in his bag during a check.

It’s About Time

What does it take to keep the world’s oldest clock ticking? Experts are seeing for themselves during a year-long restoration of the tower clock in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. One of the features to be added during restoration will be a room where visitors can view the timepiece’s inner workings. The clock, which features only one hand, was commissioned by Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’Medici in 1665. The time keeper’s mechanisms have been altered only twice before, in 1840, when a slight improvement was made to the mechanism and 1990, when a digital component was added to better regulate the clock’s hand.