Confirmed: Some dinosaurs did nest in colonies

An unexpectedly revealing find in Mongolia solves a longstanding riddle.

Image source: Noiel / Shutterstock
  • Normal geological evidence isn't precise enough to confirm paleontologists' suspicions.
  • The new fossils find is covered by a fine veneer of red sand deposited in a single season.
  • Scientists can infer whose eggs they were.
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Solved: the mystery of Brazil's time-traveling capital city

"Brasilia, the biggest paper town ever."

Image source: Nevinho, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Why does Brasilia, built in the 1950s, pop up on a 1920s map of South America?
  • We put the question out there, and the answers — some more credible than others — came flooding back.
  • Thank you, internet hive mind: you've solved a cartographic mystery!
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Can you solve the mystery of Brazil’s time-traveling capital?

Forensic cartography 101: Explain what Brasilia is doing on this map of 1920s South America.

Image: Rob Cornelissen
  • "Forensic cartography" is dating a map by the age of its borders.
  • All evidence points to this undated map of South America to be from the 1920s.
  • So why does it feature Brasilia, the new capital of Brazil, which was only built in the 1950s?
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A murder map of Denmark

Lovers deadlier than gangsters, first comprehensive Danish homicide study since 1970s shows

Image: Dagbladet Information
  • Danes love tv crime, but rarely commit (and barely study) murder
  • The typical Danish murder involves knives and relatives, study reveals
  • Wealth of stats can help forensic scientists - and lawmakers

One map, 1,417 murders

A murder map of Denmark

A geographic representation of all 1,417 murders committed in Denmark from 1992 to 2016.

Image: Ruland Kolen / Dagbladet Information

Scandinavians love bloody murder. On their tv screens at least: if they're not binge-watching the latest, locally-sourced Scandi noir crime thriller, they'll happily re-watch Morse, Vera, Barnaby, Taggart or any other of the mostly British (and strangely often mononymous) homicide procedurals clogging up all channels, any day of the week.

That massive, if passive, interest in killing must somehow serve as an antidote for its active pursuit, because the Nordics are among the least murderous countries worldwide.

In 2017, Denmark had a rate of 'intentional homicide' of just 1.20 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is among the lowest in the world (1). Given its relatively small population (5.8 million), that translates to a mere 71 murders that year. The other Nordics have similarly low stats: also in 2017, Finland also had a murder rate of 1.20 (69 Finns finished), in Sweden it was 1.10 (113 Swedes silenced), in Iceland 0.90 (just 3 Icelanders iced) and in Norway 0.50 (28 Norwegians neutralised).

The only major countries doing better than that were Indonesia (0.40, i.e. 1,150 murders) and Japan (0.20, for 306 homicides). The United States trends to the other side of the spectrum (2), with a murder rate of 5.30 in 2017, which translated into 17,284 intentional homicides (3).

With murder rates this low and home-grown crime dramas as popular as they are, it could be argued that there are more fictional murders on screen in the Nordic countries than actual ones. It's certainly true that the actual murders - outshone and perhaps outnumbered by their fictional counterparts - get less attention.

Societal value

Toe-tagged body in a morgue

Objectified information helps forensic scientists transcend their own knowledge of previous cases.

Image: Ralf Roletschek / FAL 1.3

Enter Asser Hedegård Thomsen from the Institut for Retsmedicin (Institute of Forensic Science) at Aarhus University. He is conducting the first comprehensive analysis of Denmark's murder statistics since the early 1970s. For his Ph.D. thesis, to be completed next year, he has spent five years examining each and every one of the 1,417 murders committed in Denmark in the quarter century from 1992 to 2016.

Why? "When autopsying a murder victim, forensic scientists use their own knowledge of previous cases to reach their conclusions. My analysis is helpful because it is objectified information, extending beyond personal knowledge", Hedegård Thomsen told the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information, which devoted an entire supplement to his findings.

But there is also a broader, societal value in a close reading of all those autopsy reports, the paper editorialises: "Even if murder is relatively rare here (in Denmark), it remains the ultimate crime against society, and the one that is punished most severely. That's why knowledge on this topic is so relevant: if murder is to be discussed, prevented or legislated on, it's important to do so based on facts."

X marks the spot

A murder map of Denmark

More chilling than 'The Killing': a real-life murder map of Denmark.

Image: Dagbladet Information

So, what does murder in Denmark look like? According to this map, one X for the location of each murder, a lot like Denmark itself.

Murder density is highest where most people live: first and foremost in the capital, Copenhagen (the white blob, bottom right). Odense (middle, bottom) is also easily visible. Smaller areas of overlapping crosses correspond to other Danish cities such as Esbjerg, Aarhus and Randers.

But killing happens in enough places for the geographic outline of the entire country to become visible. The densely populated islands of Sjælland (on which Copenhagen is located), Fyn (Odense) and Lolland can be clearly discerned. A few murders in Skagen, the northern tip of Jutland, help identify the Danish mainland.

One isolated cross north of Odense seems to indicate a solitary murder on the small holiday island of Samsø. The bunch of x'es to the right represent the island of Bornholm, at greater distance from the rest of Denmark, halfway between Sweden and Poland.

Typology of violence

CIA World Factbook map of Denmark

For reference, an actual map of Denmark

Image: CIA / Public domain

Perhaps more interesting to coroners (and legislators) is the study's typology of violence and victims.

Stabbing was the most frequent cause of death (33.2%), followed by shooting (22.2%), blunt-force trauma (21.9%) and strangulation (17.6%). Since most murders happen at home, Denmark's favourite murder weapon is the kitchen knife. Access to guns is strictly regulated in Denmark, otherwise death by gunshot would probably be the larger category.

Familiarity breeds contempt - and worse: 44% of all killings happen within families. No less than 77% of all female murder victims die at the hands of a relative, and just 24% of men. Spousal homicide is the biggest single subcategory of all murders (26.7%), and 79% of its victims are women. In fact, more than half of all female murder victims are killed by their (former) significant other. For men, that figure is just 9%.

The second-largest category are drink- and drugs-related murders. Here, 97% of the victims are male. Gangland killings and other crime-related murders - which receive wide media attention - are a distant third.

Three out of four murders take place at a home (rather than out on the street), two-thirds occur between 6 pm and 6 am, and most happen on a Friday or Saturday. Monday is the least lethal day of the Danish week.

'Ideal' victim profiles

A set of knives and other kitchen utensils

Line up the usual suspects...

Image: Kent Wang / CC BY-SA 2.0

Based on the 1,417 murder cases in Denmark from 1992 to 2016, Mr Hedegård Thomsen has established three profiles for the 'ideal' Danish murder victims.

  • The average murdered Danish male is between 18 and 50 years old, is killed on a Friday night by a drinking buddy with a kitchen knife, either at his own home or that of a friend.
  • The typical female murder victim in Denmark is between 30 and 39 years old, and is killed at home by her partner or her ex, out of jealousy or because of separation issues. She is either knifed or strangled.
  • Murder victims under 18 years are as often boys as girls, most often killed by a relative - in 75% of cases by their father or another man.

While studying a quarter century of murder must have made for much grim reading, even in a relatively peaceful society like Denmark, there is at least one positive conclusion: the murder rate is dropping to ever lower levels. The annual figures zig and zag up and down, but the trend line goes from just under 80 murders in 1992 to just over 40 in 2016.

This may partly be the result of better care and, thanks to mobile phones, faster reaction times. But other factors may be at work. Perhaps, if the quality of fictional murders on Danish tv keeps increasing, it will be much harder to spot the country's outline on the homicide map of the next 25 years.

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Behold, the face of a Neolithic dog

He was a very good boy.

Image source: Historic Environment Scotland
  • A forensic artist in Scotland has made a hyper realistic model of an ancient dog.
  • It was based on the skull of a dog dug up in Orkney, Scotland, which lived and died 4,000 years ago.
  • The model gives us a glimpse of some of the first dogs humans befriended.
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