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October 2007

STRANGE: UNITED STATES

Preserving the past: Human hair collecting (cbsnews.com)

"Luis Mushro's business is pieces of famous people. He sells increasingly smaller and smaller slivers of their hair on eBay, often for several hundred dollars per strand. "Hair is a thing of beauty; it never fades yet it symbolizes growth," says the Michigan collector, who has been hocking historical hair from the heads of Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, and John Lennon since 1992. It might sound strange, but hair can carry a hefty price tag. Last week, an auction house in Dallas sold some strands of hair collected from Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the slain Argentine socialist revolutionary, for $100,000. The Heritage Auction House stepped up security after receiving several threats about the upcoming event. But the threats are more likely due to the politics of the man at issue rather than the morbid-sounding practice of preserving human hair. Collecting hair dates back centuries. It was wildly popular during the Civil War, when Robert E. Lee, for example, would more likely be asked for a lock of his hair (and some from his horse) than for an autograph, a fad that only emerged much later. Locks of Lee's hair (and his horse's) sometimes come up for sale. Thaddeus Stevens, a 19th-century Pennsylvania congressman and abolitionist, reportedly doffed his toupee and gave it to a lock-seeking woman...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY SCIENCE: CANADA

Melting glaciers reveal preserved tree stumps (xinhuanet.com)

"Glaciers melting in Western Canada are uncovering fresh-looking, intact tree stumps up to 7,000 years old, a geologist said Tuesday. Johannes Koch of The College of Wooster in Ohio found the tree stumps beside retreating glaciers in Garibaldi Provincial Park, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) north of Vancouver, British Columbia. Radiocarbon dating of the wood from the stumps revealed the sine of the wood dated back to within a few thousand years of the end of the last ice age.... The pristine condition of the wood can best be explained by the stumps having spent all of the last seven millennia under tens to hundreds of meters of ice, he said. All stumps were still rooted to their original soil and location.... Koch compared the kill dates of the trees in the southern and northern Coast Mountains of British Columbia and those in the mid- and southern Rocky Mountains in Canada to similar records from the Yukon Territory, the European Alps, New Zealand and South America. He also looked at the age of Oetzi, the prehistoric mummified alpine "Iceman" found at Niederjoch Glacier, and similarly well-preserved wood from glaciers and snowfields in Scandinavia. The radiocarbon dates seem to be the same around the world, according to Koch. There have been many advances and retreats of these glaciers over the past 7,000 years, but no retreats that have pushed them back so far upstream as to expose these trees.... "

 

October 2007

MUMMY FOSSIL: PENNSYLVANIA

Body impressions of salamander-like amphibians are 330 million years old (nationalgeographic.com)

"An undergraduate student digging through a collection of fossils in a Pennsylvania museum recently found beautifully preserved full-body impressions of foot-long (30-centimeter-long) salamander-like creatures that lived 330 million years ago. The fossils, top, don't contain bones. But that's good, said Spencer Lucas, curator of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, who presented the find today at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver, Colorado. That's because bones are merely skeletons. "From the cast of the body, you can see the actual shape of the body and can see what the texture of the skin was like," Lucas said in a telephone interview. "There's never been a body impression of this kind of amphibian found before," he added...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY SCIENCE: IRAN

Salt mummies to undergo surgical study (mehrnews.ir)

"The Archaeology Research Center of Iran (ARCI) plans to conduct a series of surgical operations on the ancient salt men of Zanjan’s Chehrabad Salt Mine, the Persian service of CHN reported on Saturday.  The project is being undertaken to complete archaeological studies and carry out other scientific research on the unique mummies, ARCI director Mohammad-Hassan Fazeli Nashli said. The operations will be performed on the salt men’s soft tissue and entrails, which have remained intact due to the high quality of the mummification, he added. The project will be carried out in Iran and the ARCI proposes to invite foreign experts to take part if necessary, he noted. Zanjan played host to Iranian and foreign experts at a two-day conference on the salt men, which took place October 25-26. ..."

Zanjan to host first international seminar on salt mummies (chnpress.com)

"The Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Department of Zanjan province is determined to organize the first international archeology seminar on paleo-pathological of Zanjan’s salt men with attendance of foreign experts in coming November. Announcing the news, Abolfazl Aali, head of excavation team of salt men in Chehr Abad salt mine in Zanjan told CHN: “Based on negotiations, a number of archeologists and experts from Britain, Germany and Austria will attend this three-day seminar which is due to be held in November.” Despite all efforts which have been made so far for preserving the discovered saltmen in Zanjan museum, unfortunately they are not in a suitable situation and according to experts their appearance show a bit erosion comparing to the time they were unearthed. Therefore, due to lack of appropriate approaches for keeping the saltmen, the archeological excavations in Chehr Abad mine has been suspended since two years ago to be picked up later. The international seminar on saltmen will be held in an attempt to find the best approach for preservation of these magnificent mummies and how to maintain them for next generations. During this 3-day event domestic and foreign archeologists will give lectures in this regard. "

More on the Salt Mummies

 

October 2007

REPATRIATION: FRANCE

French court asks: If Rouen museum's mummified Maori head is returned to New Zealand, will other treasures have to follow? (bbc.co.uk)

"A French court has blocked a museum's efforts to return the mummified head of a Maori warrior to New Zealand. The tattooed relic was acquired by a museum in the city of Rouen in 1875. The museum offered to return the head to New Zealand, citing the need to bring closure to the "hateful trafficking of another era". However, France's culture ministry appealed against the move, citing fears it could set a precedent leading to the return of other treasures from abroad. "Today it's a Maori head, but tomorrow it could be a mummy in the Louvre," Olivier Henrard, legal adviser to the culture ministry, told the AP news agency. French museums house thousands of valuable artefacts taken from civilisations in Africa, Asia and South America. A statement by culture minister Christine Albanel said Rouen's natural history museum had not followed procedure in arranging the relic's return."

More background on the possible repatriation: Is a Maori head part of France's cultural heritage? (guardian.co.uk)

"When a small museum in Normandy arranged to hand back a mummified Maori head to New Zealand, the local mayor called it a "symbolic act" of atonement for European colonialists' grotesque trade in human remains. But a row has erupted after the French government intervened to block the return, saying the Maori head was part of France's national heritage. The minister of culture warned that the decision to return the head could set a precedent for France's vast collections of tribal artefacts and mummified remains from around the world - particularly in the Louvre and Paris's new Quai Branly Museum of Tribal Art, which has six Maori heads. European settlers in New Zealand were fascinated by the Maori tradition of preserving the tattooed heads of warriors killed in combat. A macabre trade flourished, which the British outlawed in 1831. Over the past few decades New Zealand has requested museums return the heads, which it views as human remains, not artefacts. Since 1992, a dozen countries have done so, including Britain, Australia and Germany. The Rouen museum's initiative would be the first time a Maori warrior's remains were returned from France. But the culture minister, Christine Albanel, said the museum must consult a panel to "guarantee the integrity of our national heritage". She warned of "heavy repercussions" for France's collections from Egypt and Peru. But she ordered a study of the "special ethical problems" of human remains in public collections...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY HISTORY: VERMONT

The story of Middlebury's mummy (concordmonitor.com)

"One of the most popular attractions at the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History isn't actually at the museum, but in a cemetery down the road.... The story that ends in that small cemetery on Route 30 begins nearly 4,000 years ago in Egypt, where a two year old boy died and was mummified.... That mummy came to Vermont in the late 1800s, when Henry Sheldon, collector of almost anything under the sun, bought the corpse for fifteen dollars from a New York dealer. Owning mummies was apparently in vogue then. It was most likely looted, stolen from its tomb.... The baby came in a crate affixed to a plank. But when the buyer looked at his purchase, he found its head crushed: too damaged for Sheldon to display in his growing museum. So he stashed it in a crawlspace, where it lay undiscovered for decades.... The mummy was exposed to heat and cold, dry conditions and wet. Its wrappings were decaying and the thought of a person left to rot in a Vermont attic was galling to George Mead. He was a Sheldon Museum trustee. Mead wanted to give the boy, believed to be linked to Egyptian royalty, a proper burial.... So Mead had little Amun-Her Khepesh-Ef cremated and buried with his own tombstone. His 1900 BC birth date is far older than any other resident of the graveyard...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY SCIENCE: CONNECTICUT

800-year-old mummies aid current cold cases (genengnews.com)

"Dr. Heather Coyle and three forensic science graduate students at the University of New Haven have developed a new method for preparing certain skeletal remains for DNA extraction thanks to some 800-year-old mummies from Mongolia and the research the group is doing for the Smithsonian Institution. Obtaining DNA is often a crucial step in the identification of human remains. An assistant professor of forensic science at UNH, Coyle says that while DNA extraction is never an easy process it is sometimes impossible with bones and tissue that have been long buried. Coyle and her students have discovered that, in some cases, baking bones can aid in the extraction of DNA. This summer Coyle's team was asked by the Smithsonian Institution to identify the gender of mummified remains-thought to possibly be members of a murdered native family-gathered from a cave in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia . In a separate case, while the Gobi research continued, the team tried unsuccessfully to extract DNA from skeletal remains that had been buried in the U.S. Then, Coyle remembered how readily the DNA was extracted from the remains dried for hundreds of years in the Gobi Desert. Theorizing that moisture and embalming preservatives in the U.S. bones might be an impediment to DNA extraction, she baked a bone sample at 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) for 72 hours and again tried extracting a DNA sample. It worked...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY EXHIBIT: ILLINOIS

Exhibition of 22 Guanajuato mummies coming to Chicago suburb in 2008 (americanchronicle.com)

"...now that the famous Mummies of Guanajuato will be touring the United States from Mexico -- with the help of the living, of course -- Americans will get a chance to experience those twists of emotions and receive that powerful lesson. Or at the least, satisfy their morbid curiosities.... The suburban town of Cicero, located just south of Chicago, will be the very first city outside of Mexico to hold a temporary exhibit of the mummies of Guanajuato.... On exhibit from April 2008 through the Day of the Dead in November at Cicero's new town hall, visitors can see first-hand the features and expressions of at least 22 of the mummies. Other cities are being negotiated for the mummies' tour after that..."

 

October 2007

MUMMY EXHIBIT: GERMANY

Silk Road mummy on display in Berlin (bloomberg.com)

"Icy winters, scorching summers and fierce sandstorms made life tough for the people of the Taklamakan desert long before traders began plying the Silk Road. The east-west trading route wound its way around the fringes of the parched Tarim Basin, now in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. It linked oases fed by melted glaciers from the steppes to the north and, eventually, connected the Far East to the Mediterranean. That climate, so harsh for people, proved perfect for preserving the contents of their tombs. Textiles, musical instruments and even food dating from as long ago as 4,000 years have been uncovered in recent excavations. The best examples are on display outside China for the first time at Berlin's Martin- Gropius-Bau through Jan. 14, 2008.... One of the most touching exhibits is the mummy of a baby girl who probably died in about 800 B.C. The colors of her felt burial clothing are as bright as they must have been three millennia ago: a deep blue cap and double-layered wine-red blanket, wrapped around with twists of blue and red wool. Next to her, archaeologists found a cow's horn and pouch for food and drink.... [The exhibit] is on show at Berlin's Martin- Gropius-Bau through Jan. 14, 2008. It then moves to the Reiss- Engelhorn-Museum in Mannheim and may travel on to Chicago -- probably not by camel...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY BURIAL: CANADA

Mummified baby buried in emotional ceremony (cbc.ca)

"The remains of two abandoned babies, including a baby boy found wrapped in decades-old newspaper in the ceiling of a house, were laid to rest Friday during an emotional service north of Toronto. Mourners gathered in a chapel in Richmond Hill's Elgin Mills Cemetery to bury Baby Kintyre. The infant's mummified remains were found in July, wrapped in a 1925 newspaper in the attic floorboards of a Toronto home. The Ontario coroner's office determined the baby boy died shortly after birth, around 80 years ago, but couldn't say how he died. The remains of a second child, named Baby Leif, were also laid to rest Friday. The newborn's decomposed remains were found in the woods near North Bay, Ont...."

 

October 2007

DISCOVERY: JAPAN

Mummified body of a 'model' welfare recipient embarrasses Kitakyushu officials (nytimes.com)

"In a thin notebook discovered along with a man’s partly mummified corpse this summer was a detailed account of his last days, recording his hunger pangs, his drop in weight and, above all, his dream of eating a rice ball, a snack sold for about $1 in convenience stores across the country. “3 a.m. This human being hasn’t eaten in 10 days but is still alive,” he wrote. “I want to eat rice. I want to eat a rice ball.” These were not the last words of a hiker lost in the wilderness, but those of a 52-year-old urban welfare recipient whose benefits had been cut off. And his case was not the first here. One man has died in each of the last three years in this city in western Japan, apparently of starvation, after his welfare application was refused or his benefits cut off. Unable to buy food, all three men wasted away for months inside their homes, where their bodies were eventually found. Only the most recent death drew nationwide attention, however, because of the diary, which has embarrassed city officials who initially defended their handling of the case and even described it as “model.” In a way that the words of no living person could, the diary has shown the human costs of the economic transformation in Japan. As a widening income gap has pushed up welfare rolls in recent years, struggling cities like Kitakyushu have been under intense pressure to tighten eligibility. The fallout from the most recent death has shown just how far the authorities in Kitakyushu went to achieve a flat welfare rate...."

 

October 2007

EXHIBIT: NEW MEXICO

Everyday items of Egyptians, but no mummies, displayed in Santa Fe (kob.com)

"When you hear the words Egypt and archaeology, chances are you think of the big stuff: mummies, pyramids, pharaoh-era fortresses. But tweezers? A razor? A tiny applicator for eye makeup? These everyday objects are part of an exhibit now on display in Santa Fe. The articles have been culled from the discoveries of Sir William Flinders Petrie, the so-called "father of scientific archaeology." The 220-plus items in the show are at the New Mexico Museum of Art...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY EXHIBIT: PENNSYLVANIA

"Bodies: The Exhibition" opens in Pittsburgh for 7-month run (pittsburghlive.com)

"The Carnegie Science Center is littered with mummified human remains. "Bodies: The Exhibition," which opened Monday for a seven-month run, features 15 full-sized cadavers and an assortment of harvested organs and other fascinating facets of the human form. What is troubling is not that these bodies are immersed in acetone to eliminate their water content, then bathed in various additives and preservatives to ready them for prolonged display as though they were otters just back from the taxidermist. What is disturbing about these corpses? None is American. They are Chinese. All of them. None has green cards. Nor are they capable of speaking English. You undoubtedly are familiar with the tired arguments companies often use for hiring other nations' lifeless who conveniently "forgot" to bring their work visas to the job interview...."

 

October 2007

KING TUT: LATEST NEWS

King Tut's mummy to go on display for first time (canada.com)

"Egyptian authorities are to put on display the mummy of the boy pharaoh, Tutankhamen, in November, the head of the country's High Council for Antiquities said Friday. "For the first time ever, the mummy of the golden pharaoh will be taken out of its sarcophagus and shown to tourists inside its tomb in the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor," Zahi Hawass said. The mummy will be placed in a glass sarcophagus with climate control...."

New theory on King Tut's death suggest he died in hunting accident

"Tutankhamun is widely thought to have died of an infection stemming from a broken leg, after CT scans in 2005 revealed a severe fracture in his left thighbone, challenging theories that he had been murdered. "He had an accident when he was hunting in the desert," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who has overseen recent examinations of the pharaoh's mummy. Falling from the chariot made this fracture in his left leg, and this really is in my opinion how he died." The new theory stems largely from examinations of some of the 5,000 artifacts found in the king's tomb, which suggest he was an active, sporting young man and not the sheltered and fragile boy often portrayed by history. Among the evidence for the theory are at least two chariots entombed with the king that show signs of frequent use, presumably by Tut himself...." 

'Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs' opens in Dallas next year, followed by two more U.S. stops (associatedpress.com)

"A popular exhibit including objects buried with Egypt's King Tutankhamun will return to the United States next year with three stops, beginning in Dallas. The exhibit opening Oct. 3, 2008, at the Dallas Museum of Art will be followed by stops at two yet-to-be-name museums. "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" drew nearly 4 million visitors during its two-year, four-city tour that wrapped up this fall after stops in Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago and Philadelphia. When the exhibit opened in 2005, it was the first time in more than 25 years that treasures from King Tut's tomb were shown in the United States. Next year's exhibit will include artifacts that are new to the show and haven't been seen outside of Egypt...."

Tutankhamun's childhood home exhibited at Penn Museum (huliq.com)

"Amarna, Ancient Egypt's Place in the Sun, the University of Pennsylvania Museum's popular new exhibition about the city of Amarna, Tutankhamun's childhood home, will remain open as a long-term exhibition, adding to the Museum's suite of ancient Egyptian galleries that offer the public a year-round opportunity to explore more than 5,000 years of ancient Egyptian culture, art, and history. Visitors who already have been to the Amarna exhibition will soon have something new to see: on October 3, 2007 to June 2008, the exhibition will be adding a famous sculpture of the head of King Tutankhamun from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as part of a short-term loan exchange with that institution. Penn Museum's own kneeling statue of Tutankhamun, a featured item in the final section of the Amarna exhibition, will come down, to join the Met's exhibition, Gifts for the Gods: Images from Egyptian Temples, opening in New York October 16."

More on King Tut

 

October 2007

MUMMY SCIENCE: ARGENTINA

Child mummies 'fattened up' before Inca sacrifice (guardian.co.uk)

"The girl is slumped like a stoned teenager in a doorway, head drooping, hands folded in her lap: she has been dead for more than 500 years, and a team of international archaeologists and scientists, led by Dr Andy Wilson of Bradford University, has just pieced together the appalling last months of her life. Like other children found on some of the highest peaks of the Andes, the mummy nicknamed the Llullaillaco Maiden had literally been fattened up for death, fed a much better diet in her last year including maize and meat, the luxury foods of aristocrats. Her fine woven dress and cape are also far from the coarse peasant dress she probably wore before a horrific honour was bestowed on her: she was chosen to be abandoned on a mountain top, a living sacrifice to the gods. She may indeed, the archaeologists hope, have been stupefied with drugs and alcohol. In her last weeks she was drugged with coca, and probably maize beer - perhaps to bring on merciful oblivion, possibly more pragmatically to combat altitude sickness so she could climb 6,739m to her own death, after walking hundreds of miles from the Inca capital, Cuzco...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY TROUBLE: NORTH CAROLINA

Mummified leg may lead to lawsuit (hickoryrecord.com)

"Shannon Whisnant says he absolutely believes he’s the rightful owner of a leg he found in a grill he purchased Sept. 25.... Whisnant bought a cooker at an auction at Maiden Plaza Mini Storage. When Whisnant took the grill home to clean, he opened the lid and found a mummified leg, from shin to toe. Whisnant said he was shocked when he first saw the body part.... It turns out the amputated leg belongs to a South Carolina man who used to rent a unit at Maiden Plaza Mini Storage. John Wood’s leg was amputated after a plane crash. He legally kept the leg for religious purposes, telling doctors he wanted to be buried as a whole man. When John Wood reportedly stopped paying his bills, the company legally auctioned off any items left in the unit. The storage unit owner didn’t realize Wood kept a leg in his facility. Whisnant’s disbelief could turn into profit. He’s offering to show the grill to adults for $3 and children for $1. Whisnant also says he is considering legal action to get the leg back. He wants to display the leg in an airtight glass case, along with the grill, as a tourist attraction....  "

 

October 2007

DISCOVERY: FLORIDA

Mummified baby found in pickled sausage jar (chnpress.com)

"A medical examiner Wednesday listed the cause of death as undetermined for a baby girl whose remains were found in a pickle jar in February. Construction workers in Palm Beach County came across the 2-gallon jar while using a backhoe to clear mud from a cane field off State Road 80 near Belle Glade on Feb. 26. Police said the jar broke open while the workers were digging, releasing a foul odor. Inside the "Big John's Pickled Sausage" jar was a baby girl who weighed a little more than 2 pounds and was missing her right eye, police said. Dr. Stuart Graham, an associate county medical examiner, listed the baby's cause of death as "undetermined" in his report. The report said the baby was a 7-month-old fetus with light skin and curly black hair with her umbilical cord still attached. Graham said salicylates, a compound commonly found in painkillers, was discovered in the fetus' chest and abdominal fluid, according to the report. No one has named the baby, and she remains unburied...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY EXHIBIT: GERMANY

World's biggest mummy show opens in Germany (afp.com)

"The world's biggest mummy exhibition has opened in Germany, with 70 preserved specimens from around the world.... The show at the Zeughaus Museum in the southwestern city of Mannheim, "Mummies -- The Dream of Eternal Life," presents a variety of naturally and artificially mummified corpses from Ancient Egypt as well as Asia, the Americas, the Pacific Islands and Europe. Highlights include a unique Peruvian mummy of a dead child, the so-called Windeby Girl found in a peat bog in northern Germany in the 1950s and a 3,000-year-old preserved pet dog, fur and all. The exhibition also looks at methods with which the body could be preserved in future with advanced freezing techniques...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY EXHIBIT: THAILAND

Museum of Forensic Medicine hard to find, houses mummified killers among other oddities (timesonline.co.uk)

"The Museum of Forensic Medicine, where this elephantiasis-swollen body part is to be found, is hidden in a back block of the Siriraj Hospital. Built principally for the education of medical students, it’s actually six museums that were united in August 2004 into a low-budget palace of the macabre. But it’s the exhibits to be found in the parasitology, pathology and forensic departments that will revisit you in your dreams. Here you’ll find chain saws, guns and kitchen knives used in murders, along with the bloodstained clothing of the victims; diseased livers and legs; lungs with stab wounds; and heads that have been dissected and suspended in formaldehyde so you can see where the bullet went through. Because these exhibits are housed in a converted office block, it feels less like a museum and more like a repository for the private collection of an insane millionaire. And, for what is ostensibly supposed to be a place of education, there’s a surprising lack of actual information. Mostly, it’s display cabinets marked by a simple label. Of course, the joy of a great museum come not from the dry learning of facts, but from the electric thrill of being near something that has had a role in history – something that was present at some mad, ghastly scene, such as the instruments and surgical gowns used in the 1946 autopsy of Thailand’s murdered king, Ananda Mahidol. It’s as if the objects get soaked in some indelible magic. And there’s little here that hasn’t been to a place, in the personal history of one poor soul or another, that is so staggeringly grim, it’d make your jaw drop right off your face. Which, come to think of it, would make you fit right in...."

 

October 2007

MUMMY SCIENCE: UK

Three mummies of Egyptian children mummies will reveal their secrets (theage.com.au)

"Even for a forensic expert it's a tough case. Three children die in Egypt around the time of Christ … about 1870, their mummified bodies are stored in the British Museum … now, after 2000 years, give or take a century, people are seriously looking for answers. Who were these kids and how did they die? How old were they? Were they suffering from disease? Were they related? And were they Egyptians, Greeks or Romans? It sounds like a job for a "forensic Egyptologist", which is how Janet Davey describes herself. Ms Davey and a team of colleagues from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine are using modern medical and forensic techniques, including CT scans and DNA testing, to answer the questions. The mummified bodies of the boy and two girls, nicknamed "the angelic one", the "cross one" and the "sad one", had been in the British Museum since the 1870s. Apart from being identified as coming from the "Graeco-Roman" period (332BC to 395AD) and being X-rayed in the 1960s, they were left alone.... She has already examined scans of the children's teeth and estimates "the angelic one"to be 7½, "the cross one" to be 5, and " the sad one" to be 6½. The mummies' hair, fair on top and brown at the back, will also be tested for dyes. Ms Davey is arranging for tissue samples from the mummies to be DNA-tested to see whether the children were related to each other and to discover their ethnic origin. "The Greeks ruled Egypt at that time; the Romans were there. They may be Egyptian — or Libyan. Because they were mummified they had to be from a wealthy family," she said...."

 

 

 

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