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10 July 2002

Heidelberg Research Magazine "Ruperto Carola 2/2002": New Excavations in Tiryns (Greece)

Title story by Joseph Maran: New light on a dark century in ancient Greece — Further topics: Prospects of improving short stature therapy in childhood — Natural born ozone killers — A milestone in preventive pediatric medicine — A forgotten reformer: The life and work of Martin Bucer


Up to the present, experts have regarded the 12th century BC as the beginning of the "dark centuries" in ancient Greece. After a lengthy period of supreme cultural achievement, there followed a sudden and profound historical caesura; and no one really knows why. Palaces were destroyed, cities abandoned, trade contacts discontinued. The political structures crumbled. However, recent excavations undertaken by Heidelberg University's Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory in Tiryns, a former centre of political power, reveal a surprisingly different picture. In the title story of the new issue of Heidelberg's research magazine "Ruperto Carola 2/2002", Joseph Maran comes to the conclusion that, at least temporarily, the 12th century BC brought a stabilisation of the political landscape in Greece under the supremacy of Tiryns. Maran describes and interprets the new findings and the light they cast on a dark century. The other topics dealt with in the magazine range from prospects of improved therapy for short stature in childhood, "natural born ozone killers" and a milestone in preventive pediatric medicine to the life and work of a forgotten reformer — Martin Bucer.

Vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Meier in the Editorial: Do Doctoral Candidates Need to Swot?

Do they or not? Though many arguments have been advanced to oppose the idea, in the Editorial of the new magazine Vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Karlheinz Meier's answer is very definitely "Yes". While he shares the scepticism that has been levelled against formalised teaching programmes of the kind to be found in many postgraduate courses and schools at the moment, the "alarmingly swift progress of specialisation in many scientific sectors" has its consequences too. "It should be self-evident that doctoral candidates must read and understand original literature that has a bearing on their own field and also make regular active contributions to the progress in that field by way of publications or conference papers." In so doing they undergo a valuable training process that is inherent in the traditional mechanisms of academic exchange.

As Meier sees it, "looking over the fence" is getting more and more difficult all the time. "Examiners in Faculties with the traditional orals where students have to defend their thesis are familiar with the problem. Even brilliant candidates frequently flounder when faced with questions that stray slightly from the field in which they have specialised." Some simply forget what they learned in their undergraduate days; and during work on the thesis itself there is precious little time to keep abreast of developments in those areas of their chosen subject that go beyond their immediate concerns. "But there cannot be the slightest doubt that this is what they should be doing." Frequently postgraduates change to a different tack after completing their doctoral studies. If the knowledge they have of the subject in general is three years old, finding their bearings is likely to be an uphill task. "So there is a definite need for 'academic training' during work on the doctoral dissertation."


Various factors are operative in determining how big a person will turn out to be. The genes play a crucial role: big parents normally have big children. In the last few years basic research on human genetics has turned its attention to this intriguing issue and is now in a position to identify features on the sex chromosomes that are either altered or absent altogether in the genetic make-up of below-average-size individuals. Gudrun Rappold of Heidelberg University's Institute of Human Genetics describes the present state of research on this issue and the prospects it holds out for new therapies to offset short stature in childhood.

Natural born ozone killers

It is common knowledge that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) released by human agency into the atmosphere play a major role in the depletion of the ozone layer. Much less widely known is the fact that nature also produces substances that do precisely the same thing. Scientists have already identified over 3,500 natural ozone killers produced by bacteria, algae, fungi, lichens and insects. Together they are to blame for about 30% of the depletion of the ozone layer. The odd thing is that the sources detected so far are insufficient to explain the concentrations of natural ozone-hostile substances actually measured in the atmosphere. Scientists from Heidelberg University's Institute of Environmental Geochemistry may have run the missing source to ground. The answer lies in the soil. Frank Keppler and Friedrich Schöler report on their intriguing research findings.

A milestone in preventive medicine

The formidably complicated term "electrospray ionisation tandem mass spectrometry" and its equally cryptic abbreviation ESI-MS/MS both stand for a new procedure with which severe and frequently fatal metabolic disorders in new-born children can be identified quickly and reliably. Early diagnosis enables doctors to treat the babies in time and relieve — if not actually prevent — the condition. The revolutionary method was first established in Germany in 1998 at the University of Heidelberg's Pediatric Hospital. Georg Hoffmann and Martin Lindner describe their experiences and the prospects for effective prevention held out by neonate screening enhanced by ESI-MS/MS. They want the new procedure to be made available to all families in Germany.

Life and work of a forgotten reformer

Though hardly anyone knows the name of Martin Bucer, this monk, born in 1491 in the Alsatian town of Schlettstadt (Sélestat), had a major impact on the Reformation that still makes itself felt today. Without his indefatigable efforts, German Protestantism might have died an early political death. The fact that Bucer was so quickly forgotten after his death in 1551 is hardly surprising. Most of the writings he left were in manuscript form and once they were relegated to the archives access was off-puttingly difficult. Historians specialising in the Reformation have been examining his legacy for some time now, gradually restoring the huge mass of writings he left to the light of day. Gottfried Seebaß of the University of Heidelberg's Theology Department describes the career and the significance of the Strasbourg reformer and extols the merits of the basic research work done by the cultural studies scholars whose efforts have ensured a widely ignored and forgotten major figure the prominence he certainly deserves.

In the other sections of the magazine, Michael Schwarz outlines the objectives of the University of Heidelberg's new Long-Term Collaborative Research Project on molecular catalysts, which will be using its 4.2 million-euro research endowment to investigate innovative, environment-friendly chemical synthesis methods. In the "Young Scientists and Scholars Report" section, Sinologist Joachim Gentz, recipient of the University of Heidelberg's Ruprecht Karl Award, describes how a courtly chronicle became one of the canon of Chinese holy texts. Oliver Krüger's contribution to the section "From the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation" deals with "myths of creativity", while the "News and Views" section has Tonio Hölscher and Michael Ursinus airing potentially controversial opinions on cutback policies in the humanities as exemplified by the University of Tübingen: "Saving millions on the humanities now means paying billions later to get society back on its feet." The magazine rounds off with an overview of the best-endowed new externally funded research projects.

"Ruperto Carola" is published by Universitätsverlag C. Winter Heidelberg GmbH. Single copies cost EURO 5 plus postage. Like the special support subscription (Euro 30 for four issues) it can be ordered from: Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 10 57 60, D-69047 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available in the entrance area of the Old University (Grabengasse 1).

For more information and the complete articles of earlier issues (in German) go to:

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 24.07.2002


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