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IN TOUGH TIMES, POT CROPPING UP

Machete-wielding police officers have hacked their way through billions of dollars worth of marijuana in the country's top pot-growing states to stave off a bumper crop sprouting in the tough economy. The number of plants seized has jumped this year in California, the nation's top marijuana-growing state, while seizures continue to rise in Washington after nearly doubling the previous year. Growers in a three-state region of central Appalachia also appear to have reversed a decline in pot cultivation over the past two years. Authorities destroyed a five-acre plot on the Tennessee-Kentucky border on Thursday, more than 151,000 plants. Officers in those areas, the nation's biggest hotbeds for marijuana production, have chopped down plants with a combined street value of around $12 billion in the first eight months of this year. "A lot of that, we theorize, is the economy," said Ed Shemelya, head of marijuana eradication for the Office of Drug Control Policy's Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. But the ailing economy isn't stopping users from buying pot. Shemelya said the demand appears to be rising with the unemployment rate. "I've never seen any decline in demand for marijuana in bad economic times," he said. "People always seem to find money somewhere to buy drugs."

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ANCIENT FIBERS FOUND IN CAUCASUS

More than 30,000 years ago someone living in a cave in the Caucasus Mountains twisted wild flax together and dyed it, producing the earliest known fibers made by humans, scientists report.

"Making strings and ropes is a sophisticated invention," said Ofer Bar-Yosef, a professor of prehistoric archaeology at Harvard University. "They might have used this fiber to create parts of clothing, ropes, or baskets."

The fibers were discovered in an analysis of clay deposits in Dzudzuana Cave in what is now the country Georgia, Bar-Yosef and co-authors report in today's edition of the journal Science.

The earliest previous evidence of fibers worked by humans was from the Czech Republic, dated to 28,000 years ago.

The Caucasus fibers were made from the wild form of flax, not a plant that had been domesticated for farming.

These ancestors really had a clear idea and method of dealing with a useful plant in its wild form to provide good quality fibers for different uses, Bar-Yosef said

"Innovation was a trait of modern humans when compared to earlier populations," he added. "The invention of strings and ropes is an old one and probably helped to change the organization of transport from earlier times."

Some of the fibers appear to have been dyed using plant materials common in the area, the researchers said. The color range included yellow, red, blue, violet, black and green.

The team, which was studying pollen remains, collected 787 fragments of fibers.

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Swiss law: Stolen painting can stay

Swiss law bars a museum from surrendering a 19th century painting that it was given after it had been stolen from a Jewish family in Paris by the pro-Nazi Vichy French regime during World War II. The Valley of the Stour by John Constable was willed to the city of La Chaux-de Fonds in 1986, on condition that the work remain in the local museum. A relative of the original owner claimed the painting in 2006, but officials have ruled that Swiss law requires that the terms of the will be honored. The painting, worth an estimated $1 million, was confiscated from a Paris home in 1942. It was then auctioned and then changed hands several times.

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London cabbies don't want killer among them

Hundreds of drivers of London's iconic black taxis Thursday protested a decision that could allow a man to become a cabbie despite having been convicted of manslaughter for strangling his wife. Lines of protesting taxi drivers, estimated at 1.5 miles, surrounded the Public Carriage Office - which is responsible for administering the taxi test. The 38-year-old, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic at the time of his trial, was released in 2005 and is no longer on parole. Black taxis are considered one of the safest forms of transport by Londoners trying to get home after a night out.

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Leonardo's encyclopedia gets its first public display

The entirety of Leonardo da Vinci's 1,119-page Atlantic Codex is going on public display for the first time, in a series of 24 exhibits spanning six years. The Atlantic Codex is "an extraordinary encyclopedia" of technical knowledge from the Renaissance, representing not only Leonardo's own creations but technology as it existed, according to Pietro Marani, a Leonardo expert. The first exhibit of 45 drawings, "Fortresses, Bastions and Cannons," opened Thursday at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, which also holds Leonardo's The Last Supper, and at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, which has preserved the Codex since 1637.

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