Category Archives: Science

Animal’s Daily News

Yum BearIt seems the Neandertal wore jewelry.  Who knew?  Excerpt:

Neanderthals hunted mammoths, bison and other powerful animals for food — yet their fiercest foes may have been the massive eagles they snared to make jewellery. The talons of white-tailed eagles found at a Neanderthal site in Croatia show cut marks and patterns of wear that suggest the claws were donned as personal ornaments.

“They’re very powerful birds. It takes a certain amount of bravery and foolishness, even, to catch one of these things,” says David Frayer, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, whose team describes the claws in paper published on 12 March in the journal PLoS ONE.  With wing spans of around 2 metres, the birds are Europe’s largest aerial predator.

The 130,000 year-old talons were discovered more than a century ago in a rock shelter near the town Krapina in northern Croatia. Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger, a geologist, dug them up between 1899 and 1905 as part of a trove of animal remains, stone tools and Neanderthal bones and teeth. He sent them to a colleague for identification, and probably never saw the talons again, thinks Frayer: “The cut marks are so obvious that someone like Gorjanović would have seen them.”

Neandertal NecklaceIt’s not too surprising that the Neandertal have recently been found to be far more advanced than we thought only a few decades ago.  They were anything but shambling, stupid brutes once dismissed as “cave men” but rather hardy, intelligent people who survived for half a million years in a savage wilderness, even in Ice Age Europe.  They had language, they had brains larger than ours, they specialized in hunting the largest game in their Paleolithic world.

And, True Believers, if your ancestry has any background from Europe or western Asia, you carry some of their genes.  Now there’s an interesting tidbit for contemplation.

Animal’s Daily News

WoollyRhinocerosInfoboxThanks once again to The Other  McCain for the Rule Five links!

Now this is cool:  Hunters Find A Frozen 10,000 Year Old Baby Woolly Rhino.  Excerpt:

Admit it, the little fella is pretty cute for spending ten centuries frozen in the ice, getting chewed on by scavengers. In September, two hunters boating down a stream in Siberia noticed some wavy, auburn locks poking out of the permafrost—a dead reindeer, they thought. After realizing their mistake, they liberated the rhino’s body from the thawing soil and stored it through the worst of the winter. Last week, they delivered the body to the Sakha Republic Academy of Sciences.

Sasha is one of the few woolly rhinos yet discovered, and the only calf. Experts estimate she was just 18 months old when she died. Her discovery should help researchers better understand woolly rhinos’ living conditions, how they developed as they grew, and how they’re related to living rhino species.

The question is this:  Will they be able to recover any DNA?

DSC_0017There has been a lot of discussion over the wisdom of possibly cloning a rhino or, say, a mammoth.  Granted this would be different than cloning some animal that has been made extinct by human action, such as the passenger pigeon.  The woolly mammoth and the woolly rhino were Ice Age animals that were not able to easily adapt to a warmer, deglaciated world.

I’d still like to see it done.  Any resulting animals would by necessity be few in number and carefully confined; there is no change that there would be herds of mammoths or rhinos roaming Alaska or Siberia, and no mammoth hunting expeditions (pity, that.)  So why not try?

We used to be a people that conceived of and accomplished great things.  Why not this?

Animal’s Hump Day Nukes

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

No, that’s not a typo in the title.  Ever wonder what would happen if a nuke went off over Manhattan?  This should give you some idea.  Excerpt:

Within tens of minutes, everything within approximately five to seven miles of Midtown Manhattan would be engulfed by a gigantic firestorm. The fire zone would cover a total area of 90 to 152 square miles (230 to 389 square kilometers). The firestorm would rage for three to six hours. Air temperatures in the fire zone would likely average 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (200 to 260 Celsius). 

After the fire burned out, the street pavement would be so hot that even tracked vehicles could not pass over it for days. Buried, unburned material from collapsed buildings throughout the fire zone could burst into flames when exposed to air—months after the firestorm had ended.  

Those who tried to escape through the streets would have been incinerated by the hurricane-force winds filled with firebrands and flames. Even those able to find shelter in the lower-level sub-basements of massive buildings would likely suffocate from fire-generated gases or be cooked alive as their shelters heated to oven-like conditions.

Sad-BearThe fire would extinguish all life and destroy almost everything else.  Tens of miles downwind of the area of immediate destruction, radioactive fallout would begin to arrive within a few hours of the detonation.

Holy shit.

Why bring this scenario to the fore now?  It’s startlingly relevant; the Obama Administration is brokering a kick-the-can deal that will make it easier for Iran to build their much-anticipated nuclear weapon.  Once Iran has their nukes, how long will it be before one goes off over a Western city?  And, for the bunch of apocalyptic shitbags running Iran, what more tempting target than New York?

Granted they don’t have (yet) delivery systems that are even up to Cold War Soviet standards, which the scenario above describes.

But we know someone that does.

Image from the linked article.

Talk about your Axis of Evil.

The last nuke torched off in anger was over Nagasaki in August of 1945, but it was only the last so far.  There will, inevitably, be another.  And it almost certainly won’t be an American nuke.  The question is this:  What will our response be when that drastic event happens?

If the current President is still in the Imperial Mansion, it will almost certainly be anemic and ineffective.  That, True Believers, will be a response that invites more aggression, not less.  If we can learn anything from history, we can learn that.

Animal’s Daily News

Probably not actually one of our ancestors.
Probably not actually one of our ancestors.

Here’s some food for thought; over the last four million years or so, there have been quite a few human and near-human species wandering around, but today there is only one – us, H. sapiens.  (Some days I question that specific name, but there you are – thank Carolus Linneaus.)

But what if some other species, or several others, were still kicking around today?  Excerpt;

Imagine how things might have turned out had the Neanderthals or Denisovans survived alongside Homo sapiens. What kind of cultures, societies and political structures would have emerged in a world where several different human species coexisted? How, for example, would religious faiths have unfolded? Would the book of Genesis have declared that Neanderthals descend from Adam and Eve, would Jesus have died for the sins of the Denisovans, and would the Qur’an have reserved seats in heaven for all righteous humans, whatever their species? Would Neanderthals have been able to serve in the Roman legions, or in the sprawling bureaucracy of imperial China? Would the American Declaration of Independence hold as a self-evident truth that all members of the genus Homo are created equal? Would Karl Marx have urged workers of all species to unite?

Over the past 10,000 years, Homo sapiens has grown so accustomed to being the only human species that it’s hard for us to conceive of any other possibility. Our lack of brothers and sisters makes it easier to imagine that we are the epitome of creation, and that a chasm separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. When Charles Darwin indicated that Homo sapiens was just another kind of animal, people were outraged. Even today many refuse to believe it. Had the Neanderthals survived, would we still imagine ourselves to be a creature apart? Perhaps this is exactly why our ancestors wiped out the Neanderthals. They were too familiar to ignore, but too different to tolerate.

Bear-stuffsIt’s an interesting thought.

Some years back the esteemed paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey stated that if you took a Neandertal, shaved him, put him in a suit and put him on a New York City subway (think for a moment of the typical denizens of the NY city subway system) he probably wouldn’t attract too much notice.  This is often quoted to imply that the Neandertal were “just like us,” which they weren’t – for one thing, you’d need to give Old Cuz a hat to cover his flattened and elongated cranium, otherwise suit or no, he’d look pretty odd.  But Leakey clarified his comment at a later point, adding that if you pulled the same trick with a Homo erectus, everyone would stare at him; if you did it with a Homo habilis, everyone would move to the far end of the car.

But forget for a moment what it would be like to have a family of Neandertals living next door; forget the implications to everything from government to religion to medicine.  I can think of one professional field in which our ancestors would have excelled; put a six and a  half-foot, robust, massively muscled H. heidelbergensis in the ring with any of today’s “professional” wrestlers, and the resulting match would, I suspect, be very, very short.

That’s a pay-per-view that I might actually kick in a few shekels to watch.

Animal’s Daily News

_81043906_mars_cloudThanks once again to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

What the hell is this?  (Image to the left from story.)  Excerpt:

A mysterious haze high above Mars has left scientists scratching their heads.

The vast plume was initially spotted by amateur astronomers in 2012, and appeared twice before vanishing.

Scientists have now analysed the images and say that say the formation, stretching for more than 1,000km, is larger than any seen before.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers believe the plume could be a large cloud or an exceptionally bright aurora.

However, they are unsure how these could have formed in the thin upper reaches of the Martian atmosphere.

AliensInsert the inevitable “I, for one, welcome our alien overlords” meme here.

The Nature story can be found here , behind a paywall for the full story.

History Channel nutbars notwithstanding, this will certainly turn out to be a natural phenomenon.  But this is one of those moments in science that’s exciting – when you look up and the first thing that comes to mind is “what the hell is that?”

The challenge then becomes finding out what the hell it is.

Animal’s Daily News

Guess who's coming to dinner.
Guess who’s coming to dinner.

This is interesting for a history buff; it seems if you had sat down for dinner with a late-Republican era Roman family, most of the food may have been surprisingly familiar.  Excerpt:

Let’s pretend it is 56 B.C. and you have been fortunate enough to be invited to a party at the home of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, a great social coup. Piso, after all, was Julius Caesar’s father-in-law and a consul of Rome.

What’s for dinner?

You need to prepare for pig. Archaeologists studying the eating habits of ancient Etruscans and Romans have found that pork was the staple of Italian cuisine before and during the Roman Empire. Both the poor and the rich ate pig as the meat of choice, although the rich, like Piso, got better cuts, ate meat more often and likely in larger quantities.

They had pork chops and a form of bacon. They even served sausages and prosciutto; in other words, a meal not unlike what you’d find in Rome today — or in South Philadelphia.

Fishing Trip BearIt would probably have been a more familiar dinner than one eaten in any of the royal courts of Europe 1500 years later.  The Romans had indoor plumbing, the washed their clothing, the wealthier Romans at least were scrupulous about bathing and sometimes made it a social event.

Most of those things fell out of fashion when the Roman Empire fell.  They didn’t call them the Dark Ages for nothing.

Then again, that dinner may have been an interesting place to talk some politics – assuming you speak the archaic Roman strain of Latin.  56 B.C. was towards the end of the Roman Republic, and your hosts’ nephew would be instrumental in the fall of the Republic and the beginning of the totalitarian Roman Empire – although it was Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian that completed the transformation.  The Republic at the time was suffering from a shrinking currency, a lack of jobs for the common Roman citizens, and an increasing number of citizens on the dole.

Sound familiar?

But at least the food would have been decent.  Better than our earlier ancestors had to put up with.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

What would you do if you could live forever?  Excerpt:

The key to eternal life could be a procedure to lengthen chromosomes.

The procedure would allow scientists to lengthen telomeres, the protective caps that are on the end of chromosomes and shorten with age.

The telomeres protect chromosomes from getting damage as cells divide and grow. But as they do, they slowly become shorter and eventually are unable to protect the chromosomes. When that happens, they are liable to deteriorate — thought to be a key part of the ageing process.

The new process allows scientists to lengthen the telomeres, effectively turning back the biological clock and making the chromosomes — and the people that are made out of them — younger.

Personally, I’d settle for a thousand years – a thousand years in the body I had at 25.  Or even 35.  I’d settle for the one I have now, but the wrong side of 50 isn’t as much fun (physically) as being a 20-something was.  Think of the outdoor adventure stories one could amass with a thousand years to hunt, fish, and bum around in the woods.

Silver BearBut the implications of near-immortality go way beyond how many elk one might take.  Think of a respectable cohort of near-immortals with the sense to spend fifty years socking away a good savings account – and then spending another hundred letting compound interest do its thing.  Some of those people (I’d like to think I’d be savvy enough myself) would amass fortunes that would make Bill Gates look like Tommy Joad.

Think of what that would do to real estate prices – the stock market – the RV sales business – almost anything.

What price immortality?  I can only imagine; this is an economic scenario I’d love to see a Thomas Sowell weigh in on.

Animal’s Daily News

There's stress, and then there's stress.
There’s stress, and then there’s stress.

Was 10,000 BC less stressful than today’s world?  Excerpt:

There have been reality TV shows on islands, in the jungle, and even in houses outside London. Whole families have travelled back in time for experimental documentaries like Channel 4’s 1900 House, and schools from decades past have been recreated for the That’ll Teach ‘Em series.

The next step? A reality show which transports 20 people, including couples and families, back to the Stone Age – the results of which can be seen in 10,000 BC, a ten-part series which begins on Channel 5 tonight.

The participants spend two months in a 45-hectare forested wilderness in Bulgaria, hunting and foraging for food, and creating their own fire from Stone Age tools.

This being reality TV, some elements were staged. Their fur and leather outfits were provided by a costume department while a pre-slaughtered deer was arranged for their arrival.

There’s a phrase for this kind of a “reality” show:

An enormous, steaming pile of horseshit.

Here’s a doozy of a quote from the nincompoop interviewed for the article:

But once you’ve adapted to those conditions, it’s less stressful than normal life. I had no worries other than making sure I had enough wood for the fire and food for the evening – and I knew they were things I could get.

“In the 21st century there’s so much more to worry about, and it’s not always something you can control. I would prefer to live in the Stone Age.”

Fishing BearThose, True Believers, are the words of either an ignoramus or a moron.   Or both.

Picture life 12,000 years ago, a short time after the end of the last Ice Age.  Nobody is going to provide a pre-killed deer for you; you will have to use whatever tools and materials the environment provides to kill your own deer, probably after a prolonged close-up struggle with a terrified, wailing animal that is doing it’s damnedest to kill you instead.

If that animal’s hooves or antlers puncture your skin – anywhere – your chances of dying of a horribly painful infection are pretty good.  If you step on a thorn, likewise.  Come winter, your chances of starving to death are also pretty good.

And never mind the range of diseases that nobody has vaccinated you against; never mind the neighboring tribe who may be planning to kill you and take your wife and daughters.  Never mind roaming carnivores, never mind contaminated water, never mind watching Splashing-Bearsover half your children die before their first birthday, never mind an absolutely appalling rate of death in childbirth for your wives and daughters.

12,000 years ago there were no noble savages – only savages.  The vacuous, idiotic twit interviewed for this story has no fucking idea what he’s talking about.

Animal’s Daily News

Probably not an accurate reproduction.
Probably not an accurate reproduction.

The picture of human origins may have gotten more complicated.  Excerpt:

Analysis of trace elements in Penghu 1 suggests the hominin probably lived between 10,000 and 190,000 years ago. The jaw and its teeth look unexpectedly primitive for this age, the researchers said. During the Pleistocene Epoch, which lasted from about 2.6 million years ago to 11,700 years ago, humans generally evolved smaller jaws and teeth, but the new fossil from Taiwan appears larger and more robust than older Homo erectus fossils from Java and northern China.

The researchers said Penghu 1 does resemble a 400,000-year-old fossil from Hexian, in southern China, located about 590 miles (950 km) north of the Penghu Channel. The scientists suggest these fossils together represent a distinct group of archaic humans, although they caution that they do not yet have enough evidence to say whether it is a new species or not.

“We need other skeletal parts to evaluate the degree of its uniqueness,”study co-author Yousuke Kaifu, a paleoanthropologist at Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, told Live Science. “The question of species can be effectively discussed after those steps.”


Or, maybe not.  But that’s how science works; or, at least, how it’s supposed to work.  “Not enough evidence” means “not enough evidence.”  Paleontology is frequently like assembling a massive puzzle from pieces found many miles apart over a period spanning decades; but every find does make the picture just a tiny bit more interesting, if not necessarily clearer.  But it’s also important to note that, just because this fossil is inconclusive, many others are not; the Neandertal, for example, are represented by hundreds of separate sets of remains.

And, it seems, Congressmen may have been around even longer.

Animal’s Daily News

Science!Remember the fuss when they decided Pluto wasn’t a planet after all?  Well, now there may be two more planets out past Pluto.  Excerpt:

The Solar System has at least two more planets waiting to be discovered beyond the orbit of Pluto, Spanish and British astronomers say.


The official list of planets in our star system runs to eight, with gas giant Neptune the outermost.

Beyond Neptune, Pluto was relegated to the status of “dwarf planet” by the International Astronomical Union in 2006, although it is still championed by some as the most distant planet from the Sun.

In a study published in the latest issue of the British journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers propose that “at least two” planets lie beyond Pluto.

Their calculations are based on the unusual orbital behaviour of very distant space rocks called extreme trans-Neptunian objects, or ETNOs.

The evidence – sketchy though it is at this point – is nevertheless the same evidence that led to the discovery of Neptune, namely, perturbations in the orbit of known objects.

Smiling BearIf these planets are confirmed, I’d propose that one of them be named Prosperine, after the Greek goddess carried away to the underworld by Pluto.  I’d settle for the Roman Persephone, but Prosperine was the tenth planet mentioned in James Blish’s great 1950s sci-fi classic Cities in Flight.

New discoveries should be willing to give a nod to such classics.