Category: science

Monkey on the Menu

A study has found that the first known Homo sapiens in Sri Lanka were eating fast-moving, tree-dwelling monkeys and squirrels. The remains of primates and other small animals with cut marks and signs of charring were found alongside stone tools and monkey bone and monkey teeth tools in the Last Pleistocene layers at the Fa-Hien Lena Cave (the earliest known Homo sapiens site in Sri Lanka). In other words, the remains of their meals made it very clear that these prehistoric humans were eating tree-dwelling monkeys and squirrels, at least as early as 45,000 years ago.

What is so exciting about that? Well, the discovery is the oldest record of primate hunting by foragers, not just in Sri Lanka, but anywhere. Homo sapiens apparently adapted very quickly to the new, challenging environment of the tropical rainforest, even though it was very different from their previous home in the open savanna. Homo sapiens were survivors, and they quickly found new protein sources and learned how to catch them.

A Brief History of Han Purple

Han purple was an ancient Chinese pigment which is thought to have been created as early as 800 BCE, but the most famous examples of its use date back to around 220 BCE when it was used to paint the Terracotta Army and murals in the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang at Xi’an.

Han purple peaked during the Han Dynasty, then declined, and then vanished from the historical record entirely – along with knowledge of how to make the color.

It was not until the 1990s that scientists were able to replicate it. The process to make the copper barium silicate pigment was extremely intricate. For one thing, it involved the grinding of precise quantities of various materials. And for another, it required heating to between 900 and 1,100 degrees Celsius. Amazing that the process was discovered so long ago!

Where Did European Megaliths Come From?

A recent Bayesian analysis of some 35,000 surviving megaliths from across Europe used radiocarbon dates, cultural material, and information about burial rites to estimate a chronological sequence for the megaliths.

The results suggested that megaliths first emerged in northwestern France, and spread over sea routes. “Megaliths,” for this study, included megalithic tombs, standing stones, and stone circles. They were largely built in or near coastal areas during the Neolithic and Copper Ages, supporting a sea-borne spread. And surviving megaliths, though as far apart as Sweden, Spain, and Malta, often share similar structural features. It made archaeologists suspect they were related, which was also confirmed by the statistics.

Right now, the evidence suggests that the first megaliths were dolmens – giant standing stones covered with a mound of earth or stone – built in northwestern France. Some of these were built as early as 4792 BCE. That region is also home to pre-megalithic graves and transitional structures similar to, but not yet quite, dolmens. Other regions have megaliths but they also have other forms of burials, and they have no transitional structures that appear to be evolving into megaliths. The weight of the evidence, at least the evidence available for this latest Bayesian analysis, supports a French birthplace for megaliths. 

An Icky Archaeological Discovery

Brightly colored pottery is a hallmark of the Paracas culture (900 – 100 BCE) of southern Peru. They would mark unfired pieces with animals, supernatural figures, and patterns, then add color after the firing process to fill in the design.

A new study, recently published in Antiquity, analyzed the chemical composition of the Paracas paints and binding agents. The study found that an organic white pigment on pottery from the Cahuachi site was made from an unusual material: reptile urine! It is unknown – and a bit difficult to guess – how the substance was collected and then processed.


Aftershocks from Hawaii Island’s largest earthquake, in 1868, continue to the present day.

It was estimated to be a 7.9 on the Richter scale and the earthquake and resulting tsunami caused 77 deaths.

The First Photo Taken In Space

Germany developed the V-2 rocket to bomb England during World War II. After the war ended, the US seized unused V-2s and transported them to New Mexico. On October 24, 1946, scientists there place a 35-millimeter motion picture camera on the nose of a V-2, and launched the rocket vertically into space. The camera automatically captured a new image every few seconds while the rocket climbed to an altitude of 65 miles. Conventionally, space begins at 62 miles (100 km) from sea level.

Once it ran out of fuel the V2 fell back to earth. When the wreckage was found, the camera itself had been destroyed, but the film, in a steel cassette, survived unharmed. Range scientists apparently “were jumping up and down like kids” according to enlisted soldier Fred Rulli, 19, who was on the wreckage recovery team. “The scientists just went nuts.”

Ayurveda’s Three Classics

Ayurveda, a ancient medical tradition from India, has three great ancient authors. Each is known for one significant text. Today they are understood to be compilation texts, summaries of schools of medicine at the time of their writing, but the authors are believed to have been real people who wrote each individual book. Like an encyclopedia.

Sushruta, writing sometime in the 600s BCE (probably) wrote the “Sushruta Samhita,” a treatise on medicine and surgery with a large section dedicated to medical instruments as well. Charaka, alive sometime in the 200s BCE, wrote a treatise focusing solely on medicine, the “Charaka Samhita.”

The third great author, Vagbhata, came much later in the 600s CE. His two major ayurvedic treatises similarly covered a broad swathe of medicine, but they also explicitly referenced the Sushruta Samhita and the Charaka Samhita, covering where they disagreed and the various solutions that had arose to those disagreements over the centuries.

Beware The Jellyfish

The box jellyfish’s sting causes severe headaches, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, pulmonary edema, and severe anxiety – its apparently so bad that some victims beg doctors to kill them. It is estimated that since 1954 box jellyfish have caused more the 5,500 deaths.

See the date – this newspaper piece was …

See the date – this newspaper piece was published in 1912.

Europe During The Ice Age