Archive for August, 2017

Cities and farms are far older than we think — 30,000 years older…

Consider this: “…people began altering their environments for food and shelter about 30,000 years earlier than we thought.”

 

30,000 years!

 

 

From arstechnica.com,

 

Paleolithic pastimes —
Evidence that ancient farms had very different origins than previously thought
Dramatic new hypothesis could change the way we understand human history.
by Annalee Newitz

 

“It’s an idea that could transform our understanding of how humans went from small bands of hunter-gatherers to farmers and urbanites. Until recently, anthropologists believed cities and farms emerged about 9,000 years ago in the Mediterranean and Middle East. But now a team of interdisciplinary researchers has gathered evidence showing how civilization as we know it may have emerged at the equator, in tropical forests. Not only that, but people began altering their environments for food and shelter about 30,000 years earlier than we thought.

 

For centuries, archaeologists believed that ancient people couldn’t live in tropical jungles. The environment was simply too harsh and challenging, they thought. As a result, scientists simply didn’t look for clues of ancient civilizations in the tropics. Instead, they turned their attention to the Middle East, where we have ample evidence that hunter-gatherers settled down in farming villages 9,000 years ago during a period dubbed the “Neolithic revolution.” Eventually, these farmers’ offspring built the ziggurats of Mesopotamia and the great pyramids of Egypt. It seemed certain that city life came from these places and spread from there around the world.

 

But now that story seems increasingly uncertain. In an article published in Nature Plants, Max Planck Institute archaeologist Patrick Roberts and his colleagues explain that cities and farms are far older than we think. Using techniques ranging from genetic sampling of forest ecosystems and isotope analysis of human teeth, to soil analysis and lidar, the researchers have found ample evidence that people at the equator were actively changing the natural world to make it more human-centric.

 

It all started about 45,000 years ago. At that point, people began burning down vegetation to make room for plant resources and homes. Over the next 35,000 years, the simple practice of burning back forest evolved. People mixed specialized soils for growing plants; they drained swamps for agriculture; they domesticated animals like chickens; and they farmed yam, taro, sweet potato, chili pepper, black pepper, mango, and bananas.

 

École française d’Extrême-Orient archaeologist Damian Evans, a co-author on the Nature paper, said that it wasn’t until a recent conference brought international researchers together that they realized they’d discovered a global pattern. Very similar evidence for ancient farming could be seen in equatorial Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Much later, people began building “garden cities” in these same regions, where they lived in low-density neighborhoods surrounded by cultivated land.

 

Evans, Roberts, and their colleagues aren’t just raising questions about where cities originated. More importantly, Roberts told Ars via email, they are challenging the idea of a “Neolithic revolution” in which the shift to city life happened in just a few hundred years…”

 

For the rest, click here.

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Planet of the Octopuses

Octopuses have a lot to tell us about the nature of consciousness…

 

From qz.com,

 

CEPHALOPODS RISING
Octopus research shows that consciousness isn’t what makes humans special

 

 

“Whether or not octopuses should be viewed as charming or terrifying very much depends on your personal perspective. But it’s hard to deny their intelligence.

 

Octopuses can squirt water at an annoyingly bright bulb until it short-circuits. They can tell humans apart (even those who are wearing the same uniform). And, according to Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosophy professor at University of Sydney and City University of New York, they are the closest creature to an alien here on earth.

 

That’s because octopuses are the most complex animal with the most distant common ancestor to humans. There’s some uncertainty about which precise ancestor was most recently shared by octopuses and humans, but, Godfrey-Smith says, “It was probably an animal about the size of a leech or flatworm with neurons numbering perhaps in the thousands, but not more than that.”

 

This means that octopuses have very little in common with humans, evolution-wise. They have developed eyes, limbs, and brains via a completely separate route, with very different ancestors, from humans. And they seem to have come by their impressive cognitive functioning—and likely consciousness—by different means…”

 

For the rest, click here.

 

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Meet the Ornamental Hermit, Origin of Garden Gnomes…

This is the oddest display of wealth we have heard of in a while: the phenomenon of ornamental hermitage.

 

From ati.com,

The Mysterious Lives Of 18th Century Garden Hermits
By Abby Norman

 

 

“The ceramic garden gnomes we see today have a very human — and very solemn — past.
Before the days of the ceramic garden gnome, a human being often played the role of stern, robe-wearing guardian of flora and fauna — and that person was preferably a grizzled old man who didn’t mind living in seclusion and forgoing even basic personal hygiene.

 

Meet the ornamental hermit.

 

Two trends in Georgian England created a moment in history for the phenomenon of ornamental hermitage: solitude and overt displays of material wealth.

 

Wealthy landowners desired expansive and often ornate gardens on their property, and would use these expanses to reflect not just financial riches, but existing social mores such as melancholy.

 

Elite circles viewed this deeper, more introspective form of sadness as a mark of intelligence, and thus sought to associate themselves with the sentiment whenever possible. Physical property presented an easy, obvious avenue to bring this social virtue of melancholy to life.

 

Soon enough, wealthy landowners began placing want ads in newspapers to fill this very aim. Ad writers often sought men who would agree to live in a garden for a span of time (usually about seven years, it seems) and devote themselves to a silent, forlorn — if not also wise and mysterious — existence…”

 

For the rest, click here.

 

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