Category: top posts

Ancient Sri Lankans Figured Out How to Sustainably Hunt Monkeys and Squirrels

By Roni Dengler | February 19, 2019 4:27 pm
sri lanka monkeys

Toque macaque monkeys grooming at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. (Credit: Viacheslav Misiurin/Shutterstock)

Some 45,000 years ago, the tropical rainforests of Sri Lanka teemed with dangerous plants and lacked big game, yet people made a life there. Our key to success in that seemingly inhospitable region? It was monkeys and squirrels, researchers say — or rather, our ability to catch them.

“These animals are difficult to catch and suggest a certain level of sophistication in terms of hunting strategies,” said Patrick Roberts, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, who led the new research.

The discovery suggests humans had the capacity to quickly adapt to unfamiliar environments. This knack for adaptation may be what enabled people to expand across the planet, the researchers say.

Extreme Environments

Some researchers argue that as humans dispersed out of Africa, our ancestors tended to stick to savannas and grasslands where medium- to large-sized game was available to hunt. Otherwise, early humans followed coastal routes where food resources were predictable. But settling down in the heat and humidity of tropical rainforests where food is relatively scarce seemed an unlikely choice.

Yet, in the last 20 years, archaeologists have uncovered evidence that humans were present in the tropical rainforests of Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia and Melanesia at least 45,000 years ago and relied on the rainforests’ resources year round. “What were they eating? And how did they obtain this food?” Roberts wondered.

Appetizing Apes

Roberts and colleagues analyzed more than 14,000 animal bones and tooth fragments from Fa-Hien Lena Cave, the earliest known archaeological site with evidence for human behavior in Sri Lanka. The researchers looked for cut marks on the bones that would have suggested the animals were butchered and inspected the bones for evidence of burning. They also examined small stone and bone tools to get an idea of how early humans might have used them to hunt.

Monkeys and tree squirrels accounted for more than 70 percent of the animal remains, the researchers report today in the journal Nature Communications. When the scientists examined monkey tooth fragments, they found early human hunters were targeting adult monkeys in their prime. Previous research suggested early humans used traps to hunt small game, but that strategy would have ensnared animals of all ages.

“This was the first time we had clear evidence for focused [hunting],” Roberts said.

It also appears that the ancient Sri Lankans were able to devise sustainable hunting strategies, based on evidence that the ancient hunters coexisted with their prey for tens of thousands of years without driving them extinct.

In an intriguing twist, Roberts and his team also discovered monkey bones became hunting weapons. “Fascinatingly, the bone tools were made from [the long bones] of the monkeys and then apparently used to hunt the same monkeys!” Roberts said.

“It is clear that human populations were so successful because they gained intimate knowledge of each environment and [understood] the ecosystem dynamics of each setting,” Roberts said, a stark contrast to modern times, where “through our consumer choices, a significant portion of the world’s population impacts environments thousands of kilometers away from them.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human origins

Astronomers Spot a Supermassive Black Hole Bouncing Jets Across its Galaxy

By Alison Klesman | February 19, 2019 4:00 pm
This composite image shows Cygnus A in X-rays (blue), radio waves (red), and opitical light (yellow). The two jets from the galaxy's supermassive black hole generate hotspots, which are located about 300,000 light-years from the galaxy's center. (Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO)

This composite image shows Cygnus A in X-rays (blue), radio waves (red), and opitical light (yellow). The two jets from the galaxy’s supermassive black hole generate hotspots, which are located about 300,000 light-years from the galaxy’s center. (Credit:

Supermassive black holes lurk in the hearts of every large galaxy. Some blast out jets that can spill into its host galaxy or even beyond. The energy carried by the jets is deposited in the surrounding material, playing a crucial role in the evolution of the galaxy and, in extreme cases, other galaxies nearby. And thanks to recent observations of the famous galaxy Cygnus A with the Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have gotten a closer glimpse at just how those jets work — and how things are not always as straightforward as they seem. Instead, Cygnus A’s jets seem to be bouncing around, deflected off walls of gas and gouging out holes in the material in the process. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: black holes

Snapshot: Close-up With a Human Teardrop

By Ernie Mastroianni | February 19, 2019 3:30 pm
close up of a teardrop

(Credit: Norm Barker)

Tears often leave our faces feeling (and tasting) salty, but a closer look reveals the intricate patterns they can leave behind.

Norm Barker, director of pathology photography at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, focused his microscope on a human teardrop, using a lighting technique to enhance contrast. Barker saw that as it started to dry, the salt and other substances in the teardrop bunched together and crystalized in these intricate, snowflakelike shapes.

The picture ranked among the top 10 in the 2018 Nikon Small World Micrography Competition.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Glued to Their Phones? Study Says Children Still Watch TV More Than Anything

By Bill Andrews | February 19, 2019 2:17 pm
child watching tv

(Credit: Tatyana Korotun/Shutterstock)

As technology advances, so do our fears about it. Socrates himself didn’t care for the new advancement of writing. And my parents were always on me to watch less TV.

Yet now as a parent, I’m always trying to limit how much screentime my 3-year-old spends with a phone or tablet. After all, everyone knows little kids are drawn to those portable devices like moths to a touch-sensitive flame, right?

Not so fast, suggests a study this week in JAMA Pediatrics. Despite that perception, TV consumption is still far greater among children than any other kind of screen usage. Researchers say that any concerns about keeping kids active and their brains properly developing will have to focus more on TV than mobile devices.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers

Physicists Finally Discover Why Grapes Ignite in the Microwave

By Nathaniel Scharping | February 18, 2019 5:14 pm

A conflagration waiting to happen. (Credit: Kaiskynet Studio/Shutterstock)

Consider the humble grape. Small, spheroid, with pleasantly taut skin, leaving a burst of sweetness on the tongue. Hardly a fruit you’d need to defend yourself against.

Put a gently touching pair in the microwave, though, and the inoffensive fruit turns into a literal firecracker. Within just a few seconds, microwaved grapes will begin sparking as if electrified, and in some cases they’ll even produce a flash of plasma bright enough to make the microwave glow from the inside out. (An alternate method involves cutting the grape in half, leaving a strip of skin to connect the hemispheres. Both produce the same effect.) Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: physics

First Evidence of a Giant Exoplanet Collision

By Jake Parks | February 18, 2019 3:45 pm
A planetary collision is exactly as bad as you would imagine. Unlike an asteroid impact, there's not just a crater left behind. Instead, such a massive crash causes the surviving world to be stripped of much of its lighter elements, leaving behind an overly dense core. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A planetary collision is exactly as bad as you would imagine. Unlike an asteroid impact, there’s not just a crater left behind. Instead, such a massive crash causes the surviving world to be stripped of much of its lighter elements, leaving behind an overly dense core. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

For the first time ever, astronomers think they’ve discovered an exoplanet that survived a catastrophic collision with another planet. And according to the new research, which was published Feb. 4, in the journal Nature Astronomy, the evidence for the impact comes from two twin exoplanets that seem to be more fraternal than identical. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: exoplanets, stars

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 Mission Will Mine an Asteroid This Week

By Korey Haynes | February 18, 2019 1:45 pm
illustration of a spacecraft with nose pointing at asteroid

Hayabusa 2 will collect samples from the surface of asteroid Ryugu later this week. (Credit: Illustration by Akihiro Ikeshita (C), JAXA)

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 is ready to touch down on asteroid Ryugu and should do so later this week. On Monday morning, Japanese officials confirmed that the spacecraft will attempt to land at 6 p.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 21. The spacecraft has been in orbit around Ryugu since June of 2018. Once it reaches the surface, it will start its main mission of collecting samples from Ryugu’s surface. Eventually, it will return those samples to Earth for study.

Originally, the lander had planned to touch down as early as last October. But closer inspection of the asteroid showed it was covered in large boulders and rocks. That complicated Hayabusa 2’s task of gathering powder and sand-sized grains. Mission scientists realized they needed more time to scout out safe landing sites where the spacecraft would have a better chance of successfully collecting material from the surface. Now, they’re now confident they have such a spot picked out. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Researchers Trace the Origins of Thousands of Ancient European Megaliths

By Charles Choi | February 18, 2019 1:23 pm
pentre ifan megalith

Pentre Ifan, a megalith in Wales dated to around 5300 B.C. (Credit: Hartmut Albert)

(Inside Science) – New research suggests that megaliths — monuments such as Stonehenge created from large rocks during the Stone and Copper Ages in Europe — owe their origins to a mysterious culture from northwest France with advanced seafaring technology.

Roughly 35,000 megaliths are known throughout Europe, including standing stones, stone circles and megalithic tombs. Most megaliths date from 4500 to 2500 B.C., are concentrated in coastal areas along the Atlantic and Mediterranean and share similar or even identical architectural features, said archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

A Philosopher Asked Physicists: ‘What is a Black Hole?’

By Korey Haynes | February 18, 2019 11:30 am
two holes in star-filled space

Physicists know what black holes are, but disagree on how to describe them. (Credit: SXS)

Ask a dozen physicists what a black hole is, and you may get a dozen different answers – at least if those physicists are from different sub-fields. But new philosophy research suggests that may be okay, and may even lead to more interesting findings for black holes in the future.

Such is the conclusion of Erik Curiel, who asked many different physicists across a range of research fields how they defined a black hole. Curiel works at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Germany. Having studied both philosophy as well as theoretical physics, Curiel is well-suited to investigate, on its most basic level: What is a black hole? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: black hole, physics

Pumped Milk Gives Infants Different Bacteria Than Breastfeeding, Study Says

By Roni Dengler | February 15, 2019 5:04 pm
baby feeding milk bottle

(Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Mother’s milk provides sustenance for babies. Now researchers find pumped breast milk exposes newborns to more disease-causing bacteria than milk directly from the breast. The discovery suggests breastfeeding practices could shift the makeup of microorganisms in breast milk and infants’ digestive systems.

“We were surprised that the method of feeding was the most consistent factor associated with milk microbiota composition,” said Meghan Azad, a medical geneticist at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba in Canada, who led the new research. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: microbes & viruses

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