Category: Where We Came From & Where We’re Going

Video: See the First Aerial Footage of an Uncontacted Amazonian Tribe

By Patrick Morgan | February 4, 2011 1:41 pm

In the rainforest along the border between Brazil and Peru, an indigenous tribe is ignoring the 21st century and living life the old-fashioned way. Experts believe this “uncontacted tribe” has had no direct contact with mainstream society, but the Brazilian government has known about the tribe for 20 years and routinely flies above the settlement to check on the inhabitants’ well-being.

NOw, the BBC has released the first ever video footage of this tribe, which had previously only been seen in photographs:

The footage was filmed in cooperation with the Brazilian government, and was featured on the BBC’s Human Planet series. It was shot in the summer of 2010 along the Peru-Brazil border using a zoom lens that allowed the crew to film from more than a half-mile away.

Read More

An Entirely Possible Legend: Vikings Steered Ships Using “Sunstones”

By Patrick Morgan | January 31, 2011 10:59 am

You might think seafaring Vikings–who traveled hundreds of miles on rough seas between 750 and 1050 AD–would be adrift on cloudy days: not only did they lack compasses, but they were often traveling so far north that the sun never set, and thus couldn’t use stars to navigate. But scientists are finding new evidence to support the existence of what was once considered a mythical navigational tool: the sólarsteinn, or sunstone.

It all starts with an Icelandic legend about a man named Sigurd. As Nature News reports:

The saga describes how, during cloudy, snowy weather, King Olaf consulted Sigurd on the location of the Sun. To check Sigurd’s answer, Olaf “grabbed a sunstone, looked at the sky and saw from where the light came, from which he guessed the position of the invisible Sun.” In 1967, Thorkild Ramskou, a Danish archaeologist, suggested that this stone could have been a polarizing crystal such as Icelandic spar, a transparent form of calcite, which is common in Scandinavia.

Read More

I Like Your Genes… Let's Be Friends!

By Patrick Morgan | January 18, 2011 1:41 pm

Whether we’re making them or receiving them, first impressions can have big consequences. Our initial gut feelings transform strangers into potential friends, acquaintances into future partners. And according to some scientists, that initial whiff of personality is tied to genetics.

Looking at data on friendships and genetics from both the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the Framingham Heart Study, scientists noticed two trends: people with a genetic variant linked to alcoholism tended to flock together, while those with a genetic variant tied to metabolism and openness to new ideas tended to stay away from each other.

TIME quotes lead researcher James Fowler of the University of California-San Diego:

“This might be the first step towards understanding the biology of ‘chemistry,’ the feeling you have of … whether you like or dislike a person [almost immediately],” Fowler says, noting that this can affect both romantic connections and friendships. “We might choose friends not [only] because of social features we consciously notice but because of biological and even genetic features that we unconsciously notice.”  In turn, the friends we have could then affect the potential partners we meet.

Read More

MORE ABOUT: friendship, genes, genetics

Are Booze-Drenched Societies More Likely To Be Monogamous?

By Jennifer Welsh | December 28, 2010 5:03 pm

A new study out in the American Association of Wine Economist’s “Wine Economics” journal suggests that monogamous societies are bigger drinkers than those in polygamous societies. Does this mean that being stuck with only one partner drives us to the bottle, or does drinking make us more likely to settle down?

Actually the answer is most likely neither. Both monogamy and drunkenness seem to be related to economics, or at least, that’s why both seem to have blossomed during the industrial revolution. Jo Swinnen, one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times Freakonomics blog (which seemed to have missed the actual conclusion of the study) that he noticed the correlation over, unsurprisingly, a glass of wine:

The inspiration came from a casual observation (over a glass of wine) that the two social/religious groups that do allow polygamy ((parts of) Mormonism and Islam) also do not consume alcohol. So we wondered whether this was a coincidence or not.

While many studies have compared alcohol and cultural traits, this is the study to look at its relationship with polygamy. The researchers compared the marital style and “frequency of drunkenness” of 44 well-documented pre-industrial societies (24 of which were polygamous; 20 monogamous) and found that monogamy was indeed positively correlated with drunkenness. The paper (pdf) says:
Read More

Building an Ancient Greek "Computer" out of Lego

By Jennifer Welsh | December 10, 2010 4:41 pm

Nature editor Adam Rutherford wanted to see how a 2,000-year-old astronomical computation machine–called the Antikythera Mechanism–works. So he set Apple software engineer Andy Carol to the task of building one, using one of the most sophisticated construction systems humanity has ever devised: Lego. It took 30 days and 1,500 Lego Technic parts.

The gear-based machine was discovered in the early 1900s in a wrecked Roman merchant ship. Even after a century of study, it took the invention of CT scans to reconstruct the corroded device’s inner workings and understand how the complex machine operates, explains Nature:

The device … contained more than 30 bronze gearwheels and was covered with Greek inscriptions. On the front was a large circular dial with two concentric scales. One, inscribed with names of the months, was divided into the 365 days of the year; the other, divided into 360 degrees, was marked with the 12 signs of the zodiac.

Read More

Science Idol! Arab Reality TV Show Puts Inventors in the Spotlight

By Jennifer Welsh | November 15, 2010 12:06 pm

sos-2If America’s Got Talent, then the Arab World’s Got Science–that’s if you believe the messages in reality shows, anyway. The Arab reality show Stars of Science, currently in its second season, takes young (18-30) inventors from around the Arab world and pits them against each other, American Idol style.

The show, presented by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, hopes to encourage entrepreneurship and creativity in both the contestants and the show’s viewers, Abdulla Al-Thani told AME info:

“The aim is to showcase the whole process of innovation — from inspiration, to the elaboration of a concept, its development and finally, its application,” said Dr. Abdulla Al-Thani, Vice President, Education of Qatar Foundation. “Science and technology will now be given an entertaining twist through the very popular reality TV show format, making the topic accessible to all. We hope ‘Stars of Science’ will promote the innovative spirit of young people in the Arab world.”

Read More

Prescription for an Aggressive Man: Look at More Meat

By Jennifer Welsh | November 11, 2010 3:08 pm

cooked-steakEven the sight of the reddest, rawest steak won’t get your blood boiling. Surprising new research has found that staring at pictures of meat actually makes people less aggressive.

The insight comes from McGill University undergraduate Frank Kachanoff. He wondered if the sight of food would incite men’s defensive desires, much like a dog aggressively protecting its food bowl, he explained in a press release:

“I was inspired by research on priming and aggression, that has shown that just looking at an object which is learned to be associated with aggression, such as a gun, can make someone more likely to behave aggressively. I wanted to know if we might respond aggressively to certain stimuli in our environment not because of learned associations, but because of an innate predisposition. I wanted to know if just looking at the meat would suffice to provoke an aggressive behavior.”

Read More

Coming Soon to the Internets: Digitized Dead Sea Scrolls

By Jennifer Welsh | October 21, 2010 12:01 pm

1-DeuteronomyIn a great convergence of old and new, Google and the Israel Antiquities Authority are teaming up to digitize the millennia-old Dead Sea Scrolls.

The scrolls are the oldest known surviving biblical texts, created between 150 BC and 79 AD. They are written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek and include nearly every book of the Old Testament (except the Book of Esther), and several other religious texts.

The scrolls have been tightly guarded because of their delicate nature. Only two scholars are allowed to study the scrolls at a time, which are held in a room where temperature, light, and humidity are all carefully controlled. Public access to the writings will change how they are studied, Rob Enderle told Computer World:

“This is information few have ever seen and a piece of our oldest written history,” said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. “What makes this epic is that it could be important for generations of religious scholars. This is a project that could have an impact on thousands of years in the future. There are few projects that have that kind of life expectancy.”

Read More

Does a 200-Year-Old Gourd Contain the Blood of a Beheaded King?

By Jennifer Welsh | October 13, 2010 12:27 pm

louis-xvi-blood-gourd-2-elsDried blood on a handkerchief, a $700,000 gourd and one dead king. A forensic murder mystery?

Nope, just another genetics paper. I mean, it is gourd season, what did you expect?

The dead king in question is Louis XVI (the last of the French kings), who was ceremoniously beheaded on January 21st, 1793. After the beheading, attendees rushed the stage and dipped their handkerchiefs in the royal blood.

Over two hundred years later, some of that blood may have been found–dried to the inside of a decorative gunpowder gourd. The story goes that one of the attendees rushed home and stuffed the bloody handkerchief into the gourd for safekeeping.

In a study published in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics, researchers analyzed some of the dried blood scraped from the inside of the gourd to find out if it really could be the king’s blood. They checked the Y chromosome to see if the blood-donor was male, and checked for the presence of a blue-eye gene, HERC2. The blood was indeed from the correct time period and belonged to a blue-eyed male–so far, the evidence fits the blue-eyed king. More genetic information about the family will be needed to confirm the identity, the study’s lead author told Wired’s Dave Mosher:

Read More

Why Did the Children of Samurai Have Lead Poisoning?

By Eliza Strickland | September 13, 2010 2:00 pm

edo-periodBeing in the upper crust of Japanese society during the Edo Period may have come with a serious drawback–a new analysis of the remains of samurai warriors and their wives and children suggests that many of the kids had lead poisoning. The suspected culprit: the make-up that mothers wore.

In the Edo Period, which lasted from 1603 to 1868, the military nobles known as samurai protected castle towns like Kokura, where this study was carried out. Researcher Tamiji Nakashima delved into a graveyard where samurai and their families were buried in large clay pots, and examined the remains of 70 people.

The study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, showed that adult women had more lead in their bones than adult men, but the kids were in the worst trouble. LiveScience reports:

[The researchers found] kids with enough lead in their systems to cause severe intellectual impairment. Children under age 3 were the worst off, with a median level of 1,241 micrograms of lead per gram of dry bone. That’s more than 120 times the level thought to cause neurological and behavioral problems today and as much as 50 times higher than levels the team found in samurai adults. Older kids’ levels were lower, but still very high.

The researchers say that lead-based white face powder was in vogue at the time, as it was used by geisha and Kabuki actors. But although the study suggests that elite children of the era had serious developmental difficulties, those in the lower classes probably escaped that particular fate. Nakashima told LiveScience that people from farming and fishing families were forbidden from using luxurious cosmetics, and were thus spared the luxury of lead poisoning.

Related Content:
80beats: Did the Lead in His Paints Kill the Baroque Artist Caravaggio?
80beats: Andean People Discovered Mercury Mining—and Mercury Pollution—in 1400 B.C.
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: The history of poisoning in the future: lessons from Star Trek.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Discoblog

Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »