Saturday, December 11, 2021

Dispersion of Words Related to Millet and Rice


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Linguists and anthropologists have noticed cultural and linguistic affinities between Mongolian, Turkish, Japanese, and Ainu populations. These share a Northeast Asia context that has been traced back to North Eurasian antecedents. The genetic closeness of these populations is evident on this chart.

Luigi Cavalli-Sforza's Genetic Distance Chart

In this study, Martine Robbeets (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena) and her team traced the proto-Transeurasian language back to the Liao river area of north-east China around 9000 years ago.

Millet farmers living in that region may have spoken a proto-Transeurasian language that gave rise to Japanese, Turkish and other modern tongues.

Transeurasian languages are spoken across a wide region of Europe and northern Asia. Until now, researchers assumed that they had spread from the mountains of Mongolia 3000 years ago, spoken by horse-riding nomads who kept livestock but didn’t farm crops.

Robbeets and her colleagues used linguistic, archaeological and genetic evidence to conclude instead that it was the onset of millet cultivation by farmers in what is now China that led to the spread of the language family.

In another study, the rice trade appears to have spread common agricultural terms from Africa to Southeast Asia. The term "Sulawesi" might be related to the words "write" and "rice" records. If those who were moving from island to island were merchants, they would have recorded their transactions. Sulawe resembles the Egyptian word for writing ssw; and the Mande sewe; and the Dravidian ha-verasu (referring to written record of rice sales).

Linguistic connections are further evident in the terms for slash and burn cultivation used in Sulawesi and East Africa. The word trematrema is used in Northeast Betsimisaraa to refer to a one-to-three year slashed-and-burnt field. It is related to the Swahili word tema, ‘to cut’, and the redoubled form tematema, ‘to slash, to chop. This technique is used by Sulawesians who practice "dry rice" planting.

Rice grain formed the basis of weight measurement from East Africa to Sulawesi. On Madagascar, the the weight of one grain of rice is called vary and corresponds to the Swahili wari and to the Dravidian verasu. The Hebrew word for rice is orez and Arabic ruz. These share the RZ root with Dravidian. The Dravidian word reflects the written records of commercial weights.

There are two species of cultivated rice in the world: African rice (Oryza glaberrima) and Asian rice (Oryza sativa). African rice was domesticated from the wild ancestor Oryza barthii (Oryza brevilugata) by peoples living in the Benue-Niger floodplain about 3,000 years ago. The two strains of Asian rice are Oryza japonica and Oryza indica, identified with Japan and India.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Top USA Science Debate Team


The top science debate team in the USA hails from the Bronx! Learn about these amazing students here.

What is their secret? Cooperation. They practice together, research together, and help each other polish their public speaking. They are preparing to compete at the national level in 2022.

Approximately three hundred students are members of the Bronx Speech & Debate Team. Speakers and debaters from Bronx Science have won the country's most coveted championships, including all four national championships (TOC, NFL, NDCA, and NCFL) and major invitational titles (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Emory, Georgetown, the Glenbrooks, Blake, and Meadows, among many others). 

Related reading: Bronx School of Science

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

First Woman To Receive the Abel Prize


On Tuesday, November 2 (2021) it was announced from Oslo that Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck will be awarded the Abel Prize. The prize was created by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in 2003, and is viewed as the mathematics equivalent of a Nobel Prize. Uhlenbeck is the first woman to receive the Abel Prize in the award’s 18-year history.

The Abel Prize is awarded annually by the King of Norway to one or more outstanding mathematicians. It is named after Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829) and directly modeled after the Nobel Prizes.

The citation explains that Uhlenbeck’s work has “led to some of the most dramatic advances in mathematics in the last 40 years.”

Uhlenbeck, a founder of modern geometric analysis, is 79 years old.

Her research “inspired a generation of mathematicians,” said François Labourie of the University of Côte d’Azur in France. “She wanders around and finds new things that nobody has found before.”

Karen Uhlenbeck is a professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin, where she held the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair. She is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, and a visiting senior research scholar at Princeton University

Read more here.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Vaccination Lowers Risk of Death


Since January 2021, weekly COVID-19 hospitalization rates have fluctuated in unvaccinated people but have been consistently higher than in vaccinated people. For instance, as the delta variant became the dominant variant in June, hospitalizations of unvaccinated adults 18 years and older spiked while rates for vaccinated remained steady and low. The data were adjusted for age and come from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Utah.

Read more here.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

400,000-Year Tool Production Site Near Rome


A lissoir found at the site. (Villa et al., 2021, PLOS One)

The discovery of 98 elephant-bone tools at a site dating back 400,000 years is causing great excitement among paleoanthropologists. The bones are evidence of butchering by humans and the now-extinct animal was the straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus). 

The bones were collected from Castel di Guido, located close modern-day Rome. The site indicates that archaic humans did not waste the resources at their disposal. They had a tool-production line using methods not known this far back in time. They used percussion flaking, a technique in which bits of bone are chipped off using a separate implement to make specific tools.

"We see other sites with bone tools at this time," says archaeologist Paola Villa (University of Colorado Boulder). "But there isn't this variety of well-defined shapes."

"At Castel di Guido, humans were breaking the long bones of the elephants in a standardized manner and producing standardized blanks to make bone tools."

Villa adds, "This kind of aptitude didn't become common until much later."

One of the most interesting tools discovered is a lissoir: a bone that's long and smooth at one end, and would have been used to treat leather. These kinds of tools didn't become common until about 300,000 years ago.

Read more here.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Sea Floor Expansion Pushes Continents Apart


Ridge zone where sea floor spreads.

Only a small portion of the oceanic crust produced in the Atlantic is subducted. Most is rising and the rising rock appears to be slowly pushing the continents of North and South America further apart from Europe and Africa. The spreading distance between North America and Europe is caused by mantle convection. The Atlantic is expanding by a couple of inches a year. 

The North American and Eurasian Plates are moving away from each other along the line of the Mid- Atlantic Ridge. The Ridge extends into the South Atlantic Ocean between the South American and African Plates. The ocean ridge rises to between 1.24 and 1.86 miles above the ocean floor, and a rift valley at its crest marks the location where the two plates are moving apart.

The Mid Atlantic Ridge has developed as a consequence of the divergent motion between the Eurasian and North American, and African and South American Plates. As the mantle rises towards the surface below the ridge the pressure is lowered (decompression) and the hot rock starts to partially melt. This produces basaltic volcanoes when an eruption occurs above the surface. An example is Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland

As the plates move further apart new ocean lithosphere is formed at the ridge and the ocean basin gets wider. This process is known as “sea floor spreading” and results in a symmetrical alignment of the rocks of the ocean floor which get older with distance from the ridge crest.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Stone 58 Sediments Date to 1.6 Billion years


A 3-inch-long sample of the core from Stone 58 was used for detailed analyses. (Image credit: British Geological Survey)

A long-lost piece of Stonehenge that was taken by a man performing restoration work on the monument has been returned after 60 years, giving scientists a chance to peer inside a pillar of the iconic monument for the first time.

In 1958, Robert Phillips, a representative of the drilling company helping to restore Stonehenge, took the cylindrical core after it was drilled from one of Stonehenge's pillars — Stone 58. Later, when he emigrated to the United States, Phillips took the core with him. Because of Stonehenge's protected status, it's no longer possible to extract samples from the stones. But with the core's return in 2018, researchers had the opportunity to perform unprecedented geochemical analyses of a Stonehenge pillar, which they described in a new study.

They found that Stonehenge's towering standing stones, or sarsens, were made of rock containing sediments that formed when dinosaurs walked the Earth. Other grains in the rock date as far back as 1.6 billion years.

Read more here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A New Ocean Forming in the Afar Region


A 35-mile-long rift opened up in the Ethiopian desert in 2005, the result of tectonic plates slowly spreading the continent apart. (Photo credit: University of Rochester)

The Afar region of East Africa is experiencing dramatic changes due to rifting. Over time, these rifting events will reshape the African continent.

Each of the three plates in the Afar region is spreading at different speeds. The Arabian plate is moving away from Africa at a rate of about 1 inch per year, while the two African plates are separating between half an inch to 0.2 inches per year. The separation of these plates is creating a mid-ocean ridge system, where a new ocean will form.

Eventually, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea will flood in over the Afar region and into the East African Rift Valley and become a new ocean in a bout 5 million years. When that happens that part of East Africa will become a separate continent. 

Read more here: African Continent Slowly Peeling Apart 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Bees and Honey in Antiquity


Among the Nilotic peoples honeybees were kept as early as 3500 BC. Egyptians made hives out of pipes of clay and stacked one on top of another (as shown in the image above). The hives were moved up and down the Nile on rafts, allowing the bees to pollinate flowers that were in season. A marriage contract has been found which states, "I take thee to wife... and promise to deliver to thee yearly twelve jars of honey."

The bee became the symbol of royalty in Lower Egypt where a temple known as “the House of the Bee” was visited by women seeking counsel. King Tut was buried with a jar of honey. When his tomb was opened, the jar of honey was discovered, and the honey was unspoiled.

Many examples of bee and honey hieroglyphs have been found in ancient Egyptian records.

Indo-European languages have words for honey which are based on the two phonetically very similar proposed Proto-Indo European (PIE) roots: medu and melid. The name Melissa is related to the word for honey. The root is found in the Anglo-Saxon word "mead," an alcoholic beverage made with honey, water, and a fermenting agent. In Spanish, the word for honey is miel.

The biblical name Deborah is a reference to bees. Rebecca's nurse, Deborah, was buried near Bethel beneath the “tree of weeping” or the “Oak of Weeping" (Gen. 35:8). The Hebrew word allon can refer to a large tree species, but here probably refers to either an oak, a terebinth, or sycamore fig. There is evidence that graves were sometimes placed beneath fig trees which attracted bees. The wasp lays its eggs inside the ripening figs. The ancients would have observed this as an example of new life. 

Surgical procedures are described in the Edwin Smith papyrus, the world's oldest known surgical document (c. 1600 BC). It describes closing wounds with sutures, application of raw meat to stop bleeding, treatment of head and spinal cord injuries, and preventing and curing infection with honey. Honey draws the moisture out of wounds. It has antimicrobial and antibiotic properties and can kill Staphylococcus and E. coli.

It was not easy to acquire honey because the bees often built their hives in the crevices of high rocks. This late prehistoric drawing from Spain shows a woman on a rope ladder collecting honey while the bees swarm around her.

Related reading: Assessing the Health of Bee ColoniesOldest Bee Hives Discovered in Israel; The Buzz About Bees; Bees in Religion; Asian Hornets Kill Honeybees; Ancient Mythology About Bees; Deborah's Tree of Weeping; The Sacred Bee in Ancient Egypt; The Fig Tree in Biblical Symbolism

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Kudos to Emmanuel Alie Mansaray


Meet Emmanuel Alie Mansaray, the 27-year-old, self-taught inventor of a trash-to-treasure solar car. He calls it his "Imagination car".

He began innovating in 2018 when he built the first solar-powered tricycle in Sierra Leone. 

Mansaray explains,“During my primary school days, I used to pick up trash cans (example: milk tin, tomato tin, etc.) which I used to make different types of cars. I also used to collect trash batteries from the dust bin and convert them to supply electricity.” 

The solar car will even help the disabled. Mansaray said in an interview with Face2Face:

“Some disabled people have cars that they can’t drive unless they paid individuals to drive them because their feet can’t reach down the clutch, brake, and accelerator, which is challenging. But for my ‘Imagination solar-powered car’, all the features are installed in the steering; including the clutch, brake and accelerator, and all other necessary features. With all this, every disabled person can drive with less to worry about.” 

Ultimately, Mansaray hopes that his solar car will not only provide hope to others and boost the economy of his homeland, Sierra Leone.

Mansaray has set up a fund to start an energy project that will help at the regional level and later the whole of Africa. He said, "I practically survived my high school studies studying under street lights at night by the high way and just too many teenagers have fallen victims of early pregnancy from the quest of looking for electricity to sustain their night studies so together with your fund we will be solving more than just energy problems."

Follow this aspiring student and offer him encouragement and support at his Facebook page.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Remembering Ernest L. Schusky

Ernest L Schusky (1931-2019) was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, the only son of Lenora Davis Schusky and Ernest Schusky. His B.A. degree was from Miami University, Ohio; his PhD degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago. 

He was an active member of St. Francis United Methodist Church in Tucson, Arizona, and an associate member of the First United Methodist Church in Collinsville, Illinois.

Schusky began his academic teaching career at South Dakota State University in 1958. In 1960 he joined the new campus of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and developed the program in anthropology. He retired as emeritus professor in 1993. 

His professional career included a Fulbright in 1977 at Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea, as well as a summer Fulbright in India. He spent a sabbatical year at the London School of Economics.

Lectureships included National Science Foundation invitations at Cornell College, Huron College, St. Xavier and the University Chicago and a semester at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, where the family lived in a historic log cabin on campus. 

Schusky was a fellow of the American Anthropology Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology and served as President of Central States Anthropology Society.

His Manual for Kinship Analysis has been considered by some anthropologists to be one of the most significant books of the 20th century. Originally published in 1964 by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, this volume has been used by students as an introduction to classifying and analyzing the kinship systems of the world. This second edition introduces in a simple, step-by-step style the methods of componential analysis as well as determining the structure of Iroquois, Crow-Omaha, and other kinship systems. A good supplemental text for Introductory Anthropology courses.

Schusky's scholarly research and writing emphasized Sioux Indians (his PhD dissertation studied the Lower Brule Sioux in South Dakota). The Right To Be Indian (1965) is his most reprinted work and Introducing Culture was widely adopted as an introductory text and had four editions. Several of his texts have been published in Korean, Japanese, and Portuguese. Other titles included The Forgotten Sioux and Introduction to Social Science.

In retirement, Schusky began writing fiction based on his lifelong commitment to Native American history and culture. His first novel, Journey to the Sun, described life at Cahokia Mounds ca.1,000 A.D. Other titles include Ride the Whirlwind (Pueblo Indians), Return to Beauty (Navajo) and Too Many Miracles, about the life of a Papago Indian Schusky had interviewed as a graduate student at the University of Arizona. 

Ernest L.Schusky died on December 12, 2019 at age 88.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Ingenuity Makes Flight and Engineering History


NASA's Ingenuity, a small robotic helicopter, made its first flight on Mars on 19 April, 2021. It took off vertically, hovered and landed successfully. Though it was airborne for less than one minute, the drone represents a significant engineering feat.

Getting airborne on the Mars is not easy due to the thin atmosphere. The helicopter was built of extremely light materials and the blades were set to rotate at over 2,500 revolutions per minute.

This flight demonstrated how oxygen (O₂) can be made from Mars' carbon dioxide (CO₂) atmosphere. A device called Moxie was able to generate 5g of O₂ - a sufficient amount of oygen for an astronaut on to breathe for 10 minutes.

Ingenuity has two cameras. A black-and-white camera points down to the ground and is used for navigation. A high-resolution colour camera looks out to the horizon.

The rotorcraft was taken to Mars in Nasa's Perseverance Rover, which touched down in Jezero Crater in February.

Confirmation of the successful first flight came via a Mars satellite which relayed the helicopter's data back to Earth.

Ingenuity made its second flight on Mars 22 April, expanding its flight operations as NASA considers more ambitious tests in the days ahead.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Western Amazon Was a Sea?


Image credit: Tacio Cordeiro Bicudo (University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil)

At intervals during the Miocene (23.03 to 5.333 million years ago) the Caribbean ocean surged into the western Amazon, creating a continuous inland sea. Saltwater currents mixed with fresh water from torrential rains. 

Researchers believe that the periods of flooding were relatively brief. For the majority of the epoch, the ocean receded, leaving a freshwater megawetland of interconnected lakes.

Scientists have found sediments as well as a fossilized shark tooth and a marine mantis shrimp, consistent with two separate Caribbean flooding periods in the last 20 million years. The geological and biological evidence suggests that during the Miocene the western Amazon region was a massive wetland, twice the size of Texas.

Read more here.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Transparent Wood


The piece of glass in the photo was made from wood. (Photo: USDA Forest Service)

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Junyong Zhu in co-collaboration with colleagues from the University of Maryland and University of Colorado have found a better way to make wood transparent. The conventional method involves a long process using chemicals to remove the lignin. In this new effort, the researchers are able to make wood transparent by changing the lignin rather than removing the lignin.

Wood’s lack of transparency comes from the combination of its two main components, cellulose and lignin. The researchers removed lignin molecules that are involved in producing wood color. First, they applied hydrogen peroxide to the wood surface and then exposed the treated wood to UV light (or natural sunlight). The wood was then soaked in ethanol to further clean it. Next, they filled in the pores with clear epoxy to make the wood smooth.

This method produces transparent wood that is 50 times stronger than the old method. The new method will be used to improve solar technology and window production. 

Transparent wood is one of the most promising new materials. The number of uses and benefits has yet to be fully realized. The production of transparent building materials will have an impact on the architecture of the future. It will be possible to live in a glass house made of wood!

Read more here and here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

An Unknown Planet?

The binary stars Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, and in the background the faint red dwarf Alpha Centauri C, also known as Proxima Centauri.

Astronomers have glimpsed what seems to be an unknown planet. In Nature Communications, the research team describes how infrared observations for 100 hours in May and June 2019 revealed a bright dot they have been unable to explain. If confirmed as a planet, the sighting would be the first to directly image an exoplanet around a nearby star.

Scientists spotted the bright dot near Alpha Centauri A, the closest star system to the Earth. It appears to be one of a pair of stars that swing around each other so tightly they appear to be a single star in the southern constellation of Centaurus. The binary star system is 4.37 light years away, a relatively short distance given the expanse of the cosmos. 

The researchers are referring to it as a “planet candidate” until further observations can verify the sighting.

The astronomers used the Very Large Telescope, or VLT, operated by the European Southern Observatory located in Chile’s Atacama Desert. A new coronagraph on the instrument blocks light from Alpha Centauri, making it easier to spot orbiting worlds.

Pete Klupar, the chief engineer of the Breakthrough Initiatives, said,“We’re trying to see a flashlight right next to a lighthouse.”

Read more here.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Amazing Platypus


Platypuses are weird creatures. They are so unusual that it took taxonomists more than eighty years to determine what they are.

An international team of researchers, led by University of Copenhagen biologists, has mapped a complete platypus genome. The study is published in the scientific journal, Nature.

"Australia's beaver-like, duck-billed platypus exhibits an array of bizarre characteristics: it lays eggs instead of giving birth to live babies, sweats milk, has venomous spurs and is even equipped with 10 sex chromosomes. Now, researchers have conducted a unique mapping of the platypus genome and found answers regarding the origins of a few of its stranger features."

One of the platypus' most unusual characteristics is that, while it lays eggs, it also has mammary glands used to feed its babies, not through nipples, but by milk -- which is sweat from its body.

The complete genome has provided us with the answers to how a few of the platypus' bizarre features emerged. At the same time, decoding the genome for platypus is important for improving our understanding of how other mammals evolved -- including us humans. It holds the key as to why we and other eutheria mammals evolved to become animals that give birth to live young instead of egg-laying animals," explains Professor Guojie Zhang of the Department of Biology.

"The platypus belongs to an ancient group of mammals -- monotremes -- which existed millions of years prior to the emergence of any modern-day mammal."

Read more here and here.