Neanderthals and the Great Climate Change Swindle

In a recently conducted study, a multidisciplinary French-American research team with expertise in archaeology, past climates, and ecology reported that Neanderthal extinction was principally a result of competition with Cro-Magnon populations, rather than the consequences of climate change.

The study, reported in the online, open-access journal PLoS ONE on December 24, figures in the ongoing debate on the reasons behind the eventual disappearance of Neanderthal populations, which occupied Europe prior to the arrival of human populations like us around 40,000 years ago. Led by Dr William E. Banks, the authors, who belong to the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, l’Ecole Pratique d’Hautes Etudes, and the University of Kansas, reached their conclusion by reconstructing climatic conditions during this period and analyzing the distribution of archaeological sites associated with the last Neanderthals and the first modern human populations with an approach typically used to study the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

This method uses geographic locations of archaeological sites dated by radiocarbon, in conjunction with high-resolution simulations of past climates for specific periods, and employs an algorithm to analyze relationships between the two datasets to reconstruct potential areas occupied by each human population and to determine if and how climatic conditions played a role in shaping these areas. In other words, by integrating archaeological and paleoenvironmental datasets, this predictive method can reconstruct the regions that a past population could potentially have occupied. By repeating the modeling process hundreds of times and evaluating where the errors occur, this machine-learning algorithm is able to provide robust predictions of regions that could have been occupied by specific human cultures.

This modeling approach also allows the projection of the ecological footprint of one culture onto the environmental conditions of a later climatic phase―by comparing this projected prediction to the known archaeological sites dated to this later period, it is possible to determine if the ecological niche exploited by this human population remained the same, or if it contracted or expanded during that period of time.

Comparing these reconstructed areas for Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans during each of the climatic phases concerned, and by projecting each niche onto the subsequent climatic phases, Banks and colleagues determined that Neanderthals had the possibility to maintain their range across Europe during a period of less severe climatic conditions called Greenland Interstadial 8 (GI8).

However, the archaeological record shows that this did not occur, and Neanderthal disappearance occurs at a point when we see the geographic expansion of the ecological niche occupied by modern humans during GI8. The researchers’ models predict the southern limit of the modern human territory to be near the Ebro River Valley in northern Spain during the preceding cold period called Heinrich Event 4 (H4), and that this southern boundary moved to the south during the more temperate phase GI8.

The researchers conclude that the Neanderthal populations that occupied what is now southern Spain were the last to survive because they were able to avoid direct competition with modern humans since the two populations exploited distinct territories during the cold climatic conditions of H4. They also point out that during this population event contact between Neanderthals and modern humans may have permitted cultural and genetic exchanges.

Source: Public Library of Science


This is news?  It’s absurd to think that climate change was the determinate factor in the fall of the Neanderthals, especially considering Neanderthals were living “side by side” with Homo sapiens.  The evidence has always leaned strongly to towards the idea that Neanderthals were out competed for resources.  No doubt climate change can make times difficult, but to label it the smoking gun in the extinction of a species is just ridiculous.

Now, publish some literature on Neanderthal speech, interbreeding with modern humans, or Neanerthals in North America (yeah, right!) and we’ll talk!

As a side note, I’d like this for my birthday.

The Death of VHS and the Archaeology of Media

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Pop culture is finally hitting the eject button on the VHS tape, the once-ubiquitous home-video format that will finish this month as a creaky ghost of Christmas past.

After three decades of steady if unspectacular service, the spinning wheels of the home-entertainment stalwart are slowing to a halt at retail outlets. On a crisp Friday morning in October, the final truckload of VHS tapes rolled out of a Palm Harbor, Fla., warehouse run by Ryan J. Kugler, the last major supplier of the tapes.

“It’s dead, this is it, this is the last Christmas, without a doubt,” said Kugler, 34, a Burbank businessman. “I was the last one buying VHS and the last one selling it, and I’m done. Anything left in warehouse we’ll just give away or throw away.”


Do you remember your first VHS tape?  More importantly do you still own it?  I’d have to answer yes to both questions.  My family’s first VHS tape was one containing two Queen music videos that my father used to run at his bar, Studio I.  According to him, when he’d purchased the tape (possibly in 79-80) it had cost him a couple hundred dollars.  Back then VHS was  the hot new thing.  The tape still resides under the entertainment center at my family home, along with a few other veterans of the Home Video War.

The first VHS tape I clearly remember handling was a bootleg copy of Star Wars (Not Star Wars: A New Hope, STAR WARS), which I’m pretty sure predated Return of the Jedi.  It didn’t have a box, or even a title on the tape, just a small piece of aged masking tape stuck on the top that red ‘Star Wars’ in pencil.  As a child I watched it HUNDREDS of times, in fact the little plastic rectangle had been played, rewound and ejected so many times that the tape itself was in pretty deplorable shape.  But it still survives to this day.

Lastly, from the bizarro realm, I recall a copy of the original Halloween, also a bootleg.  Interestingly though, when the film had been copied, the settings had been all wonky and the tape copied in black and white.  For the longest time, I thought that’s how the movie had been shot.  In fact, it was only at the end of the 90s that I learned otherwise.  I’m not sure if that tape survives to this day, but if you ever can find a way to view the original Halloween in black and white, do it… its a totally different movie. 

The archaeologist in me begs to ask: why?  Why does my family still cling to these artifacts?  Clearly we never plan to use them again.

I guess in one case, its value.  The Queen music video cost a lot of money and despite the fact that nowadays you can’t even give away VHS, the fact remains that it was a costly purchase.  Its inherent value to my father has never decreased.  Because the price paid for it will never be reclaimed, its initial value will always be ascribed.

In the case of Star Wars, I have an artifact with irreplaceable nostalgic value.  My *first* copy of Star Wars.  Before ROTJ, before the first trilogy collection, the second, the third, the laserdisc, the Special Edition, the Ultimate Editions, and the DVDS.

My copy of Star Wars represents a point in time.  It is an artifact of my childhood, like a toy or a photograph.  It is an artifact that through hundreds of viewings shaped my character and drove my imagination.

The VHS also represents a form of exposure to a piece of cinematography that 80% of the world has seen.  The way we experience something is just as important as the experience itself.  The tracking lines, poor audio quality and playback speed all added to my initial viewing experience as a child.

Lastly, it represents an accomplishment.  How many people nowadays can say they own the first copy of Star Wars they ever watched?

Males dominated ‘out-of-Africa’ migration 60,000 years ago

Men significantly outnumbered women in the “out-of-Africa” migration some 60,000 years ago that eventually populated the rest of the world, according to a new study.

Africa is known to be the cradle of human evolution, and recent studies show that the peoples today inhabiting other continents originate from a relatively small band of Homo sapiens sapiens who moved through the Near East, into Europe and beyond some 50,000 and 70,000 years ago.

But until now no one had figured out a way to determine what the sex-ratio of this so-called founding population might have been.

A quartet of researchers led by Alon Keinan at the Harvard Medical School thought that the secret might be locked inside differences in genetic code across distinct geographic regions.

They knew that the percentage of X chromosomes in a given population varies depending on the proportion of men.

The “X” and “Y” chromosomes determine sex — men have one of each, while women have two X chromosomes. The other 22 chromosome pairings in the human genome are all the same.

It was also known that this ratio affects the rate at which mutations randomly spread through the X chromosome over dozens or hundreds of generations as compared to the mutation rate in other, non-sex, chromosomes.

Keinan and colleagues reasoned that if X-chromosomes changed more quickly than expected, then it almost certainly meant that our common ancestors who wandered out of Africa were predominantly male.

To test their theory, they compared the genetic makeup of Africans first with northern Europeans, and then again with Asians.

“The results point to a period of accelerated drift on chromosome X that largely occurred after the split of West Africa and non-Africans, but before the separation of North Europeans and East Asian,” the conclude.

Genetic drift is a term that refers to random mutations in genes, as opposed to changes that occur through natural selection.

Keinan acknowledged that if a small fraction of the women in the migratory exodus from Africa had given birth to all of the children, there might still have been parity in the number of males and females.

But this seemed highly unlikely, he said, adding that his findings were “in line with what anthropologists have taught us about hunter-gatherer populations in which short distance migration is primarily by women and long distance migration primarily by men.”

The study was published in Nature Publishing Group’s journal Nature Genetics.

This article was taken from

Obama Announces Members of His Science and Technology Team

On Decmeber 20, President Elect Barack Obama announced the four members of his Science and Technology Team.  These four individuals will guide Mr. Obama on all matters regarding science and technology.

These members include:

Dr. John Holdren who will serve as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  He is a professor and Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, as well as President and Director of the Woods Hole Research Center.

Dr. Holdren has received numerous honors and awards for his work on climate and enerhy and has been one of the most passionate and persistent voices of our time about the growing threat of climate change.

Dr. Holdren will also serve as a Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology – or PCAST – as will Dr. Harold Varmus and Dr. Eric Lander.

Dr. Varmus won a Nobel Prize in 1989 for his research on the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes.

Dr. Eric Lander is the Founding Director of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard and was one of the driving forces behind mapping the human genome – one of the greatest scientific achievements in history.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco has will serve as the Administrator of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is devoted to conserving marine and coastal resources and monitoring the Earth’s weather.

New species of extinct animals found in Sahara

British and Moroccan scientists said Tuesday they had found the remains of two new species of extinct animals in the Saharan desert, describing the find as one of the most important of the past 50 years.

The team of paleontologists said they had unearthed a new species of pterosaur, a flying reptile from the Mesozoic era, and a new type of sauropod, a giant four-legged herbivore from the Jurassic period.

The two animals, which were found in southeast Morroco near the Algerian border, date back around 100 million years, Portsmouth University said in a statement.

Paleontologists from the southern English university made the find with others from University College Dublin in Ireland (UCD), and the Universite Hassan II in Casablanca in Morocco.

Researchers found what they described as a large fragment of a beak from a giant flying reptile, along with bone from a sauropod measuring more than a metre (3.3 feet) in length.

The bone from the sauropod — which is classed as a dinosaur unlike the pterosaur — indicates that it was around 20 metres (65 feet) in length.

“Finding two specimens in one expedition is remarkable, especially as both might well represent completely new species,” said Nizar Ibrahim, a UCD expert on North African dinosaurs who led the expedition.

The discoveries will be return to Morocco and put on display after they are studied in Dublin.

Homo floresiensis fossils represent a new species


University of Minnesota anthropology professor Kieran McNulty (along with colleague Karen Baab of Stony Brook University in New York) has made an important contribution toward solving one of the greatest paleoanthropological mysteries in recent history — that fossilized skeletons resembling a mythical “hobbit” creature represent an entirely new species in humanity’s evolutionary chain.

Discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, controversy has surrounded the fossilized hominid skeletons of the so-called “hobbit people,” or Homo floresiensis ever since. Experts are still debating whether the 18,000-year-old remains merely belong to a diminutive population of modern-day humans (with one individual exhibiting “microcephaly,” an abnormally small head) or represent a previously unrecognized branch in humanity’s family tree.

Using 3D modeling methods, McNulty and his fellow researchers compared the cranial features of this real-life “hobbit” to those of a simulated fossil human (of similar stature) to determine whether or not such a species was distinct from modern humans.

“[Homo floresiensis] is the most exciting discovery in probably the last 50 years,” said McNulty. “The specimens have skulls that resemble something that died a million years earlier, and other body parts reminiscent of our three-million-year-old human ancestors, yet they lived until very recently — contemporaries with modern humans.”

Comparing the simulation to the original Flores skull discovered in 2003, McNulty and Baab were able to demonstrate conclusively that the original “hobbit” skull fits the expectations for a small fossil hominin species and not a modern human. Their study was published online this month in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The cranial structure of the fossilized skull, says the study, clearly places it in humanity’s genus Homo, even though it would be smaller in both body and brain size than any other member. The results of the study suggest that the theorized “hobbit” species may have undergone a process of size reduction after branching off from Homo erectus (one of modern day humanity’s distant ancestors) or even something more primitive.

“We have shown with this study that the process of size reduction applied to fossil hominins accounts for many features seen in the fossil skull from Flores,” McNulty said. “It becomes much more difficult, therefore, to defend the hypothesis that the preserved skull is a modern human who simply suffered from an extremely rare disorder.

Public interest in the discovery, analysis and implications of Flores “hobbits” has been high ever since 2003, inspiring several television specials (including a recent episode of “NOVA” entitled “Alien From Earth”) and other media attention.

While the debate over Homo floresiensis will continue, McNulty believes this comprehensive analysis of the relationship between size and shape in human evolution is a critical step toward eventually understanding the place of the Flores “hobbits” in human evolutionary history.

“I think the majority of researchers favor recognizing this as a new species,” McNulty said about the categorization of Homo floresiensis. “The evidence is becoming overwhelming, and this study helps confirm that view.”

Source: University of Minnesota


I was on this article like Pliocene on Miocene!  Homo floresiensis has been a hot topic in the archaeology world since 2003, sort of like the Britney Spears of fossils- you never knew what was going to happen next in the saga!  Now things are taking a turn for the deeply interesting and I find myself with the obsessive desire to get my hands on the next edition of the Journal of Human Evolution.  Adding a new species to the Homo genus is big news  and if the scientific evidence supports doing so then add floresiensis to my spell checker!

Now up until very recently, the popular hypothesis used to explain H. floresiensis is that they were individuals born without a functioning thyroid, resulting from a type of endemic cretinism (a condition that develops from a diet deficient in iodine).  This new research indicates that H. floresiensis is in fact not a modern human with a rare health condition, but a seperate species that branched off from Homo erectus, or another more distant relative, some time ago.

I invite you to head over to ScienceDirect and read the article for yourself.  As always, comments and debate are welcome.

Bristol University research makes TIME magazine’s Top 10

Four research projects in which Bristol University is closely involved have been included in TIME magazine’s Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs and Scientific Discoveries of the Year 2008.

Named at No 1 in the Top 10 Scientific Discoveries list is the largest scientific experiment in the world, the Large Hadron Collider. The experiment recreated conditions that existed just a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, and seeks to answer to some of the deepest mysteries of the origins and workings of our universe.

The experiment involved a worldwide team of experts, including scientists from the University’s Department of Physics, who designed and constructed crucial parts of the two detectors known as the CMS and LHC. They also focused on the interpretation of the vast amount of data produced by the LHC – enough to create a 20km high tower of CDs every year, and eagerly awaited by scientists around the world.

Named at No 2 in the Top 10 Scientific Discoveries list is NASA’s Phoenix probe mission to Mars, which completed its 422 million mile journey and landed safely on Mars where it began its search for water and life. UK scientists involved in the mission included Professor David Catling from the University’s Department of Earth Sciences, who was present at the University of Arizona’s Science Operations Centre for the landing. One of Phoenix’s objectives was to monitor the polar weather and the interaction of the atmosphere with the surface.

Named at No 10 in the Top 10 Scientific Discoveries list is research, led by the University of Adelaide and carried out by Dr Alistair Pike from the University’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, which revealed the earliest evidence of a nuclear family, dating back to the Stone Age.

The researchers dated remains from four multiple burials discovered in Germany in 2005. The 4,600-year-old graves contained groups of adults and children buried facing each other – an unusual practice in Neolithic culture.

This is the second year that Dr Pike’s research has made TIME magazine’s Top 10 Scientific Discoveries. His discovery of the first fossil evidence, which revealed that modern humans left Africa between 65,000 and 25,000 years, was named at No 8 in the magazine’s Top 10 Scientific Discoveries of 2007.

Dr Pike said: “I’m thrilled to have made TIME magazine’s Top 10 two years in a row. It shows the immense interest there is in archaeology and human origins, and how a scientific approach is essential in understating the past.”

Named at No 10 in the Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs list is stem cell research carried out by Professor Martin Birchall and Professor Anthony Hollander from the University’s Medical Science Faculty. Their work, together with the pan-European team from the universities of Barcelona, Padua and Milan, enabled the first tissue-engineered trachea (windpipe), utilising the patient’s own stem cells, to be successfully transplanted into a young woman with a failing airway. The bioengineered trachea immediately provided the patient with a normally functioning airway, thereby saving her life.

More information available here: TIME magazine‘s Top 10 Discoveries of the Year 2008

New York: We’re gonna tax the fun out of you!

Governor Patterson proposed nearly 90 new fees Tuesday in an attempt to close a 15.4 billion dollar budget gap.

“We’re going to have to take some extreme measures,” Paterson said Tuesday after unveiling his fun dampering new budget.

The proposal, which still needs legislative approval, did not include broad-based income tax increases, but relied on smaller ones to raise $4.1 billion from cash-strapped New Yorkers.

Movie tickets, taxi rides, soda, beer, wine, cigars and massages would be taxed under Paterson’s proposal. It also extends sales taxes to cable and satellite TV services and removes the tax exemption for clothes costing less than $110.

“You’re sending notice to the people of New York that we really don’t want you here,” Long said. “The governor proposed flat spending, but why not actually cut the budget before raising taxes and fees?”

For example, some of the items the state is considering raising fees and taxes on include:

  • An “iPod tax” that charges state and local sales tax for “digitally delivered entertainment services” – in other words, that new Beyonce song you download.
  • State sales tax at movie theaters, sporting events, taxis, buses, limousines and cable and satellite TV and radio.
  • Costlier driving with the repeal of the 8-cents-per-gallon sales tax cap on motor and diesel motor fuel, plus and increase in the auto rental tax.
  • Tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY, $620 and $600 a year respectively.
  • A 50 cent tax on cigars. The current tax is equal to 37% of the wholesale price, or 34 cents a cigar.
  • No more sales tax break on clothes and shoes worth $110 or less, except during two weeks a year.
  • Higher taxes on wine, beer and flavored malt beverages. He would also impose an 18% tax on non-nutritional drinks like soda.
  • The rich would pay more for luxury items through an additional 5% tax imposed on cars costing more than $60,000, aircraft costing more than $500,000, yachts costing at least $200,000 and jewelry and furs costing in excess of $20,000.
  • In addition, a host of a fees, including those related to motor vehicle licensing and registration, parks and auto insurance, would go up, as would various state-imposed fines.
  • A 3.3%, or $698 million, reduction in school aid.
  • $3.5 billion in health care savings, including reductions in payments to hospitals and nursing homes.
  • Video slot machines at Belmont Park, more multistate lottery games and expanded hours for the state’s Quick Draw lottery game.
  • Layoffs for 521 state workers and the elimination of seven state agencies.

“We will be fighting this tooth and nail. We think it is irresponsible to make this level of cuts and not ask the wealthiest New Yorkers to help ease the pain,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who supports a so-called millionaire tax, has said he’d “rather have a broad-based tax than nickel-and-dime” people.

Still, Silver (D-Manhattan) Tuesday indicated major cuts are in store. “Everything the governor has proposed is on the table,” he said.

Republican lawmakers expressed concern with the tax and fee increases.

“Instead of raising taxes, we need to be reducing them,” said Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R-Schenectady).

Paterson did not rule out income tax increases but said spending reductions are the priority. He also defended the fee and sales tax increases, saying they would be less harmful to the state’s economy.

“If you start taxing at times when [revenues are] receding, you’ll drive job creators out of the state,” Paterson said.


A poll on indicated that  33% of readers would feel the most strain with the raise in college tuition costs.

I agree.

Photo of the Day – The View From Avalon

Glastonbury, UK
December 2008

Glastonbury Tor is a hill at Glastonbury, Somerset, England, which features the roofless St. Michael’s Tower. The site is managed by the National Trust. Tor is a local word of Celtic origin meaning ‘conical hill’. The Tor has a striking location in the middle of a plain called the Summerland Meadows, part of the Somerset Levels. The plain is actually reclaimed fenland out of which the Tor rose like an island, but now, with the surrounding flats, is a peninsula washed on three sides by the River Brue. The remains of Glastonbury Lake Village were identified in 1892, showing that there was an Iron Age settlement about 300–200 BC on what was an easily defended island in the fens. Earthworks and Roman remains prove later occupation. The spot seems to have been called Ynys yr Afalon by the Britons, and it is believed to be the Avalon of Arthurian legend.

Late Neanderthals and modern human contact in southeastern Iberia

It is widely accepted that Upper Paleolithic early modern humans spread westward across Europe about 42,000 years ago, displacing and absorbing Neanderthal populations in the process. However, Middle Paleolithic assemblages persisted for another 8,000 years in Iberia, presumably made by Neanderthals. It has been unclear whether these late Middle Paleolithic Iberian assemblages were made by Neanderthals, and what the nature of those humans might have been.

New research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is now shedding some light on what were probably the last Neanderthals.

The research is based on a study of human fossils found during the past decade at the Sima de la Palomas, Murcia, Spain by Michael Walker, professor at Universidad de Murcia, and colleagues, and published by Michael Walker, João Zilhão and Alistair Pike, from the University of Bristol, and colleagues.

The human fossils from the upper levels of the Sima de las Palomas are anatomically clearly Neanderthals, and they are now securely dated to 40,000 years ago. They therefore establish the late persistence of Neanderthals in this southwestern cul-de-sac of Europe. This reinforces the conclusion that the Neanderthals were not merely swept away by advancing modern humans. The behavioral differences between these human groups must have been more subtle than the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic technological contrasts might imply.

In addition, the Palomas Neanderthals variably exhibit a series of modern human features rare or absent in earlier Neanderthals. Either they were evolving on their own towards the modern human pattern, or more likely, they had contact with early modern humans around the Pyrenees. If the latter, it implies that the persistence of the Middle Paleolithic in Iberia was a matter of choice, and not cultural retardation.

From the Sima de las Palomas, other late Neanderthal sites, and recent discoveries of the earliest modern humans across Europe, a complex picture is emerging of shifting contact between behaviorally similar, if culturally and biologically different, human populations. We are coming to see them all more as people, flexibly making a living through the changing human and natural landscapes of the Late Pleistocene.

Source: Bristol University website

Upstate NY explorers ID rare boat in Lake Ontario

Two explorers conducting underwater surveys of Lake Ontario have uncovered an aquatic mystery – a rare 19th-century schooner sitting upright 500 feet under the waves.

Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville located the 55-foot long dagger-board ship unexpectedly this fall using deep scan sonar equipment off the lake’s southern shore, west of Rochester.

The ship is the only dagger-board known to have been found in the Great Lakes. Kennard said vessels of this type were used for a short time in the early 1800s. The dagger-board was a wood panel that could be extended through the keel to improve the ship’s stability. The dagger-boards could be raised when the schooner entered a shallow harbor, allowing the boat to load and unload cargo in locations that would not otherwise be accessible to larger ships.

The shipwreck was found upright and in remarkable condition considering it had plunged more than 500 feet to its resting place on the bottom, the men said.

The schooner’s origin is a mystery so far.

The name of the schooner is unknown and there are no documented accounts of a dagger-board schooner sinking in Lake Ontario.

The explorers suspect the schooner was being converted to a barge or other sailing craft by its owners and perhaps broke free from its moorings in the ice or during a violent storm and was carried far out on the lake before it eventually sank.

The men found it on the very last survey run of the season. A faint image of something protruding from the bottom showed up at the very edge of the display screen, and another run was made to obtain a better image and the position of the object.

The two explorers returned to the site two weeks later and used a remote operated vehicle to explore and photograph the shipwreck.

It appeared from the video survey of the shipwreck that the schooner had been stripped of all useable items such as anchors, iron fittings, cabin with contents, and tiller, Kennard said.

During the past several months, the explorers have been seeking help from Great Lakes maritime historians to learn more about the schooner.

The dagger-board schooner is one of the older ships discovered in Lake Ontario and the Great Lakes.

In May 2008, Kennard and Scoville discovered the British warship HMS Ontario, which was lost in 1780. The Ontario is the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Great Lakes and the only British warship of this period still in existence in the world.

There are estimated to have been over 4,700 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, including about 550 in Lake Ontario.


Photo of the Day – Exercise Tiger

Slapton Sands, UK
September 2008

Exercise Tiger was the code name for two military exercises held in the United Kingdom during the Second World War. The first, conducted in 1942, was an Army-level exercise by Commonwealth forces and the largest ever held in the UK up to then. The second, in 1944, was a full-scale rehearsal for the D-Day invasion of Normandy and led to the deaths of more than 700 American troops as a result of both blunders by the Allied forces and enemy attack by German motor torpedo boats (E-boats).

Decline Of Roman And Byzantine Empires 1,400 Years Ago May Have Been Driven By Climate Change


The decline of the Roman and Byzantine Empires in the Eastern Mediterranean more than 1,400 years ago may have been driven by unfavorable climate changes.

Based on chemical signatures in a piece of calcite from a cave near Jerusalem, a team of American and Israeli geologists pieced together a detailed record of the area’s climate from roughly 200 B.C. to 1100 A.D. Their analysis, to be reported in an upcoming issue of the journal Quaternary Research, reveals increasingly dry weather from 100 A.D. to 700 A.D. that coincided with the fall of both Roman and Byzantine rule in the region.

The researchers, led by University of Wisconsin-Madison geology graduate student Ian Orland and professor John Valley, reconstructed the high-resolution climate record based on geochemical analysis of a stalagmite from Soreq Cave, located in the Stalactite Cave Nature Reserve near Jerusalem.

“It looks sort of like tree rings in cross-section. You have many concentric rings and you can analyze across these rings, but instead of looking at the ring widths, we’re looking at the geochemical composition of each ring,” says Orland.

Using oxygen isotope signatures and impurities — such as organic matter flushed into the cave by surface rain — trapped in the layered mineral deposits, Orland determined annual rainfall levels for the years the stalagmite was growing, from approximately 200 B.C. to 1100 A.D.

While cave formations have previously been used as climate indicators, past analyses have relied on relatively crude sampling tools, typically small dental drills, which required averaging across 10 or even 100 years at a time. The current analysis used an advanced ion microprobe in the Wisconsin Secondary-Ion Mass-Spectrometer (Wisc-SIMS) laboratory to sample spots just one-hundredth of a millimeter across. That represents about 100 times sharper detail than previous methods. With such fine resolution, the scientists were able to discriminate weather patterns from individual years and seasons.

Their detailed climate record shows that the Eastern Mediterranean became drier between 100 A.D. and 700 A.D., a time when Roman and Byzantine power in the region waned, including steep drops in precipitation around 100 A.D. and 400 A.D. “Whether this is what weakened the Byzantines or not isn’t known, but it is an interesting correlation,” Valley says. “These things were certainly going on at the time that those historic changes occurred.”

The team is now applying the same techniques to older samples from the same cave. “One period of interest is the last glacial termination, around 19,000 years ago — the most recent period in Earth’s history when the whole globe experienced a warming of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius,” Orland says.

Formations from this period of rapid change may help them better understand how weather patterns respond to quickly warming temperatures.

Soreq Cave — at least 185,000 years old and still active — also offers the hope of creating a high-resolution long-term climate change record to parallel those generated from Greenland and Antarctic ice cores.

“No one knows what happened on the continents… At the poles, the climate might have been quite different,” says Valley. “This is a record of what was going on in a very different part of the world.”

In addition to Valley and Orland, the paper was authored by Miryam Bar-Matthews and Avner Ayalon from the Geological Survey of Israel, Alan Matthews of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Noriko Kita of UW-Madison.

Funding for the project is from the Comer Science and Education Foundation, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, Israel Science Foundation, Sigma Xi, and the UW-Madison Department of Geology and Geophysics.


There is an old saying about learning from the past.  Actually, there are hundreds of sayings and pretty much all of them apply here.

The purpose of archaeology is to explore the past for clues to the future.  Given the current state of the environment and the downward spiral it has been on for at least the past fifty years, let’s take this as a bright shinning example that climate change can radically affect cultrue.

Expedition uncovers ancient citadel in Peruvian jungle

A team of archaeologists on Tuesday announced they had discovered a fortified citadel in the remote Amazonian rainforest of northeast Peru that appears to be from the pre-Inca era.

The main encampment comprises circular stone houses overgrown by lush jungle over an area of five hectares (12 acres), said archaeologist Benedict Goicochea Perez, quoted by the official Andina news agency.

The citadel sits atop a chasm that the former inhabitants may have used as a lookout to spy on approaching enemies, said Goicochea Perez.

Rock paintings cover some of the fortifications, and next to the dwellings are large platforms believed to have been used to grind seeds and wild plants for food and medicine, he said.

The citadel is tucked away in the remote Jamalca district of Utcubamba province, part of the northern Amazonas department, said Jamalca Mayor Ricardo Cabrera Bravo, who had joined the expedition.

The area, about 800 kilometers (497 miles) northeast of Lima, is famed for its vast, isolated natural beauty, surrounded by verdant foliage and soaring waterfalls, said Cabrera Bravo.

The citadel likely belonged to the Chachapoyas civilization — an ancient people whose glory days over a thousand years ago pre-date the hegemony of the powerful Incas.

The Chachapoyas culture (known as the Cloud Forest people) also built the imposing Kuelap fortress atop a mountain in Utcubamba, which can only be compared in scale to the Inca’s Machu Picchu retreat, built hundreds of years later.