Archive for August 1, 2012

Modern culture emerged in Africa 20,000 years earlier than anybody realized


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Modern culture emerged in Africa 20,000 years earlier than anybody realized

 Modern culture emerged in Africa 20,000 years earlier than anybody realized

Archeologists studying the remains of early humans in Africa have unveiled a number of ancient artifacts that push back the advent of modern culture to 44,000 years ago — way earlier than the previous estimates of 22,000 years ago.

The new dates are based on the radiocarbon dating of tools and other items found at Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains near South Africa. And these artifacts reveal a surprisingly sophisticated culture — one that had even learned to harness the power of poisons and beeswax.

Items that can be seen in the image above include a) a wooden digging stick; b) a wooden poison applicator; c) a bone arrow point decorated with a spiral incision filled with red pigment; d) a bone object with four sets of notches; e) a lump of beeswax; and f) ostrich eggshell beads and marine shell beads used as personal ornaments. The image comes courtesy Francesco d’Errico and Lucinda Backwell via LA Times.

The study was conducted by an international team of experts, including researchers from South Africa, France, Italy, Norway, the USA, and Britain. Details of their findings were published yesterday (July 30) in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The archaeological materials uncovered by the anthropologists portray a remarkably complex culture — and one that emerged far earlier than anyone could have imagined. This was around the same time that humans were making their way into Europe, but experts believe there were significant differences between the two groups. Anthropologists refer to this era (which we now know began as early as 44,000 years ago) as the Later Stone Age, comparable to the Upper Paleolithic.

Specific artifacts left behind by these San hunter-gatherer peoples include ostrich eggshell beads, thin bone arrowhead points, wooden digging sticks, a gummy material called pitch that was used to affix bone and stone blades to shafts. There were also worked tusks from a boar-like creature that were used to plane wood, and notched bones that were likely used for counting.

And then there was the remarkable discovery of poison — what would have been (literally) the killer app of hunting technology back then. Chemical analysis indicated that poison was being applied to bone points, a substance that was likely derived from the seeds of castor oil plants (ricinoleic acid). The poison-tipped bone points would have been thrust through the thick hide of a medium or large-sized herbivore — but because this weapon lacked ‘knock-down’ power, it would have been part of a larger, highly skilled attack.

Archeologists also found wooden digging sticks, which were found near bored and broken stones, likely to weigh the sticks down. These devices were probably used by the San culture to dig up bulbs and termite larvae — a practice that continued for tens of thousands of years.

As for the beeswax, which was also dated to 40,000 years ago, it is the oldest specimen known to be used by humans. It was likely used as a kind of adhesive (what’s called hafting), while other specimens wrapped in plant fibers indicate that it was used to make the strings for hunting bows.

The Upper Paleolithic era was characterized by the emergence of complex and new technologies that helped humans survive in both Africa and Europe. These tools included spear-throwers, bone needles with eyelets for sewing furs, bone fishing hooks, bone flutes, and ivory figurines carved from mammoth tusks.

And astonishingly, this study suggests that Upper Paleolithic culture may have roots even earlier than 44,000 years ago — possibly as early as 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. If this is correct, and if new archaeological evidence reaffirms these suspicions, it is quite possible that the first humans to venture into Europe were actually influenced by this phase of African culture.

Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1202629109 and 10.1073/pnas.1204213109.

Inset image via University of Colorado at Boulder.


How do magicians know what card you’re thinking of?


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How do magicians know what card you’re thinking of?


Wanna see a magic trick? Name a playing card out loud. Go ahead, we won’t hear you. Now here’s the trick: it turns out over 50% of people, when asked to name one card in a 52-card deck, choose one of only four cards.

Which card did you choose?

According to newly published research by psychologist (and magician) Jay Olson, if you’re like most people, you selected between the Ace of Spades, the Queen of Spades, the Ace of Hearts, or King of Hearts. Here’s the exact breakdown:

Ace of Spades – 25%
Queen of Spades – 14%
Ace of Hearts – 6%
King of Hearts – 6%

You can find a list of cards and their selection frequencies on Olson’s website. (For those of you too lazy to look it up on your own, only 2.13% of people choose the Queen of Diamonds when they’re asked to name a card. Poor Gob.)

So why do people tend to gravitate toward these cards? That’s something Olson is trying to figure out, in part because it “can shed light on the perception of ordinary objects,” but also because it can “help us understand why magic works in the mind.”

For instance, Olson found that the way you pose a question during a card trick (sorry, cardillusion) can have a significant effect on its outcome. Over at Scientific American, Olson explains that while asking people to name a card gives rise to one set of selection frequencies (the four most frequently chosen cards being the ones listed above), asking someone to visualizea card actually gives a different result:

When asked to visualize a card, people seemed to choose the Ace of Hearts more often. In our sample, they chose it almost twice as often when asked to visualize (11%) rather than name (6%) a card. Perhaps something about the visualization process makes people more likely to think of this particular card.

Systematic studies such as these can help form the basis of a psychology of card magic. Magicians can improve their tricks by knowing which cards people like the best or choose the most. Meanwhile, psychologists can follow up on unexpected findings to understand why people may misreport seeing red Sixes or why the wording of a question may bring different cards to mind.

And this is only the beginning. Applying these results, we can uncover the mechanisms behind the principles of card magic. If magicians can influence the audience’s decisions, what factors enable this influence? Why do people still feel like they have a free choice?

Check out the rest of Olson’s SciAm piece for more details on the surprising results of his study.

Image by Suslik1983 via Shutterstock

The Creepy Gorgeous Fantasy Art of Jeff Simpson

Posted in THE ART on August 1, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

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The Creepy Gorgeous Fantasy Art of Jeff Simpson


This is fantasy art at its most luscious — and skin-crawling. Jeff Simpson did some concept art for Snow White and the Huntsman, including the great early concept for Queen Ravenna, above. But his Deviant Art page is full of startling, gorgeous artworks of weird creatures and seductive, terrible apparitions.

Check out some of our favorite Jeff Simpson artworks below. There’s tons more at the link. [Jeff Simpson on Deviant Art]



Faerie 01


Big Bad Knight

Haste Creature Thing

Kudu Guard




Soul Collector

The Fallout


The Little Mermaid

The First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890s

Posted in THE ART on August 1, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

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The First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890s

Amanda Yesilbas

Next time you gear up for a photoshoot in your sexy gender-swapped cosplay, just remember it’s all been done before. As long as there have been costumes,. there have been sexy variants of characters and uniforms. Back in the 1890s, burlesque dancers were dressing up as fairies, magical creatures, and gender-swapped versions of pirates, crusaders and gentlemen adventurers.

This collection of titillating cards from the Charles H. McCaghy Collection of Exotic Dance from Burlesque to Clubs at Ohio State University shows burlesque actresses from the 1890s in their finery. Many of these images came packaged with cigarettes, making them the 19th Century version of “Alive With Pleasure.”

The themes of these costumes really don’t seem that different from the “sexy” versions of hero costumes you see in comics and video games today — and they definitely bring to mind the current craze for gender-swapped cosplay at conventions. Although there’s no easy explanation for the horse picture — but at least, it does have the interesting caption “The Devil’s Auction.”

Check out more of the images below, and see tons more at the link. [Charles H. McCagy Collection]

The First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890s

The First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890s

The First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890sThe First Ever Cosplay Photos, From the 1890s

Sunken Nazi Submarine Found Just Off the Coast of Nantucket

Posted in WORLD'S HISTORY on August 1, 2012 by 2eyeswatching

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Sunken Nazi Submarine Found Just Off the Coast of Nantucket

 Sunken Nazi Submarine Found Just Off the Coast of Nantucket

It has been well documented that German submarines came disturbingly close to U.S. shores during World War II — but just how close was made all the more apparent by the recent discovery of a German U-550 sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean a mere 70 miles south of Nantucket.

Back in the Spring of 1944, an Allied convoy started to make its way across the Atlantic on its way to Britain. One of the boats, a tanker filled with 140,000 barrels of gasoline, started to lag behind, leaving it vulnerable to a German U-550 submarine patrolling the area. It torpedoed the tanker, and then slipped underneath to hide.

Alerted to its presence, the USS Joyce hit back with a series of depth charges, forcing the sub to the surface. The German sailors manned their deck guns, but the USS Gandy joined in by returning fire and ramming right into it. The USS Peterson then finished the job by sending another barrage of depth charges, sending the U-550 and its crew to the bottom of the ocean. It hadn’t been seen again — at least not until last Monday July 23.

According to the Telegraph, a privately funded team led by New Jersey lawyer Joe Mazraani has confirmed discovery of the submarine in deep waters off the coast of Nantucket. It was their second attempt in two years to find the U-boat, with some team members having been on the case for the past two decades. From the article:

The U-550 is one of several World War II-era German U-boats that have been discovered off the US coast, but it’s the only one that sank in that area, Mazraani said. He said it’s been tough to find largely because military positioning of the battle was imprecise, and searchers had only a general idea where the submarine was when it sank. Kozak noted that the site is far offshore and has only limited windows of good weather.

The team towed a side-scan sonar vessel in a mow-the-lawn pattern over the search area and found the U-550 after covering 100 square miles of ocean, between the trip this year and last year, Mr Kozak said.

Just the nose of U-boat was visible on sonar on the first pass, but the team was delirious after the second pass. when the sonar image made it obvious they’d found it, Mazraani said. Quick dives to the wreck to beat bad weather confirmed the find with pictures.

Mr Mazraani is cagey about the vessel’s precise location, saying only that it’s in deep water. Mazraani’s said his best estimate was that the team spent thousands of dollars of its own money on the expedition. He joked that no one on the team, whose members range in age from the mid-20s to mid-50s, stands to make money from the find unless someone writes a book.

Mr Mazraani said the next step is to contact any sailors or their families from the escort vessels, the tanker and the German U-boat to share the news and show the pictures. Another trip to the site is coming, he said, adding the investigation has just started.

Read more about it here.

Images via Telegraph.

Nasal hallucinations can make your life Hell


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Nasal hallucinations can make your life Hell

Some people have no sense of smell whatsoever, and they’re not a happy lot. (Most famously, Stevie Wonder lost his sense of smell in a 1973 car accident.) But as bad as having no sense of smell is, nasal hallucinations are much, much worse.

Imagine if your nose decided to invent smells, often at random. This is called phantosmia — olfactory hallucinations — and it can make your life a living Hell.

Most people, if asked which sense they would most be willing to jettison, would pick their sense of smell. Although it certainly does help people know when something’s burning on the stove, and though it does add richness to your sense of taste, it’s just not as prevalent as any other sense. It’s possible to go for days without consciously even noticing a smell.

One of the reasons it’s so easy to not notice smells, is they come from the outside and are factored through a weak sense. Olfactory hallucinations, on the other hand, are not from an outside source. They originate inside the brain, and the brain is a very powerful organ. People with no sense of smell report a drop in quality of life — but it’s nothing compared to people who are parosmic or phantosmic. Parosmia is a distorted sense of smell. Whenever someone hands you a flower you smell rotten fish. Baking bread smells caustic. Phantosmia is when smells hit you out of the blue, with no possible trigger.

Although phantom or distorted odors can be signs of brain injury — they’re one of the warning signals for a stroke, a seizure, or a tumor — they’re also the result of malfunctioning noses. Plenty of cases are brought on by serious infections that damage the lining of the nose. In some cases, only one nostril picks them up, and anesthetizing it can cure the problem. In almost all others, the less a nostril can process real odors, the more likely it is to make them up.

Unlike real smells, hallucinations of smells don’t go away. People can’t turn away from them or open a window to dispel them. Some don’t even have the ability to get used to the smells. One woman smelled dirt for a year, no matter what else she smelled, it was accompanied by the aroma of dirt. After her husband burned chili one night, that smell replaced the dirt. A few years later, after a trip to France, she noticed that the scent of lavender had followed her back, and nothing she smeared under her nose took the scent away. Everyday activities became frightening, because she was never able to control what smell would take over her nose. One day she was terrified that manure had replaced lavender, only to find that gardeners had spread it on soil outside, and it did fade when she left the house. Another sufferer had to deal with on-and-off week-long hallucinations of cigarette smoke.

Parosmia is no picnic either. One woman spent seventeen years with intermittent bouts of parosmia. During active periods, if she was exposed to any smell her brain interpreted it as overwhelmingly putrid. During these times it was hard to do anything and nearly impossible to eat anything. Many patients lose weight copiously, since it’s impossible to enjoy a meal that smells like sulfur, ammonia, or rotting food.

Top Image: Jebulon

Via Oxford JournalsNY TimesAncient Reflection, and the New Zealand Herald.

Bad news: the chemicals in your IV bag could be giving you diabetes


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Bad news: the chemicals in your IV bag could be giving you diabetes


Ever heard of phthalates? They’re a class of chemicals used to soften plastics found in everything from household containers to medical supplies, and to stabilize colors and fragrances in cosmetics like lipstick and perfume.

The most widely known phthalate is probably bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been linked to breast cancer and a whole mess of complications with hormone regulation.* One of the most widely used phthalates is Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). DEHP is a plasticizer commonly used in IV bags and tubing, and newly published research shows that exposure to DEHP is linked to high blood glucose levels and insulin resistance — two precursors of type II diabetes. The study also reveals that high rates of exposure to phthalates may as much as double the rate of diabetes in black and Mexican American women.

Environmental Health News’ Crystal Gammon reports:

In the new research, certain phthalates – dibutyl phthalates (DBP), which are primarily used in adhesives and lacquer finishes, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a component of vinyl flooring, caulks and sealants – were linked to double the rate of diabetes in women with the highest levels of phthalate markers in their urine, according to the report published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives.

DBP and Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a plasticizer found in vinyl products including IV bags and tubing, were also linked to higher blood glucose levels and insulin resistance, two common precursors of type 2 diabetes, according to the study.

Industry groups are obviously pushing back on these findings, and hard. Steve Risotto, senior director fo the American Chemistry Council, a trade association for chemical manufacturers, described the researchers’ experimental methods as “flawed,” and while study co-author Richard Stahlhut cedes that her team’s results are preliminary, she and her colleagues are confident in their results:

These findings are important clues, but it’s only a first step… It’s extremely likely that phthalates and other chemical contaminants will turn out to be a big part of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, but at this point we really don’t know how these chemicals are interacting with each other, or with the human body.[emphasis added]

The researchers’ findings are published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Read Gammon’s in-depth coverage of the newly published research over at Environmental Health News.

*Correction: While it is commonly used in the production of plastics, and its adverse health effects have been well documented, bisphenol-A is NOT a phthalate. As @chemjobber rightfully pointed out on twitter, the phthalate esters used in plastics are derivatives of phthalic acid. BPA is not a derivative of phthalic acid. It’s not even an ester. Needless to say, it’s not a phthalate.