Nature neuroscience

Every day I set out for the forest with my dog. I’ll admit that I am often vexed or grumpy when we enter the woods, having dealt with hours of computer frustration or human stupidity. But somehow, the forest fixes it all. If I walk long enough, my world is set right, and I wonder why I do anything but walk in the woods.

So this NYT article caught my attention: Get Out of Here: Scientists Examine the Benefits of Forests, Birdsong and Running Water.

Imagine a miracle drug that could ease many of the stresses of modern life — a combination mood enhancer and smart pill that might even encourage the remission of cancer. Now imagine that this cure-all was an old-fashioned folk remedy: Just take a hike in the woods or a walk in the park. No prescription necessary.

That’s the proposition of Florence Williams’s fascinating “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.” We suffer from an “epidemic dislocation from the outdoors,” Williams writes, and it’s destructive to our mental and physical health. The therapy is straightforward. “The more nature, the better you feel.” (…)

It’s all very encouraging, but how exactly does nature have such an effect on people? To answer that question, Williams shadows researchers on three continents who are working on the frontiers of nature neuroscience. [continue]

Norwegian ‘anti-troll’ site makes you read before commenting

From phys.org: Norway ‘anti-troll’ site makes you read before commenting.

A Norwegian site may have found the key to muzzling malicious commenters on the internet: requiring people to read an article before discussing it.

As an experiment, NRKbeta, a media and technology subsidiary of public broadcaster NRK, has since mid-February required viewers to correctly answer three questions about articles before being able to comment on them. [continue]

That’s an interesting approach. Do you think it will work?

Meanwhile, Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC, has this absurd comment policy:

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada’s online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

How crazy is that? It would take zero effort for me to post a comment under your name, or some fictitious name. And what evidence is there, anyway, that a ‘real name required’ comment policy does any good? Grr.

But back to the Norwegian site. It’s at https://nrkbeta.no, so take a look at it if you like. But of course it’s all in Norwegian.

One ocean, many killer whale cultures

I’ve marvelled at the killer whales here, but it had never crossed my mind that killer whale culture might differ from place to place. But maybe it does! From Hakai Magazine: One Ocean, Many Killer Whale Cultures.

In the cold, dark waters off the southern tip of Iceland, killer whales work together to corral fish into tight balls, taking turns to stun and devour them. Groups of up to 200 whales will enter the fray, feeding on these concentrated schools of herring. A few months later, some of these same whales will be 1,000 kilometers away, working in small groups to hunt seals along the Scottish coast.

The observation that Icelandic killer whales are fluid in both their choice of prey and their group size surprised researchers studying the whales’ social structure. This behavior, discovered by Sara Tavares of Scotland’s University of St Andrews, was unlike that of the intensively studied killer whales of the northeast Pacific, which have more rigid and hierarchical relationships. There, resident killer whales feed on salmon, stick to relatively small home ranges, and live in stable kinship groups led by a matriarch. In contrast, northeast Pacific transient killer whales are marine mammal specialists that live in small groups and travel over wide ranges. While transients also form family groups, it is not uncommon for individuals to form temporary associations with other transient killer whales. Residents and transients, however, rarely interact.

The findings of Tavares’s team show a much less stable association between Icelandic killer whales. They found that groups frequently break apart and come back together, and that it’s not just the prey type, but how the prey act that may be driving their relationships. [continue]

Fire-scarred trees record 700 years of natural and cultural fire history in a northern forest

I have all kinds of reasons for being interested in the effects that fire has on forests, so this grabbed my attention. And look, it’s full of interesting historical info, too! From phys.org: Fire-scarred trees record 700 years of natural and cultural fire history in a northern forest.

From AD 1300 to 1600, wildfires ignited during late summer, with about 5-10 ignitions per quarter century, generally occurring during warm, dry summers.

In the next two centuries, fire frequency rose dramatically, particularly in the mid-17th century. Early summer fires grew in prevalence. Books and other documents from this time period record a rising use of slash-and-burn cultivation and rangeland burning, explained author Ken Olaf Storaunet. The population was recovering from the devastation of the Black Death and several subsequent epidemics. People returned to abandoned lands and began using fire to improve land for grazing animals and to cultivate crops. The average length of time between recurrences of fire in the same location fell by half, from 73 to 37 years.

Increasing demand for timber in Europe raised the value of forests and discouraged slash-and-burn cultivation practices. The fires legislation banning the use of fire in Norway came in 1683. After AD 1800, fire frequency and size dropped precipitously, with only 19 fires occurring in the study area during the last 200 years.

Ecologically, the period from 1625 and onwards to today is probably unique, and something that perhaps has not happened in thousands of years, Storaunet said. [continue]

Archaeologists uncover vast ancient Roman mining operation in Spain

From Haaretz.com: Archaeologists Uncover Vast Ancient Roman Mining Operation in Spain.

Archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Munigua in southern Spain have found a vast Roman copper mining operation built on an older mine dating back thousands of years.

Exploitation of ore at Munigua apparently began by the Turdetani, the original inhabitants of the region, over 4,000 years ago. Now the excavators have discovered an elaborate system of ventilated underground galleries connected by tunnels dating to the Roman era.

They also found shafts connecting at various heights forming floors that let the miners extract metal deeper than had been believed possible at the time. Happily for the miners, the ancient Romans were on to the secret of ventilation. [continue]

The surprisingly early settlement of the Tibetan Plateau

From Scientific American: The Surprisingly Early Settlement of the Tibetan Plateau.

Article summary:

Scientists thought people first set foot on the frozen Tibetan Plateau 15,000 years ago. New genomic analyses suggest multiplying that figure as much as fourfold.

So of course you’ll want to read it!

Thanks to Peter Gardner for posting this on Diaspora, which is where I saw it.

7000-year-old footprints in Wales

From Wales Online: Ancient human footprints discovered on Welsh coastline are 7,000 years old, say researchers.

Ancient human footprints discovered on the Welsh coastline are 7,000 years old and could show a snapshot of a Mesolithic hunting party, researchers have said.

Discovered in 2014, the pre-historic footprints of both children and adults at Port Eynon on the Gower peninsula were initially thought to date to the Bronze Age but analysis carried out at Cardiff University has revealed they are actually 3,000 years older than that. [continue]

When high-class ladies wore masks that made it impossible to speak

From Atlas Obscura: When High-Class Ladies Wore Masks That Made It Impossible to Speak.

For refined, upper-class ladies in 16th-century Europe, getting a tan, especially on your face, was not a good look.

The implication of such coloring was that one must work outside, and thus, quite possibly be poor (cue gasps and swooning faints). So to make sure they didn’t get burned, some 16th-century ladies wore face masks called visards (or vizards) that covered their delicate visages. Unfortunately, the masks also made it so they couldn’t speak. And, look as if they belonged to an evil cult. [continue]

You know you want more details, yes? And for that, see:

Tupilaqs: Greenlandic spirits that gained power by sucking genitals

Well! I bet this is the strangest thing you’ll read about today:

It is not every day that you come across a magic animal carved from the bones of children and animals, which is brought to life through magical songs and given power by sucking on the manufacturer’s sexual organs. On top of that, it has but one mission in life: to kill its creator’s enemies.

But for Hans Lange, a curator at Greenland National Museum, such an encounter is a fairly common experience. He is the resident expert of the fabled tupilaq, which is exhibited in more than 100 different versions at the National Museum in Nuuk, Greenland.

He points to one of the showcases of some small tupilaq figurines made by trappers–reportedly after encountering them at sea. Lange prefers to think of the creatues as a kind of demon spirit used by Greenlanders in the old days. [continue]

That’s from this page at Science Nordic.

Related:

Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to have more power in our lives, and we should resist

From recode.net: Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to have more power in our lives, and we should resist.

Last week, Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook a combination of a personal and company manifesto. He also spoke to a number of reporters regarding it. The manifesto is long, and it covers a ton of ground, some of it about the state of the world, but much of it, at least indirectly and directly, about Facebook and its role in such a world. The manifesto is notable for its concession that Facebook has enormous power and has, in some ways, contributed to some big problems plaguing the world. But, more worryingly, it seems to think the solution is more Facebook. [continue]

Yeah, I’d like to see a whole lot less of Facebook. It is the worst part of the internet these days, as far as I’m concerned.

Historic Book of Negroes gets fresh look through online portal

From the CBC: Historic Book of Negroes gets fresh look through online portal.

The image on the computer screen looks innocent enough: A ledger showing a list of names, ages and descriptions of physical stature — all of it written in a precise script that hasn’t been practised in more than two centuries.

But a closer examination of the Book of Negroes online reveals a time when black people were — legally speaking — nothing more than property.

The book was compiled in New York between April and November of 1783 at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War.

It is a record of the 3,000 black refugees — all of whom sided with the British during the war — who were loaded on ships bound for Nova Scotia, then a British colony. [continue]

When the Europeans first arrived, most of the natives were dead

What did Europeans see of the native people when they first arrived in BC? From the National Post: Everyone was dead: When Europeans first came to B.C., they stepped into the aftermath of a holocaust.

Everywhere they looked, there were corpses. Abandoned, overgrown villages were littered with skulls; whole sections of coastline strewn with bleached, decayed bodies.

“The skull, limbs, ribs and backbones, or some other vestiges of the human body, were found in many places, promiscuously scattered about the beach in great numbers,” wrote explorer George Vancouver in what is now Port Discovery, Wash.

It was May 1792. The lush environs of the Georgia Strait had once been among the most densely populated corners of the land that is now Canada, with humming villages, harbours swarming with canoes and valleys so packed with cookfires that they had smog.

But the Vancouver Expedition experienced only eerie quiet.

They kept seeing rotting houses and massive clearings cut out of the Pacific forest — evidence that whoever lived here had been able to muster armies of labourers.

And yet the only locals the sailors encountered were small groups of desperately poor people, many of them horribly scarred and missing an eye. [continue]

Related:

(I found the National Post article through a link in this post at Mark’s Daily Apple.)

1000-year-old toy boat unearthed in Norway

Have you read anything about the Ørland Main Air Station dig? Ancient Origins describes it in this article: “a pre-Viking Iron Age settlement dating back around 1,500 years ago on the Trondheim Fjord on Norway’s coast.” That is certainly worth a read.

Today an update on the dig comes from Science Daily: The toy boat that sailed the seas of time.

A thousand years ago, for reasons we will never know, the residents of a tiny farmstead on the coast of central Norway filled an old well with dirt.

Maybe the water dried up, or maybe it became foul. But when archaeologists found the old well and dug it up in the summer of 2016, they discovered an unexpected surprise: a carefully carved toy, a wooden boat with a raised prow like a proud Viking ship, and a hole in the middle where a mast could have been stepped.

“This toy boat says something about the people who lived here,” said Ulf Fransson, an archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) University Museum and one of two field leaders for the Ørland Main Air Station dig, where the well and the boat were found.

“First of all, it is not so very common that you find something that probably had to do with a child. But it also shows that the children at this farm could play, that they had permission to do something other than work in the fields or help around the farm.”
[continue]

38,000 year-old engravings confirm ancient origins of technique used by Seurat, Van Gogh

From phys.org: 38,000 year-old engravings confirm ancient origins of technique used by Seurat, Van Gogh.

A newly discovered trove of 16 engraved and otherwise modified limestone blocks, created 38,000 years ago, confirms the ancient origins of the pointillist techniques later adopted by 19th and 20th century artists such as Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, and Roy Lichtenstein.

“We’re quite familiar with the techniques of these modern artists,” observes New York University anthropologist Randall White, who led the excavation in France’s Vézère Valley. “But now we can confirm this form of image-making was already being practiced by Europe’s earliest human culture, the Aurignacian.”

Pointillism, a painting technique in which small dots are used to create the illusion of a larger image, was developed in the 1880s. However, archaeologists have now found evidence of this technique thousands of years earlier—dating back more than 35,000 years. [continue]

Why did Greenland’s Vikings vanish?

You need something good to read, and Smithsonian Magazine has come to the rescue, with this: Why Did Greenland’s Vikings Vanish? It begins:

On the grassy slope of a fjord near the southernmost tip of Greenland stand the ruins of a church built by Viking settlers more than a century before Columbus sailed to the Americas. The thick granite-block walls remain intact, as do the 20-foot-high gables. The wooden roof, rafters and doors collapsed and rotted away long ago. Now sheep come and go at will, munching wild thyme where devout Norse Christian converts once knelt in prayer.

The Vikings called this fjord Hvalsey, which means “Whale Island” in Old Norse. It was here that Sigrid Bjornsdottir wed Thorstein Olafsson on Sunday, September 16, 1408. The couple had been sailing from Norway to Iceland when they were blown off course; they ended up settling in Greenland, which by then had been a Viking colony for some 400 years. Their marriage was mentioned in three letters written between 1409 and 1424, and was then recorded for posterity by medieval Icelandic scribes. Another record from the period noted that one person had been burned at the stake at Hvalsey for witchcraft.

But the documents are most remarkable—and baffling—for what they don’t contain: any hint of hardship or imminent catastrophe for the Viking settlers in Greenland, who’d been living at the very edge of the known world ever since a renegade Icelander named Erik the Red arrived in a fleet of 14 longships in 985. For those letters were the last anyone ever heard from the Norse Greenlanders. [continue]

Excavation reveals secrets of Tudor Life

From Heritage Daily: MOLA excavations at Crossrail Farringdon site reveal secrets of Tudor Life.

Excavations carried out by MOLA at the Crossrail site at Farringdon have revealed fascinating insights into daily life in Tudor London in recently published findings.

The site in the heart of the capital has already provided remarkable information about the Black Death in London, but now analysis of artefacts extracted from the re-discovered Faggeswell brook, that flowed past Charterhouse Square, revealed more about the people living in the area during the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Due to the wet ground conditions in the area of the brook, MOLA archaeologists were able to recover rarely found Tudor textiles, leather and plant remains all preserved in excellent condition. It is very rare that textiles and leather survive in the ground, and it is only because of the damp conditions which stopped oxygen form decaying the organic materials that there is such an invaluable insight into the lives of ordinary Londoners and the gentry.

Highlights include:

Tudor leather shoes: 22 shoes made of thick cattle leather range from unisex slip-on shoes, similar to modern-day shoes, to styles [continue]

Ha! There’s the most interesting bit, at least for me. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with minimalist / handmade / historical footwear ever since 2008 when I pointed you to an article about how shoes hurt our feet.

Anyway, the Heritage Daily article has a good photo of one of the shoes they found.

Diploendozoochory, yeah! And why it matters

So, first of all: diploendozoochory. How cool a word is that? Onward to read about it and how important it is. From phys.org: Research shows secondary seed dispersal by predator animals is important for recolonization of plants.

In the middle of Alberta’s boreal forest, a bird eats a wild chokecherry. During his scavenging, the bird is caught and eaten by a fox. The cherry seed, now inside the belly of the bird within the belly of fox, is transported far away from the tree it came from. Eventually, the seed is deposited on the ground. After being broken down in the belly of not one but two animals, the seed is ready to germinate and become a cherry tree itself. The circle of life at work.

Diploendozoochory, or the process of a seed being transported in the gut of multiple animals, occurs with many species of plants in habitats around the world. First described by Charles Darwin in 1859, this type of seed dispersal has only been studied a handful of times. And in a world affected by climate change and increasing rates of human development, understanding this process is becoming increasingly important. [continue]

Medieval burials on Yamal peninsula may have been ritualistic sacrifices

From the Siberian Times: Medieval burials on Yamal peninsula may have been ritualistic sacrifices.

The find of four graves from the 11th century site Yur-Yakha III are unlike anything else seen from this era in Yamal, say scientists. Two of the dead were young women aged around 18 to 20 and all had ‘serious diseases’.

The burials were in a crouched position and there are suggestions that rituals, perhaps even sacrifices, were involved in the deaths of these nomads with significant health problems.

For sure there are no similar medieval burials,’ said senior researcher Andrey Plekhanov, of the archaeology department, Arctic Research Centre of the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region. [continue]

When evidence says no, but doctors say yes

Here’s the article summary: “Years after research contradicts common practices, patients continue to demand them and doctors continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatment.”

And now an excerpt:

A cardiologist recommended that the man immediately have a coronary angiogram, in which a catheter is threaded into an artery to the heart and injects a dye that then shows up on special x-rays that look for blockages. If the test found a blockage, the cardiologist advised, the executive should get a stent, a metal tube that slips into the artery and forces it open.

While he was waiting in the emergency department, the executive took out his phone and searched “treatment of coronary artery disease.” He immediately found information from medical journals that said medications, like aspirin and blood-pressure-lowering drugs, should be the first line of treatment. The man was an unusually self-possessed patient, so he asked the cardiologist about what he had found. The cardiologist was dismissive and told the man to “do more research.” Unsatisfied, the man declined to have the angiogram and consulted his primary-care doctor. [continue]

That’s from When evidence says no, but doctors say yes at propublica.org.

If you weren’t already the sort of person to do your own research before consenting to a medical procedure, perhaps you are now.

Discourse markers are, like, important

Last week we learned about “Um” and other filled pauses. Now there’s a similar type of linguistic goodness for you, this time from the Boston Globe: Discourse markers are, like, important.

The most maligned discourse marker has to be like, which has long been a source of rants and misunderstandings. One myth is that all colloquial uses of like are the same, but there’s a big difference between saying, “I had, like, three doughnuts” and “She was like, what do you mean?” Another myth is that like is overwhelmingly used by teenage girls, but that fits sexist stereotypes more than reality. In fact, studies show some types of like are used more often by men. The world-champion myth dispeller in this area is Alexandra D’Arcy, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of Victoria who has a book forthcoming this year called “800 Years of Like: Discourse-Pragmatic Variation in Context.”

D’Arcy has accumulated a lot of knowledge about how like greases the wheels of conversation. One use of like as a discourse marker helps create flow in speech. These uses are often dismissed as vacuous, but they have concrete meaning and purpose. Some mean for example or let me elaborate, demonstrating that they have concrete meaning. This is the traffic signal kind of discourse marker, and like, has been used that way for a surprisingly long time. The oldest known example in print is from Frances Burney’s 1788 novel “Evelina.” “Father grew quite uneasy, like, for fear of his Lordship’s taking offence.”

Other uses of like function as the discourse marker’s close relative, the discourse particle: These words lack a specific meaning but have a definite purpose. This kind of like doesn’t mean “Let me clarify” so much as “This is what I want you to focus on” — the verbal equivalent of pointing. Such uses also establish solidarity between speakers, sending the message “We’re similar, and we’re in this together.” This “solidarity work,” D’Arcy explains, is vital to spoken language: “When they’re not there, conversation feels forced” and “There’s less of a rapport.” Curzan mentioned that this type of word allows people to “check in that others are following or mitigate our authority in a way that might make more space for other opinions.” Far from verbal junk, discourse markers and particles are social lubricants. [continue]

Related Links:

Seeds from Syria are returning to the Svalbard Vault

From Atlas Obscura: Seeds From Syria Are Returning to the Svalbard Vault.

In 2008, when the Norwegian Government and the Global Crop Diversity Trust teamed up to open the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, they thought they were planning far ahead. The vault—essentially a massive safe deposit box for the world’s seeds, kept safe and cold by Arctic ice—is meant to guard against future disasters, like nuclear war or climate change. If such a horror ever necessitates a total agricultural restart, these seeds will be, in the words of their caretakers, “the final back-up.”

But the future has a funny way of sneaking up on you. In 2015—much sooner than anticipated—the vault was turned from ark to library, issuing hundreds of thousands of seed samples to the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). Today, ICARDA is returning the seeds, successfully completing what amounts to the Vault’s first real-world run. [continue]

For the Edwardians, bookplates were as rebellious as modern day tattoos

From The Conversation: For the Edwardians, bookplates were as rebellious as modern day tattoos.

For countless young people, and even the odd deeply defiant older person, tattoos are the ultimate way to express your identity.

Go back just over 100 years, however, and revealing your personality to the world was a very different matter. Though tattoos and intimate piercings were had by people at all levels of society – even King Edward’s son, George V, was said to have had a tattoo during his time in the Royal Navy – the slightly more conservative Edwardians turned to something very different: bookplates.

The small decorative labels used to denote book ownership which date back to the 1500s, became hugely popular across the Western world at start of the 1900s, fading into obscurity just before World War I. But they offer a fascinating insight into the people who used them. [continue]