Friday, July 21, 2006

Glad to meet ya?

It is now being suggested that Neandertals and modern humans may never have met. That is the crux of a Foxnews story on the subject. The article states:

The overlap figure shrank in February with new research by Paul Mellars of Cambridge University based on improved carbon-14 dating to show that modern humans started encroaching from Israel upon Neanderthal territory in the Balkans 3,000 years sooner than previously thought.

This rate suggests Neanderthals succumbed sooner to big climate shifts or competition from modern humans for resources and that they might have overlapped for only 1,000 years at sites in western France.

As John Hawks notes, there is now no evidence that Neandertals and modern humans overlapped at all in Europe. I am not sure how many people are going to go for the idea that Neandertals were responsible for the Aurignacian, however.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Australian Nightmares

Foxnews reports that a group of researchers working out of Queensland have found fossil evidence of remarkable creatures in Australia. The report states:

Many of the fossils are older than 24 million years; one of the deposits is thought to contain fossils up to 500 million years old, according to Prof. Mike Archer, the university's dean of science.

A saber-toothed kangaroo and a giant 10-foot-tall, 881-pound bird scientists nicknamed the"demon duck of doom"were among the largely unknown species uncovered in the dig, Archer told reporters Wednesday.

"They were galloping kangaroos, they didn't hop,"Archer said."They were also far more muscly than the kangaroos we know, with sharp saber-like incisors and powerful forelimbs to help rip and tear their prey."

One must remember that even 24 million years ago, the topography and environment in Australia were very different than today. That is especially true for 500 mya. I love it when this stuff is unearthed.

Fish changing sex

The Daily Mail reports that a third of fish are changing sex due to "gender bending" pollution. The story reports:

The Environment Agency study looked at the health of more than 1600 roach found in 51 rivers and streams around the country.

Overall, a third of the male fish were between sexes. However, in one waterway, near a particularly heavy discharge of treated sewage more than 80 per cent had female characteristics.

Tests showed the males developed female sex organs and were producing eggs. Such fish also produce less sperm and the sperm that is produced is of low quality. Females may also be affected, producing abnormal eggs.

Previous studies have that cod, trout and flounders are all being feminised.

Evolutionarily, this could be disastrous for the English human population as well, as this is slipping into the English drinking water:

Although there is no conclusive proof, it is thought the hormone, which has similar actions in fish and humans, could be partly to blame for falling sperm counts in men.

British men's sperm counts dropped by almost a third between 1989 and 2002, and one in six couples now have difficulty conceiving.


Sorry for the light posting

Sorry for the light posting. I have been teaching a class and working full-time and it has been draining time-wise.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Darwin's End

Jonathan Last, writing for The Weekly Standard, notes that fertility rates are falling at precipitous rates worldwide. He notes, for example:

Between 1990 and 2000, every region in the world saw the total fertility rate decline. Among nations with rates above the "replacement rate," only two countries saw a rise in fertility: Suriname and Israel, whose rates increased by 0.17 and 0.01 children per woman, respectively. We see the same trend in nearly every country of every size in every climate and with every conceivable political, religious, and economic system--which suggests a complicated set of factors at work. It raises at least the possibility that the root of the problem may involve modernity itself.

While the factors that contribute to this are complex, he posits that the interaction of a few of them, namely an increase in the number of working women, the diminishing role of children as a labor force, an increase in abortion and women delaying having children until their thirties play critical parts in this process. An interesting article.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Speed of Light and Other Oddities

Foxnews reports on work by astronomer Michael Murphy, who argues that astronomical constants which were theorized by Albert Einstein may not be as constant as was once thought. In somewhat dense prose, the story relates the following:

The speed of light, for instance, might be measured one day with a ruler and a clock. If the next day the same measurement gave a different answer, no one would be able to tell just from the data if it was the speed of light, the ruler's length or the clock's rate of ticking that had changed.

To avoid this confusion, scientists use dimensionless constants — pure numbers that are ratios of measured quantities. In the case of the shifts in Murphy's data, the relevant dimensionless constant is the fine structure constant (often designated by the Greek letter alpha), which characterizes the strength of the electromagnetic force.

Interesting. There are detractors, however. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Grover Krantz

The WaPo posts a story about the late anthropologist Grover Krantz and where his bones are currently residing. I was fortunate to spend a good bit of time with Grover at a week-long conference in Germany once. He was a very articulate and good-natured man, if a bit unconventional. Grover got Pancreatic cancer a few years ago and passed away. It is a good article.