Finding the past
June 9, 2010 5:47 PM   Subscribe

There are some unique finds that tell us about the early lives of people. But of course there are other ways...
posted by rosswald (10 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately for would-be makers of ancient honey, heat damaged the bees’ DNA, making it impossible to revive their genes in modern bees.

Good have these people never seen a horror movie before? Sheesh.
posted by The Whelk at 5:49 PM on June 9, 2010

I was hoping for baby pictures.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:10 PM on June 9, 2010

The ha-ha tone of the NYT article is really offputting--apparently a landmark archaeological find is now just fodder for lame S&tC jokes.

Regardless, these three articles are quite interesting and indicate some important breakthroughs in nailing down early human technological achievements.

Thanks, rosswald, for the links.
posted by Chrischris at 6:22 PM on June 9, 2010

The National Geographic's shoe article is a bit more respectful.
posted by jfuller at 7:25 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yea, that Times article is awful. Since when did their science writing get so flip?
posted by octothorpe at 7:49 PM on June 9, 2010

Yea, that Times article is awful. Since when did their science writing get so flip?

That's the Natalie Angier influence. She's a mainstay of the Time's science section.

When I read the bit about wingtips at the end, I scrolled up specifically to see if it was an Angier piece, because the article hadn't annoyed me as much as an Angier's pieces usually do. The shoe article was much less cutesy that most Angier stuff.

Don't get me wrong: Anger is a decent science journalist and she reports on interesting topics, and so I want read her work. But when I do, it's with this constant background thought of "just get on with it Natalie, the subject is sufficiently interesting in itself that we don't need your wordplay; tell me about the science, not about your cleverness, Natalie".

I bought Angier's book, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science and was really excited to read it, but couldn't get past the second chapter because I just wanted to rip out about a third of every paragraph, the parts where Natalie "spices it up" with clever or inane asides.

Oh the positive side: Angier taught me how to skim articles.
posted by orthogonality at 1:38 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Belluck is also not a regular science writer. She writes about parenting or something. Why she did this story is beyond me.
posted by etaoin at 5:47 AM on June 10, 2010

Thanks Chrischris and others, I hope you enjoyed the links.

While all of the links stand on their own (maybe not as far as writing), I liked the idea of contrasting the often serendipitous nature of discovery against an ingenious effort at getting around a lack of physical evidence. Or something.
posted by rosswald at 8:24 AM on June 10, 2010

Louse specialists now seem at last to have solved the question of how people came by their superabundance of fellow travelers. And in doing so they have shed light on the two major turning points in the history of fashion: when people lost their body hair, and when they first made clothing.

Three kinds of louse call Homo sapiens their home, but each occupies a different niche on the human body. The head louse, Pediculus humanus, lives in the forest of fine hairs on the scalp. Its cousin, the body louse, lives not on the skin but in clothes. And the exclusive territory of the pubic louse, Phthirus pubis, is the coarser hairs of the crotch.

Lice are intimately adapted to their hosts and cannot long survive away from the body's blood and warmth. If their host evolves into two species, the lice will do likewise. So biologists have long been puzzled over the fact that the human head louse is a sister species to the chimpanzee louse, but the pubic louse is closely related to the gorilla louse.
-Nicholas Wade NYT

There is an interesting bit about this "change" (focused on the loss of body hair) in a PBS Nova bit called "Becoming Human".

Shared because it uses the word fashion to describe the evolutionary loss of body hair.
(though many places intimate some sort of 'intimate' relation btwn gorilla gorilla and human human... clearly much more likely is some sort of cases of humans 'bedding down' in a gorilla's home.
posted by infinite intimation at 10:18 AM on June 10, 2010

Apes, lice and prehistory(or 'family heirlooms', and 'new aquisitions'):
Human DNA might show 98% similarity to that of chimps, but we share less than 50% of our microbes and parasites with them. Ashford [6] argues that the great apes became more specialized forest dwellers at the same time that early hominids explored the savannah, and that human gut parasites resemble those of omnivorous baboons more than those of chimps because humans, like baboons but unlike chimps, are omnivorous. Further opportunities for horizontal crossover of microbes and parasites from animals to humans arose when humans spread out of Africa. When we domesticated ruminants, and animals such as dogs, cats and rats 'domesticated' us for the rich pickings around human habitation, we acquired many infections from our new neighbors [5,7]. Thus a shared habitat, rather than a shared ancestry, is important for the acquisition of many infections.
posted by infinite intimation at 10:22 AM on June 10, 2010

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