By Matt Cantor
Published March 30, 2015
This undated image made available by the NIH’s National Cancer Institute shows the 46 human chromosomes. (AP Photo/NIH, National Cancer Institute, Hesed Padilla-Nash, Thomas Ried)
Scientists are puzzling over a new discovery regarding Stone Age sex: It seems that for every 17 women who reproduced at the time, just one man did the same.
The findings are based on an analysis of the DNA of 450 people from geographically diverse locations. Researchers compared Y-chromosome DNA, which is inherited only from our male forbears, with mitochondrial DNA, which comes from women, Pacific Standard reports.
Such analysis can show experts our numbers of male and female ancestors, and the mystery here is why these ancient numbers are so out of whack.
“It wasn’t like there was a mass death of males,” says Melissa Wilson Sayres of Arizona State University. “They were there, so what were they doing?” Her team has suggested that perhaps a few males accumulated a great deal of wealth, pushing out others when it came to reproduction.
As Danielle Paquette puts it at the Washington Post, “Survival of the fittest might have actually been survival of the richest.” This would have occurred after the dawn of agriculture, suggesting that the top male reproducers were essentially the best farmers.
Amanda Marcotte writes at Slate that the findings would seem to run counter to the thinking of evolutionary biologists who believe our nature was defined during the earlier hunter-gatherer period of cavemen.
She’s also glad that an age in which a few men got all the women is long gone. “That sounds terrible for both men and women.” (Other recent evolutionary research examines why men like curvy women.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: 8K Years Ago, Women Reproduced Way More Often Than Men
By Matt Cantor
Published March 28, 2015
Have archaeologists found an ancient playground? (stock photo) (AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Edmund D. Fountain, Pool)
An investigation into what appears to be a nearly 2 million-year-old site in China’s Hebei province suggests the spot served an important purpose: fun. The South China Morning Post compares the dig site to a “playground” for ancient hominids, noting that it was home to some 700 stone objects and 20,000 fragments; some may well have been kids’ toys, believes lead researcher Wei Qi.
He speculates that the objects, most less than two inches long, were made by children and their mothers. “You can almost feel the maker’s love and passion,” says Wei of one piece he describes as “beautifully shaped.” The other bits of evidence supporting his playground theory: The remains of animals or large tools in the area are scarce, suggesting it’s not where hominids lived and a limited number of adults toiled there.
The site is part of the Nihewan basin, which has been the source of a vast trove of ancient discoveries since 1921, Ancient Origins reports.
What’s also relatively new is the dating of the site, carried out by studying its magnetic properties. Results suggesting it dates to between 1.77 million and 1.95 million years ago could make it older than the Dmanisi site in Georgia, which UNESCO calls the “most ancient” in Eurasia.
But outside researchers have their doubts about the playground theory: “It is difficult to rule out the possibility that (the objects) were just stone fragments created by natural forces,” says one.
If the discoveries really were made by hominids more than 1.8 million years ago—when the first hominid is though to have left Africa—it could change the story of human origins, the Week notes.
(A recently discovered jawbone is also challenging such conceptions.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: 2M-Year-Old Stones May Have Belonged to Children
By Matt Cantor
Published January 27, 2015
This Monday, Oct. 6, 2014 photo shows sperm whales swimming in the waters off the the coast of Dana Point, Calif. (AP Photo/Capt. Dave Anderson/ DolphinSafari.com)
As octopuses shoot out ink as a defense mechanism, so sperm whales blast threats with poop. At least that’s the theory explained by a diver to the BBC.
Keri Wilk and three fellow divers were engulfed in what he describes as a “poonado” let loose by one such whale off the coast of Dominica.
Wilk wasn’t using scuba gear, since that can bother whales, the New York Daily News reports. That means he had little protection: “I had poop in my eyes, mouth, wetsuit, everywhere,” he tells the BBC.
“I was soaked in it from head to toe.” He described the cloud of feces as being some “30 or 40 meters in diameter,” or about 100 feet.
The whale was diving, and the animals often poop while diving, Wilk said. But this time, it stopped mid-dive. “And then it started to evacuate its bowels, and didn’t stop for several minutes.” It even seemed to try to wave the feces toward the divers with its tail.
“But, after leaving the cloud, it quickly washed away and didn’t leave a smell on us,” he says. The group got some rather alarming photos of the whole thing.
(Whales, it seems, aren’t so into being watched.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: Diver Caught in Whale ‘Poonado’
By Matt Cantor
Published January 15, 2015
Kottabos was all about hurling wine. (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune, Greg Kreller,File)
What better place to re-create an ancient drinking game than a college campus? A teacher at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and her students kept up an ancient Greek tradition by playing kottabos, a game that involves hurling one’s wine from a glass onto a target at the center of a room.
Greek men used to gather at symposia to drink, chat, and be entertained, and when they reached the bottom of their wine vessels—called kylixes—they would toss the dregs at the target, LiveScience reports.
(YouTube has some examples.) A variety of targets were used, WhatCulturereports. One was a figurine with a brass disc on top. The disc would land with a victorious ring as it hit the floor.
In other cases, players would throw wine into a saucer to fill it up, or toss wine at a saucer floating in water. Kylixes are a little hard to find these days, so the students used 3D-printed cups instead.
And since this was in a classroom, not a dorm, there was no alcohol involved; instead, students tossed grape juice. The best strategy, it seems, was to put a finger through one of a kylix’s handles and toss the wine out overhead.
“It must have gotten pretty messy,” says assistant professor Heather Sharpe. “By the end of our experiment we had diluted grape juice all over the floor.” (While students investigate the ancient Greek tradition, an icon of the era is in danger.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: Ancient Greek Drinking Game Is Reborn
But don’t panic just yet: Scientists are talking in terms of some 2,000 years, Scientific American reports.
The magnetic field has been weakening at a rate of about 5% every decade, as opposed to 5% every century, as had been believed. The field, LiveScience notes, protects us from solar radiation.
Such polar flips remain somewhat mysterious, but they’re linked to the movement of iron at the planet’s center. That movement is occasionally disrupted for reasons that aren’t clear; this leads to weakening of the magnetic field, and, in some cases, a reversal of the poles. That process takes an average of 5,000 years, Scientific American reports, and it last happened 780,000 years ago.
It’s probably nothing to worry about, the publication notes: There’s no sign of a crisis in the fossil record during previous reversals. As for the solar protection, scientists haven’t seen evidence that the field has ever totally disappeared, NASA reports.