New Study Revives an Old Mystery #archeology #anthropology #polynesia #easterisland #environment

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Moai of Easter Island

Easter Island is one of the most far-flung Pacific islands to be settled by Polynesians. I’ve thought of the place as a textbook case of overpopulation, a group overrunning this small, sealed habitat and destroying their environment before Europeans arrived.

Those Europeans, who first landed on the island in 1722, estimated that no more than 3,000 people lived on Easter Island, and wondered how such a small population could have erected the 900 moais, or giant sculpted heads, that make the place famous.

Using soil samples and estimates of sweet potato crops (a primary food), a new study suggests over 17,000 people once inhabited the island. The 80% decline seems to reinforce the view that islanders exhausted their soil, destroyed their own forests until they could no longer build fishing boats, and so were doomed.

But other research examined modern and historical samples to discover that islanders harvested fish at about the same rate throughout their history, and that farming practices included enriching the soil.

Prehistoric Easter Islanders had extensive knowledge of how to overcome poor soil fertility, improve environmental conditions, and create a sustainable food supply. These activities demonstrate considerable adaptation and resilience to environmental challenges — a finding that is inconsistent with an ‘ecocide’ narrative.

So what caused the population crash? Perhaps more research will discover the truth.

It was fun to come across these two stories on on the same day: here and here.


Dinosaurs had Feathers – Once a Crazy Unexpected Idea – They Look Like a Modern Animal #dinosaur

With every new find, dinosaurs look less like the slow dumb swamp-dwellers Victorians imagined and more like Jurassic Park. Thanks to well-preserved fossils, we know that “Sinosauropteryx, a small carnivorous dinosaur that lived during the early Cretaceous (okay, not Jurassic)… [is an] example of countershading in dinosaurs, a mix of dark and light body coloring.”

This turkey-sized dino had to evade other predators as well as hunt for its own meals. A coat of rusty brown feathers on its back, turning lighter on its sides, and mask across its eyes provided a camouflage pattern animals still use today. How scientists figure this out is neat:

In recent years, scientists have been able to isolate and study melanosomes, which create the pigment melanin, preserved in fossilized feathers. These chemicals offer clues to what ancient animals looked like in life. ‘When feathers are preserved, that’s because there’s melanin in there.’

animal camouflage

Wild llama with a dark upper, light lower coloring. Even a face mask.

Comparing the distribution of color on the dinosaur to modern animals lets us guess what sort of habitat it lived in – bright open plain or shaded forest.

We need more examples to be sure the fossil feathers are close to their original position on the animal, and chemical testing would confirm some of the findings. But that will come.

It’s sad to realize such fascinating creatures are gone forever, but at least one won’t run up and rip my kneecap off.

Thanks to Jakob Vinther and Fiann Smithwick of the University of Bristol for their study published in Current Biology.

Science News Today – Announcing Headlines in Rhyme #science #today #research #headline #poetry

I look for science news each day:science inspired poetry Kate Rauner
Donating blood that just may kill someone.
And though to donate is quite kind,
Not for everyone, I find.
Having babies just could
maybe change
a mother’s system
for all time.
Relaxing with a fishing pole:
You may not be the apex predator.
A fish could have the final word,
In a weird way that occurred.
Paramedics save a life by
pulling out a
Dover sole.
A horror story from our kin:
I hardly think that I can read this one.
Infanticide may not be rare,
Among the male chimps that dare.
Hiding in the bush
may be
the only way
to win.
There’s something
A silly app was worth the price:
A wrist computer may have saved his life.
His resting heart rate showed distress,
A sign of pulmonary stress.
Sent him out for help instead
of trying hard to find
an educated guess.
There’s something
A little research doesn’t aid:
To prove the worth of magic mushrooms.
You’d like to think the sadness fades,
But this one doesn’t make the grade.
Now we have hypotheses
to carry on
For more decades.
There’s something
Can the depths of Earth effect the sky:
Volcanoes may have doomed an ancient land.
Though flecks of aerosols are small,
A cloud could change the rainfall.
When floods were good
a drought could
destroy the crops
supporting urban sprawl.
There’s something
by Kate Rauner
Could a random list of articles fit into a single poem? Maybe – with inspiration from The Beatles. Here’s the list, though I need help with my poem’s cadence.


David Beat Goliath – the Reason Why is Not What You Think #review #bookreview #history

Surprise - moral of the story not what you thinkDavid and Goliath teaches a lesson, but not the lesson you expect. Modern readers misunderstand the story and have the original message wrong. That is so cool, I’m reviewing this non-fiction book for my news post.

We think of David as a hopeless underdog facing an unbeatable foe, saved only by divine intervention. “No one in ancient times would have doubted David’s tactical advantage once it was known he was an expert in slinging.”

Ancient soldiers using slingshots were as formidable as archers. Goliath was a sitting duck, a heavily armored infantry warrior. There was no way he could chase down and engage David.

What we commonly think of as strengths and weaknesses can be very different in reality, and the underdog wins more often than we expect. This book covers varying subjects such as children of wealthy parents, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, primary school class sizes, deterring crime, and girls’ basketball. Gladwell offers individual stories and adds research to generalize his points. What you think you know ain’t so – delightful.

Advantages may make someone stronger for a while, until getting “more” becomes a weakness. The once-stronger side focuses on what worked in the past and how things “should” be done, blind to the challenge that confronts them.

Consider “wars over the last two hundred years – how often do you think the [more powerful] side wins? Most of us would put that number at close to 100 percent… [but] just under a third of the time, the weaker country wins.”

Children of wealthy parents can be less self-sufficient than their peers.

There is an optimum class size for elementary school but Americans obsess over reducing class sizes: “77 percent of Americans think that it makes more sense to… lower class sizes than to raise [good] teachers’ salaries. Do you know how few things 77 percent of Americans agree on?”

“Cracking down” on criminals and insurgents often makes the problem worse. For people to obey an authority, they must feel that the authority is fair. “What matters in deterrence is what matters to offenders.” When legitimacy is lost, offenders become willing to bear extreme forms of punishment. For example, “a reasonable assessment of the research to date is that [extreme] sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society.”

Personally, I believe that what really happens in the world is more important than what should happen. We’re wasting time and money while defeating our own goals.

This short book offers an important argument: the upside Surprise - the story's moral not what you thinkdown “U” of strength and weakness. Advantages that strengthen you for a while can top out and become liabilities.

Before you double-down on an action, think about this and consider what the evidence tells you.

BTW, Goliath may have suffered acromegaly: speculation on the diseases of historical figures is always intriguing. I found the story of David and Goliath surprisingly interesting and fun; much better than the “favorite Bible stories for children” sort of idea I had before.

PS: I read a digital version of Gladwell’s book. After the cover and title pages is a “welcome” with links to “Begin Reading.” The table of contents, and copyright page come after the text. Since on-line retailers offer previews starting at page one, this arrangement gives the reader the maximum preview of text, and placing typical front-matter at the end is no inconvenience in an ebook. Ebooks are evolving and I enjoy the format.

Abandoned School #haiku #poetry #autumn #autumnleaves

family cemetary

Knight family cemetery

Soft with autumn leaves
Play yard from old one-room school
Breeze stirs laughing ghosts

by Kate Rauner

I’m vacationing in New York and Pennsylvania, and walking their extensive woodland trails. Many go past old stonewalls and remnants of our forbearers.


Shoes, Being a Woman, and Modern World #lasvegas #shooting #shoes

a plea for sensible shoesI’m sitting in a motel room – ready to catch a flight in the morning at Oh-Dark-Hundred. I’m also watching the horror of the Las Vegas shooting on cable TV.

I’m a woman and I’ve always thought feet were pretty weird. I wish I had a nice hoof down there – I could polish it each morning to match my outfit. Maybe my dislike is because I have big feet. Cutsie shoes don’t fit me, so I’ve worn a lot of boots. Some were pretty cool, but lately, I tend towards work-out shoes (trainers, sneakers) and hiking boots.

I’m about to get on a plane. I always leave my shoes on for take-off and lace them up tight for landing. I want to be ready to run! I favor comfort during the days, and – yes – I’m usually ready to run (unless my shoes and socks are tossed into a corner. I feel safe at home.)

Listening to the cable news, I heard stories of women in the Las Vegas shooting who couldn’t get over fences or across fields because of their SHOES.

The chance of me – or anyone – being involved in a disaster is small, but I can’t help thinking about it. Feet are vital, even if they are weird looking. We live in an uncertain world. I just can’t see hobbling myself.

This is my plea for sensible shoes. At least be kind to those of us who choose sensible shoes.

Take care, everyone. Be aware but don’t OD on coverage of mass shootings. You’re safer than you think, but should also be ready to take care of yourself. Be ready to run.

Volunteer Weekend – do something for others and yourself #volunteers #volunteering #community

Southwest Fsetival of the Written WordI volunteered at my town’s Festival of the Written Word. It may not be as important as helping hurricane  victims, but not everything has to be life or death to be useful. I’m also a volunteer firefighter (volunteer departments need non-firefighter help too) and pack boxes at our local food bank.

Help others – help myself. This weekend I got a lead on a holiday book sale I may be able to sell my stories at, and the web address of a quartely that might publish a story or poem from me.

I volunteered for all three days – so, sure, the event messes up the weekend – this is the only post from me this week. But it’s time well spent. Find something in your own community that calls to you. Meet people outside your usual work-to-home-to-school-to shopping world. You’ll be glad you did.

Now I’m going to make a cup of tea and put my feet up 🙂