Archive for April, 2010

Cro Magnon skull shows that our brains have shrunk

April 20, 2010
Cro  Magnon brain

A 3D image of a Cro Magnon brain. Credit: Times Online.

March 15, 2010 by Lisa Zyga

(PhysOrg.com) — A new replica of an early modern human brain has provided further evidence for the theory that the human brain has been shrinking. The skull belonged to an elderly Cro Magnon man, whose skeleton is called Cro Magnon 1. The entire skeleton was discovered in 1868 in the Cro Magnon cave in Dordogne, France, and has since become one of the most famous Upper Palaeolithic skeletons. Using new technology, researchers have produced a replica of the 28,000-year-old brain and found that it is about 15-20% larger than our brains.

To produce the brain replica, called an endocast, the scientists first digitally scanned the interior of the empty skull. The images revealed the impression left by the brain on the neurocranium, which was then transformed into a 3D image. Software was then used to fabricate the brain endocast.

The researchers, including Antoine Balzeau of the French Museum of Natural History, said that an initial assessment of Cro Magnon 1’s skull supported the theory that brains have grown slightly smaller over the past tens of thousands of years, reversing an earlier trend toward larger brains.

The finding doesn’t suggest that humans today are less intelligent than earlier humans. Although previous studies have found a very small relationship between brain size and intelligence, many other factors affect brain intelligence.

For instance, different parts of the brain have different functions. The researchers found that the Cro Magnon brain appears to have had a smaller – the brain region linked to motor control and language – than our brains today. The researchers explain that this finding shows that some parts of the brain are more “compressible” than others, while other regions seem to provide a benefit by growing larger.

Although scientists don’t know for sure why our overall brains are shrinking, some researchers hypothesize that our brains are becoming more efficient as they grow smaller. Having a large comes at a cost, so smaller brains have an advantage since they enable the body to use the extra energy for other purposes. On the other hand, perhaps a large skull had certain advantages for earlier people. One idea is that Cro Magnons needed large skulls because of the difficulty in chewing their food, which included lots of meat such as rabbits, foxes, and horses. Since our food has become easier to eat, we don’t need such large skulls or jaws. Another theory is that the high infant mortality rate in earlier times meant that young humans had to be physically robust (with large heads) to survive their early years.

The researchers plan to show a mold of the later this week at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Protect us, not polar bears: Inuit officials

April 20, 2010

(CBC News, 15 April 2010) — Nunavut Inuit who do not want polar bears listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act say they should be the ones being protected from the Arctic bears. Speaking Wednesday before the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB) in Iqaluit, Inuit elders and officials voiced their opposition to a proposal by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) to have the polar bear listed as a species of special concern in Canada. “We have to listen to our communities, we have to listen to Inuit, and we get our direction from Inuit and also from our executive,” said Paul Irngaut, a wildlife adviser with Inuit land-claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. “Our executive does not support the listing, and that’s what we relate to [the] NWMB.”The polar bear was last classified as a species of special concern — one step below threatened and two below endangered — in 2002. COSEWIC, an arm’s-length federal scientific advisory committee, recommended the same status for the species in 2008. The federal government has to give a final decision on whether to approve that status. Scientists on the committee argue that although Canada’s polar bear population has improved over the last 50 years, the species’ future could be threatened by climate change and receding sea ice. But one by one, Inuit representatives on Wednesday spoke of the threats polar bears pose to people in Nunavut communities — from bears breaking into cabins and destroying hunting equipment to bears mauling people to death. The polar bear hearings conclude on Thursday with final submissions. The wildlife board will then be expected to prepare its own position on the COSEWIC proposal by early July. The board will submit its recommendations to Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, who will have 60 days to respond. “We, too, are worried about polar bears in the future because climate change, it’s a huge thing. It’s not only going to affect the polar bears, it’s going to affect us, so we are concerned too,” said Irngaut. “But we feel that at this time, the polar bear is really being used to combat climate change, and we don’t agree with that.”

Original article here

NRK dropped their standards: “Naked bluff” on Primetime TV

April 19, 2010

Hornorkesteret: I know this is old, but shame on you, NRK! This is not what we wanted from a license- and state funded national broadcasting corporation. The naive and racist view presented in this show is old fashioned and should be long forgotten. Why don’t you make a program about how the Waorani actually live, and leave the stupid westerners on their couches in Norway!

Gáldu – Resource Centre for the Rights of Indegenous People
— According to Ny Tid newspaper, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation paid money to Waorani-tribe in Ecuador that they must be naked during the filming.

NRK or Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation is now sending every Saturday evening a program called “Den store reisen” or “Ticket to the tribes”. Three different Norwegian families are visiting indigenous tribes in Namibia, Indonesia and Ecuador.
More than 800 000 people did watch this program last Saturday primetime and now the NRK admit that they have paid this indigenous group to be naked on TV.

NRK now admits that they paid money to the Waorani Indigenous tribe to appear without clothes while they recorded this primetime TV.

Watch the program here on NRK

This is Saturday entertainment for Norwegian TV viewers.

The Indians remove their clothes to work on the set, according to the anthropologist Laura Rival from the Centre for International Development at Oxford University.

She has studied the Waorani tribe since 1989 and was in the village of Banemo when the Belgian version of the series was recorded.

“The Waorani take their clothes off just for these programmes. I know them. They never walk around naked in groups any longer, it’s only for tourists and reality shows,” she says.

“The Waorani go around naked. The men’s penises are tied to their bodies with string,” says NRK’s website in a section on the tribe’s rules and way of life. In the TV series, on the website and in the promotional pictures all the Indians are completely naked.

“This has been staged,” said Rival on seeing NRK’s group picture of the extended family without clothes.

She recognised the NRK’s Waorani from the Belgian production and can name the adults in the picture. According to Rival, they are used to performing role plays for TV production units in the area.

NRK admits that the tribe was asked to remove its clothes.

“We don’t ask that they wear European clothes. The tribe agreed to live in a more traditional way while we are filming, but they are the ones who decide what will be shown. It is important to be clear that they collaborate with us freely. We pay them to take part,” says NRK’s production manager Per Selstrøm.

The producer in charge from the production company Strix, Malin Østli, does not recognise Rival’s description of life in Banemo:

“We flew up the Amazon for an hour and a half and saw no indication of people living in a western manner. That they have seen white people before and been in contact with the outside world is totally natural, since they live next to an airstrip. Some of them wear T-shirts every day, but most are naked and have a completely traditional lifestyle.”

Are there usually people living in the house where you filmed?

“Not everyone we filmed usually lives in the house. We made the family bigger to include more characters and decided to have slightly more people in the house than those who are normally there to get more life. They traditionally live in an extended family, so it wasn’t entirely unnatural. Everyone lived there during the recordings and it was real everyday life for people in the area that we visited,” declares Østli.

The Waorani have taken part in a large number of reality programmes. The BBC’s Tribal Wives and several countries’ versions of Ticket to the Tribes were filmed in the area.

“It’s not intended as a “Fly on the Wall” documentary. It is a kind of staged documentary to bring out their differences and make it more thought-provoking, a collision between two very different ways of life,” explains Selstrøm.

Aren’t you showing the tribes as more primitive than they actually are?

“Not in my view. Is dress about primitiveness? When Norwegian Lapps want to sell souvenirs at North Cape, they wear their traditional costumes.”

Isn’t NRK going too far in describing them as a “primitive tribal community”?

“Perhaps we should have weighed each word more carefully, but I would urge people to watch the whole series. It finishes with one of the Waorani boys going to school,” says Selstrøm.

Playing a role

The anthropologist Laura Rival compares the Indians’ role in the Belgian TV production that she observed with the role of an actor:

“They took their clothes and went to work in the newly built house. Then they put their clothes on again and returned to their normal complex lives. This could be compared with a job in which they have a uniform and put on a performance for the tourists.”

In her view, reality programmes give a superficial picture of the Indians’ complex lives, in which they balance tradition and modernity in a globalised world.

Says Rival, “These programmes are built on the same ideas that the west has had for 400-500 years: find the last people in the wild and live with them. The TV companies are only interested in recreating western myths. This is very patronising and gives a false idea of their differences”.

Updated 19.09.2008
Published by: Liv Inger Somby

Major exhibition chronicles Shackletons Antarctic adventure

April 19, 2010

A major photographic exhibition at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, will chart the extraordinary story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous Antarctic expedition.
Running from the 16th July to the 3rd January 2011, Endurance: Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure will feature over 150 images taken by expedition photographer James Francis Hurley, charting the epic tale of survival after Shackleton’s ship Endurance was crushed by the ice.
This travelling exhibition, brought to the UK for the first time by New York’s American Museum of Natural History, will allow students to view images of Endurance trapped in the ice by day and night, studies of the expedition members, Endurance sinking beneath the ice, daily life while camped on the ice, and the crew marooned on Elephant Island. There will also be a full-size replica of the James Caird, the lifeboat sailed to South Georgia Island in search of rescue.
Merseyside Maritime Museum, part of National Museums Liverpool, offers an extensive education programme for visiting school groups of all ages.
For further information or to organise an educational trip, telephone: 0151-478 4441 or log onto www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk

Ice and Silence: Extreme Working for the British Antarctic Survey

April 19, 2010

by Paul Torode and Rich Burt – BAS 31/Mar/2010

It’s not often you get to climb inside an iceberg. Held in the vice-like grip of the surrounding sea ice, the frozen colossus facing us was split by a deep crack. The bottom of the vertical cavern had at some stage flooded with seawater and refrozen. We jumped a sinister gash of open water and climbed inside the ‘berg.

Earlier, we’d left our skidoos and field camp and had to abseil the ice cliffs to reach the sea ice: now we were inside the iceberg itself, awestruck by the azure glassy hardness and the immensity of it all. Soft powder snow adorned the entrance of the cavern, and crystals festooned the ‘roof’ high above our heads. As we descended the wondrous symmetry of the two ice walls eventually met in a hairline crack. Outside it was -40°C – our breath frosted heavily on our clothing and our crampons bit aggressively into the ice. In a matter of weeks this ‘berg would break free of the ice and drift into immeasurable seas.

I’ve seen some pretty unusual sights, working as a Field Assistant for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Seals swimming under the ice you’re standing on. Powder snow so deep your skidoo leaves a trench behind you. Frozen landscapes of implausible tranquillity take your breath away. I’m one of a team whose job is to support scientists going ‘deep field’ to investigate big questions like climate change. Antarctica is arguably the Earth’s greatest natural laboratory and an early warning system for global change.

BAS operates five research stations, five planes and two ships. During the short summer months life is pretty hectic for everyone. As a Field Assistant, you spend a great deal of time off-station and get to experience the continent more than most.

In summer, before going deep field, I assist the pilot to load and fuel the Twin Otter aircraft before clambering on board. I often get to sit up front as ‘co-pilot’. Watching the plane take off and leave as we set up a remote field camp is a defining moment for any Field Assistant or scientist. For two months we might work from a static camp, or travel by paired skidoo and sledge, linked together by thick rope for safety in crevassed areas. It’s a heavyweight, ‘belt-and-braces’ expedition. Once the orange pyramid tent is firmly pitched, we brew up, crack a big bar of chocolate and enjoy the most comfortable camping imaginable.

In winter days when you’re confined to the station there’s all the maintenance work on field equipment. Servicing field kit takes time in the cold, dark and windy Antarctic winter. But when weather relents there’s great enthusiasm for recreational trips that give groups a chance to have a break from station life and learn valuable field skills. It’s often these trips that the most vivid memories of the Antarctic are formed. Which brings me back to that iceberg!

Paul Torode for the British Antarctic Survey

Original article with many more beautiful pictures and more information here

Bulgarian Antarctic mission maps the sea floor around eastern Livingston Island

April 19, 2010

The Bulgarian Antarctic Institute (BAI) has created a 3D model of the seabed of the south coast near the Bulgarian antarctic base St Kliment Ohridski in the eastern Livingston Island, Bulgarian Stroitelstvo Gradut weekly said on April 12 2010.

In addition to mapping the sea floor around the eastern Livingston Island, the Bulgarian expedition installed equipment which accurately measures the shape of the shoreline and the changing of the tides on a daily basis.

The Bulgarian base is on the South Shetland Islands, a stretch of seafront called the Bulgarian Beach, Emona Harbour.

This is the 18th Bulgarian antarctic expedition; it will be based on Livingston Island from November 2009 until December 2010, constituting 27 Bulgarian scientists. The base is used for research in the field of geology, biology, glaciology, topography and geographic information.

According to the mission’s official website, St. Kliment Ohridski is visited by cruise ships from Hannah Point, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Antarctica, just 12 km to the west.

Bulgaria launched its polar activities in Antarctica back in 1967-1969, when Bulgarian meteorologists took part in the XIII Soviet Antarctic Expedition. Subsequently, in the austral summer season of 1987-1988, six Bulgarian scientists participated in joint projects with the British Antarctic Survey and the Soviet Institute for Antarctic and Arctic Research.

Between 1993 and 2007, Bulgaria dispatched 16 successive Antarctic campaigns. The Bulgarian base is provided with logistic support and assistance from the Spanish Polar Institutions, as both missions are working together in “close co-operation”.

Original article here

Plotting Vineland: the Skálholt Map (Strange Maps weblog)

April 18, 2010

Strange Maps is a weblog specializing in strange maps. This post concerns a possibly forged map of Vinland, or North America as it is now commonly called. This informative and inspiring weblog is highly recommended.

The Vikings set foot in America just over a millennium ago, but credit for the discovery generally goes to Columbus, who only stumbled upon the New World almost 500 years later. One reason might be that the Norse involvement in North America was brief and inconsequential, whereas Columbus’ rediscovery led to the European conquest of the Americas. Another is that the Norse discoverers didn’t leave behind any maps of the lands they called Markland, Helluland and Vinland (*).

But if the Vikings didn’t map their discoveries, they did relate them in sagas. These later did form the basis for maps, the most famous of which is the Vinland Map. Reputedly a 15th-century copy of a 13th-century original, that map, now in the possession of Yale University, is likely to be a clever, relatively recent forgery (see #57 for a more thorough discussion).

The Skálholt Map, shown here, is less well known, but has the advantage of being authentic. The first version was made in 1570 by Sigurd Stefánsson, a teacher in Skálholt, then an important religious and educational centre on Iceland. Stefánsson attempted to plot the American locations mentioned in the Vinland Saga on a map of the North Atlantic. Stefánsson’s original is lost; this copy dates from 1669, and was included in description of Iceland by Biørn Jonsen of Skarsaa.

The map mixes real, fictional and rumoured geography. In its southeast corner, the map shows Irland and Britannia, and to the north of both the Orcades (Orkney Islands), Hetland (Shetland Islands), Feroe (Faroe Islands), Island (Iceland) and Frisland, a particularly persistent phantom island discussed earlier on this blog (#62).

The northeast part of the map shows the mainland of Norvegia (Norway) and to its north Biarmaland (the semi-mythical Bjarmia, possibly the area of present-day Archangelsk). On the top part of the map are situated the wholly fictional lands of Iotunheimar (Jotunheim, in Norse mythology the home of the giants) and Riseland (another land of titans), with attached to it Gronlandia (Greenland), its flowing coastline resembling the lobed margins of an oak leaf.

In the Mare Glaciale (Ice Sea) in the north is Narve Oe, possibly translatable as the Island of Narfi (the father of Nott, the night). Two place names, both on Greenland, are illegible.

Greenland is of course an island, but was considered by the Vikings to be a huge peninsula of a contiguous northern mainland, that continued to America, where are noted Helleland, Markland and Skraelingeland (after the Viking name for the natives). Marked vertically on the map’s southwestern edge is the name Promontorium Winlandiae (Promontory of Vinland).

In a development that would have pleased Stefánsson, the Skálholt Map has helped determine the actual location of a Norse site in North America. The map indicates that the northern tip of Vinland is on somewhat the same latitude as the southern coast of Ireland (app. 51°N). This encouraged the excavations at L’Anse-aux-Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, which in 1960 yielded the first archaeological evidence of Viking presence in America.

This map was taken from this page at the Kongelige Bibliothek, the Danish Royal Library. The vignette, in Latin, refers to the original map by Siurdus Stephanius (Sigurd Stefánsson). The numbers on the map match the legends (A to H) next to the map, also in Latin. Can anyone provide a translation?

———-

(*) Generally translated as Flatstone Land, Wood Land and Grapevine Land, respectively.

Original article here

North-Norway Governors ready for Lofoten oil (NRK)

April 17, 2010

Via Barents Observer 2010-04-16

County Governors, Odd Eriksen of Nordland County and Pia  Svendsgaard of Troms County

The County Governors of Nordland and Troms Counties, Odd Eriksen and Pia Svendsgaard of the Labour Party (AP), will not let the Socialist party (SV) stand in the way for a Government decision on Lofoten and Vesterålen oil exploration.

Oil exploration outside Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja in Northern Norway has once again reached the headlines of Norwegian press. A new report on the oil and gas prospects of this area is presented this week. In connection with this county governor Odd Eriksen of Nordland County in North-Norway says to NRK.no that the Norwegian Labour Party must not end up in a situation where the socialist party can stand in the way for a possible oil exploration of the Lofoten and Vesterålen areas.

– All documentation on this area which have been presented show that we have to proceed with this work, and we expect that the Government decides to do the consequence analysis which will open for oil exploration, says Eriksen to NRK Troms og Finnmark.

The Labaour party and the Socialist party has together with the Center party formed a coalition government in Norway. However, both the Socialist party and the Centre party give no opening for oil and gas exploration outside Lofoten and Vesterålen. The Labour party is awaiting the management plan before they decide on the future of this area.

Further north in Norway Eriksen’s colleague, County Governor Pia Svendsgaard of Troms Count, agrees with Eriksens stand.

– We cannot sit in the northernmost parts of Norway and see all business development be ripped apart, because a few groups demand preservation, says Svendsgaard.

According to Eriksen, opionons polls show that most people in northern Norway welcomes a consequence analysis on oil exploration in this area.

Original article here

Norway to halve Lofoten oil/gas resource view (NRK)

April 17, 2010

OSLO, April 16 (Reuters) – The Norwegian government has slashed the resource estimate for the Lofoten and Vesteraalen region to some 1.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent, nearly half of their estimate a year ago, broadcaster NRK said on Friday.

Energy

The government is due to hold a news conference on the expected oil and gas deposits to be found in the Lofoten region in the Arctic later on Friday.

The pristine archipelago remains closed to oil activities but Norway’s powerful oil industry, led by national champion Statoil (STL.OL), has said it needs access to the region to continue the North Sea state’s oil boom.

Environmentalists argue that keeping the Lofotens free from drilling is the only way to avoid accidents that may irreparably damage its eco-system, rich fishing waters and image as one of Europe’s last tourist destinations unspoiled by modern industry.

Norway is the world’s No. 5 oil exporter and No. 3 in natural gas, but its oil output peaked in 2001 and has been declining faster than expected as North Sea fields mature. (Reporting by Wojciech Moskwa and Camilla Bergsli; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Original article here

Police seize marijuana and moose meat (Halifax, Canada)

April 17, 2010

Charged for pot production

The Department of Natural Resources is investigating the discovery of the moose meat.

The man was scheduled to appear in Dartmouth provincial court Thursday to face charges of possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking, production of marijuana and possession of illegal cigarettes under the Excise Act and Revenue Act.