Friday, May 30, 2014

Did Dogs Help Drive Mammoths to Their Graves?

David Grimm
Editor of Science
May 29, 2014 - 6:45pm

It’s known as the mammoth cemetery for good reason. Along the banks of a Siberian river not far from the Arctic Ocean lie thousands of bones, most of them belonging to the giant, shaggy relatives of today’s elephants. A new study argues that such mysterious graveyards were not the results of a natural catastrophe, but rather the work of early human hunters—who may have had help from some of the world’s first dogs.

“This is the first time that someone’s gone out on a limb and suggested something different than what we thought before,” says Angela Perri, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and an expert on dog domestication. “But it’s still very speculative at this stage.”

Study author Pat Shipman first became interested in what she calls “mammoth megasites” in 2009. About 30 such spots have been unearthed in central Europe and North Asia, some with tens of thousands of bones packed tightly on top of each other across areas as small as 60 square meters. The massive tusks and femurs of mammoths jut out among the remains of wild horses, deer, foxes, and other animals. “They’re crazy sites,” says Shipman, an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. “The sheer number of dead mammoths is astounding.” More than 160 of the tusked goliaths lie in the mammoth cemetery—a site known as Berelekh—alone.

(read more)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

VI International Conference on Mammoths

Selected Papers

Not the brain alone: the nutritional potential of elephant heads in Paleolithic sites
Aviad AGAM , and Ran BARKAI

Occurrences of bone growth variations in Columbian mammoth, Mammuthus columbi at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD

New discoveries of woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros from Northern Iberia

Migratory movements of a population of Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) from Laguna de las Cruces, San Luis Potosí, México

Quaternary sites in Central Yakutia, containing remains of mammoth fauna
Innokenty BELOLUBSKY , Pavel NIKOLSKIY, Alexander BASILYAN, Anatoly SERGEENKO, and Gennady BOESKOROV

The Yukagir Bison: initial analysis of a complete frozen mummy of Bison priscus from the Early Holocene of Northern Eurasia

Tomographic study and 3D-reconstruction of mummified Pleistocene dog from North-Eastern Siberia
Sergei FEDOROV , Darima GARMAEVA, Nikolai LUGINOV, Semyon GRIGORIEV, Grigoriy SAVVINOV, Sergei VASILEV, Konstantin KIRIKOV, Morten ALLENTOFT, and Alexei TIKHONOV

Final years of life and seasons of death of woolly mammoths from Wrangel Island
Joseph EL ADLI , Daniel FISHER, Sergey VARTANYAN, Alexei TIKHONOV, and Bernard BUIGUES

New material of Mammuthus primigenius (Proboscidea, Elephantidae) from the Late Pleistocene of Niederweningen, Canton Zurich, Switzerland
Mirjam FEHLMANN , and Winand BRINKMANN

The fat of the land: tales from a Gravettian hearth (27,000 years BP) at Krems-Wachtberg (Lower Austria)

Palaeoloxodon Elephant from the Pleistocene of Southwestern Siberia (Russia)

Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) carcasses from European great plain mass death sites as an important food resource of the cave hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta spelaea) during the Late Pleistocene
Philippe FOSSE , Mietje GERMONPRÉ, and Dick MOL

Proboscideans (Palaeoloxodon antiquus, Mammuthus meridionalis/trogontherii) and first human settlements in France: taphonomic consideration from Soleilhac (Haute-Loire)
Philippe FOSSE , Jean Baptiste FOURVEL, Stéphane MADELAINE, and Alain TURQ

Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) in southern France during the Late Palaeolithic: a geo-chronological assessment based on the palaeontological, rock art and portable art records
Philippe FOSSE , Carole FRITZ, Evelyne CRÉGUT-BONNOURE, Guillaume FLEURY, Jean Baptiste FOURVEL, Stéphane MADELAINE, Georges SAUVET, Lise AURIÈRE, Olivia RIVERO, and Gilles TOSELLO

Diet and habitat of Mammuthus columbi (Falconer, 1857) from two Late Pleistocene localities in Central Western México

The five mammoth bone huts of the Upper Palaeolithic camp-site of Gontsy (Ukraine)
Lioudmila IAKOVLEVA, and François DJINDJIAN

The Soyons mammoth: a Late Palaeolithic butchered woolly mammoth associated with lithic artefacts in the Rhône valley, Ardèche, France
Elodie-Laure JIMENEZ

A partial skeleton of Elephas antiquus Falconer & Cautley, 1847 from Eordaia, Macedonia, Greece
Charalampos KEVREKIDIS , and Dick MOL

Maximum geographic extension of Holarctic Mammuthus primigenius during the Late Pleistocene
Ralf-Dietrich KAHLKE

Diet of Late Pleistocene mammoths of northeastern Russia
Irina KIRILLOVA , Jacqueline ARGANT, Olga KORONA, Alexei TIUNOV, Oksana ZANINA, Evgeniy ZINOVIEV, and Fedor K. SHIDLOVSKIY

The latest recorded bison of West Beringia

Taxonomic revision of the Japanese Middle Pleistocene Mammuthus (M. protomammonteus), with a new observation method for fossil elephant molars using X-ray computed tomography
Hiromichi KITAGAWA , Keiichi TAKAHASHI, and Rika BABA

An evaluation of direct seasonal mammoth mobility reconstruction from spatially-resolved Sr isotopic and trace elements ratios in molar enamel

Insect fauna and environment during the last interglacial in Western Beringia
Svetlana KUZMINA

Elephant food taboos: cross-cultural animal humanization?
Maayan LEV , and Ran BARKAI

Climate forcing of mammoth range shifts in the countdown to extinction
Adrian M. LISTER , and Anthony STUART

The Eurasian mammoth distribution during the second half of the Late Pleistocene and the Holocene

A cranium of a mammoth calf [Mammuthus primigenius (BLUMENBACH, 1799)] from the Eurogully, North Sea
Dick MOL, Klaas POST, and Hans VAN DER PLICHT

The exploitation of mammoth in the Swabian Jura (SW-Germany) during the Aurignacian and Gravettian Periods
Susanne C. MÜNZEL , Sibylle WOLF, Dorothée G. DRUCKER, and Nicholas J. CONARD

Convincing evidence of mammoth hunting in the Siberian Arctic between 29,000 and 27,000 14C years BP (new data from Yana Palaeolithic site)
Pavel NIKOLSKIY , and Vladimir PITULKO

Preliminary data from the study of the intact 50 000 YBP frozen mummy of the Anyuy steppe bison (Anyuy River, Arctic Far East)

Evidence of contact between Mammuthus intermedius (Jourdan, 1861) and ancient humans from Duruitoarea Veche, Republic of Moldova: preliminary data
Theodor OBADĂ

Mammoth «Graveyards» of the Northern Yana-Indighirka Lowland, Arctic Siberia
Vladimir PITULKO , Elena PAVLOVA, and Aleksandr BASILYAN

Human-inflicted lesion on a 45,000-year-old Pleistocene wolf humerus from the Yana river, Arctic Siberia
Vladimir PITULKO , Aleksei TIKHONOV, Konstantin KUPER, and Roman POLOZOV

Overview and preliminary analysis of the new finds of Late Pleistocene mammoth fauna in the Yana-Indigirka Lowland, Yakutia, Russia

The “Mammoth Portal” database as a new global accounting system for the mammoth fauna

Age profile of terminal Pleistocene Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) from the Tule Springs fossils beds of Nevada, U.S.A.
Stephen M. ROWLAND

The effect of insular dwarfism on dietary niche occupation in mammoths: what were the pygmy mammoths from Santa Rosa Island of California eating?
Gina SEMPREBON , Florent RIVALS, Julia FAHLKE, William SANDERS, Adrian LISTER, and Ursula GÖHLICH

The relict steppe soils in the northeast Eurasia - refugium sites of the Pleistocene mammoth steppes

Neanderthal-mammoth interactions: re-evaluating evidence for repeated “Mammoth Drives”
at La Cotte de St Brelade (Jersey)
Geoff M. SMITH

Elephants, Acheulian tools, and large game processing: a use-wear and experimental perspective from Lower Palaeolithic Revadim, Israel

“Black” elephant bones in a cave: the case of Charkadio cave on Tilos Island, Greece

How many Asian elephants are killed illegally for ivory and in conflicts?
Raman SUKUMAR , and Karpagam CHELLIAH

From the Charkadio cave excavation, to a full 3D reconstruction of an extinct elephant

First discovery of Middle Pleistocene steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii) remains from northern China
Yuan WANG , and Changzhu JIN

Jaksice II - new site of the mammoth hunters from southern Poland
Jarosław WILCZYŃSKI , Piotr WOJTAL, and Dobrawa SOBIERAJ

Hunters of the giants. Woolly mammoth-hunting during the Gravettian in Central Europe (Poland and Czech Republic)
Piotr WOJTAL , and Jarosław WILCZYŃSKI

The use of elephant bones for making Acheulian handaxes

    Siatista, Western Macedonia, Greece

Monday, May 26, 2014

Three Papers, Three Different Schizophrenia Studies

A recent Wellcome Trust paper on human genetic variation focuses on positive selection for three genes, one of which is ZNF804A, a gene linked to schizophrenia.  To illustrate how complex the inter population interpretation of these genes can be, I reference three different papers which look at how schizophrenia genes play out in different populations.  The complexity of interpretation is likely beyond that of the public, and perhaps even beyond some in the research community.  The issue of the composition of the research teams does come into play here.  It is easy to see that the different research teams, each with their distinct interests, have their own interpretation of the effect of different schizophrenia genes.  The study and interpretation in these three papers are clearly not value and focus neutral.  In light of this, some of the broad statements made in the Wellcome Trust paper appear to be made rather cavalierly.

1.  Human genomic regions with exceptionally high or low levels of population differentiation identified from 911 whole-genome sequences
Vincenza Colonna, Qasim Ayub, Yuan Chen, et al.
bioRxiv posted online May 23, 2014
Access the most recent version at doi:
Lead author:  Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

"Second, the derived allele at an exomic INDEL (a novel variant, Supplementary Table 2, chromosome 2, position 185802211) is an insertion of 3 bp (ACA) which adds a threonine residue at amino acid position 697 within the first exon of the zinc finger protein 804A gene(ZNF804A). This variant is present at high frequency in the ASN population (DAF=0.83 vs 0.58 and 0.07 in EUR and AFR, respectively). ZNF804A acts as a transcription factor and regulates the transcription of genes related to schizophrenia [41]. An intronic polymorphism (rs1344706) in this gene has been associated with schizophrenia [42] and a third variant, rs4667001 in the fourth exon, changes both an amino acid and mRNA levels [43]. The ACA insertion is in strong LD with rs4667001 (r^2 =0.96) but less so with rs1344706 (r^2= 0.45).  Because of the threonine insertion, the protein has an additional site for post-translational modifications such as glycosylation and phosphorylation. Phosphorylation of other proteins (e.g. the deubiquitinating enzyme OTUB1) has been demonstrated to regulate susceptibility
to pathogens of the Yersinia family [44], of which some members probably evolved in China[45], and thus we speculate that the insertion may have been selected in relation to pathogen resistance."

2.  Linkage analysis of schizophrenia in African-American families
HW Wiener, L Klei, [...], and RCP Go

"While many studies have sought a window into the genetics of schizophrenia, few have focused on African-American families. An exception is the Project among African-Americans to Explore Risks for Schizophrenia (PAARTNERS), which seeks to identify novel and known risk variation for schizophrenia by genetic analyses of African-American families. We report a linkage study of diagnostic status in 217 African-American families using the Illumina Linkage Panel. Due to assumed incomplete and time-dependent penetrance, we performed linkage analysis using two different treatments of diagnosis: (1) treating both affected and unaffected individuals as informative for linkage (using the program SibPal) and (2) treating only affected individuals as informative (using the program Merlin). We also explore three definitions of affected status: narrowly defined Schizophrenia; one broadened to include Schizoaffective disorder; and another including all diagnoses indicating psychosis. Several regions show a decrease in the evidence for linkage as the definition broadens 8q22.1 (rs911, 99.26cM; Sibpal p-value [p] goes from 0.006 to 0.02), 16q24.3 (rs1006547, 130.48cM; p from 0.00095 to 0.0085), and 20q13.2 (rs1022689, 81.73cM; p from 0.00015 to 0.032). One region shows a substantial increase in evidence for linkage, 11p15.2 (rs722317, 24.27cM; p from 0.0022 to 0.0000003); Merlin results support the significance of the Sibpal results (p = 0.00001). Our linkage results overlap two broad, previously-reported linkage regions: 8p23.3-p12 found in studies sampling largely families of European ancestry; and 11p11.2-q22.3 reported by a study of African-American families. These results should prove quite useful for uncovering loci affecting risk for schizophrenia."

3. ZNF804A and schizophrenia susceptibility in Asian populations.
Li M, Shi CH, Shi YY, Luo XJ, Zheng XB, Li ZQ, Liu JJ, Chong SA, Lee J, Wang Y, Liu XY, Yin LD, Pu XF, Diao HB, Xu Q, Su B.
2012 Oct;159B(7):794-802.
Epub 2012 Aug 6.

"ZNF804A, a recently identified risk gene for schizophrenia, has been extensively investigated and the principle finding for this locus has been the association with SNP rs1344706 in populations of European ancestries. However, in Asian populations, only a few studies have been conducted for rs1344706 and the results were inconsistent. Here, we studied rs1344706 and schizophrenia susceptibility in multiple Asian case-control samples (10 Chinese and 2 Japanese samples; N = 21,062), and the meta-analyses indicated non-significant association of rs1344706 with schizophrenia (P = 0.26), suggesting the same SNP identified in European samples is not predisposing risk in Asians. Further genotyping and association analyses of a set of SNPs spanning the entire genomic region of ZNF804A (520 kb) identified no association except for SNP rs359895 (P = 7.8 x 10(-5) , N = 5,172), a newly reported risk SNP located in the ZNF804A promoter region with functional implications. This suggests that ZNF804A may also contribute to schizophrenia susceptibility in Asians although the risk SNP is different from that in Europeans, and it was supported by the detected up-regulation of ZNF804A mRNA expression in the blood cells of Chinese schizophrenia patients compared with normal controls (P = 0.004). Additionally, the linkage disequilibrium (LD) structure analyses using data from HapMap indicated distinct LD blocks across ZNF804A between Chinese and Europeans, which may explain the different association patterns between them, and also highlight the compounding difficulty of genetic studies of complex diseases like schizophrenia when studying multiple ethnic populations."

Faculty of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

I've seen a number of papers published recently from the Sanger Institute that look specifically at genetic variation in the human population. Some papers look quite interesting. I thought it would be worth snooping to see how much genetic variation there was in the faculty of this institution.  After looking, I don't know what to say.  The International Fellows program at the Sanger Institute looks interesting, but it is only two people working in Africa.  Otherwise, the core composition of the faculty looks very male and not diverse.  I did briefly check other institutions working in this area, and while the situation across the board does not appear to be much better, the prominent and well funded Sanger Institute does appear to perhaps have a problem in the area of "unconscious bias".  Were I a donor to the Wellcome Trust, I would think about directing my donation elsewhere.

Wellcome Trust Report on Women, Science, Engineering and Technology for Patricia Hewitt

Note that this Wellcome Trust report is a poor cousin compared to the 1999 A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT.  In being asked about unintended bias (Question 4), the report states that funding award rates for men and women appear to be equal.  Said and done, then.  Nothing said about bias in access to informal networks, access to conferences, being stuck in a lectureship with high teaching loads, differential childcare and family responsibilities, to name a few of the other ways in which differential bias might occur.

Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Faculty (Link)

Academic Faculty:  34
Academic Faculty (female non-minority):  4 (11.8%)
Academic Faculty (male minority):  4 (11.8%)
Academic Faculty (female minority):  0

Associate Faculty:  12
Associate Faculty (female non-minority):  1 (8.3%)
Associate Faculty (male minority):  0
Associate Faculty (female minority):  0

International Fellows (Africans working in Africa):  2
International Fellows (women):  0

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Nancy Hopkins: This revolution isn't over.

Thanks to Jonathan Eisen for posting this on his blog.  I've long been a fan of Nancy Hopkins.  In the speech, she refers to the landmark report: 1999 report on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT.  She also states "despite enormous progress, this revolution isn't over.  There are entire industries, venture capital, Silicon Valley, even the biotech start-ups right here in Boston who's leaders appear not to have heard of the civil rights act."
As a woman engineer working in Silicon Valley, I will drink to that.  This revolution isn't over.
It's good to see Professor Nancy Hopkins just as unstoppable as ever.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


This is a picture of what downtown San Francisco will look like when the sea level rises 12 feet.  It's taken from an article published in the New Daily News:  U.S. coastal landmarks submerged if sea level rises 12 feet.
In the picture, you can see entirely submerged:
The Embarcadero,
The foundation of AT&T Park,
A big chunk of the South of Market residential area where a lot of people live and where may high-tech startups are located.

Also submerged would be China Basin, Mission Bay, Islais Creek, parts of the Mission District, the Marina, the Great Highway and parts of the adjacent Sunset District.

Interestingly enough, there is already a discussion about damming the Golden Gate to save highly vulnerable land used by tech companies and agribusinesses in California. (In this article, there is no discussion at all about what will happen to the many poor countries who will also be affected by climate change and sea level rise.)

To me, what is striking about these conversations is that the time horizon for which we need to start planning is in the next one to two hundred years.  Not very far away.  It's a little odd to hear the high tech community talking about mega projects like damming the Golden Gate.  Yet, it is unusual hear a San Francisco tech community conversation about building a well connected light rail system running up and down the peninsula to lessen the commute load on the increasingly clogged 280 and 101.  Yes, a few companies like Google, Apple and Yahoo have their commuter buses, but most companies don't.   Instead, we have an aging and unreliable train system (Caltrain), that doesn't connect very well to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).

Yahoo recently eliminated their policy allowing employees to work partly from home.  (Thank you Marissa Mayer.)

Large scale infrastructure planning is left to the cash strapped state.  Meanwhile, high tech companies strategize to minimize the amount of tax they pay into the California system.  Many also push their manufacturing operations to countries that rely heavily on coal to generate electricity, further accelerating the world CO2 load.

A query using "green" of the techcrunch website will tell you that Bay Area interest in green tech is a fading memory. 

Oddly, I find myself digging around on sites like burritojustice to read an article talking about what it will be like to live in San Francisco with a +200′ sea level rise.
Related Post:
EDGAR Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research

Monday, May 12, 2014

Western Antarctic ice sheet collapse already begun

The Guardian

The collapse of the Western Antarctica ice sheet is already under way and is unstoppable, two separate teams of scientists said on Monday.

The glaciers' retreat is being driven by climate change and is already causing sea-level rise at a much faster rate than scientists had anticipated.

The loss of the entire western Antarctica ice sheet could eventually cause up to 4 metres (13ft) of sea-level rise, devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world. But the researchers said that even though such a rise could not be stopped, it is still several centuries off, and potentially up to 1,000 years away.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Joan Feynman: From Auroras to Anthropology

from A Passion for Science:  Tales of Discovery and Invention
by Christopher Riley

Joan Feynman’s career spans more than sixty years of dramatic change in society’s perceptions of the contributions that women can make to science. As a pioneer of the study of high-energy particles in space and the creator of statistical models to predict their impact on a spacecraft over its lifetime, her work is still used across the world today by the satellite industry. Joan’s research has lead to better understanding of sunspot cycles and the causes of planetary auroras. Now in her eighties, she continues to work, applying her research to new frontiers of anthropology. But this impressive career in science was almost stopped before it had started, due to a view of women that prevailed when she was growing up.

Women can’t do science

“Women can’t do science, because their brains aren’t made for it,” Lucille Feynman declared to her eight-year-old daughter Joan. The news was a huge blow to the little girl’s ambitions which, at the time in 1935, were firmly set on following her brother Richard into a life scientific. “I remember sitting in a chair and weeping,” she recalls.

The siblings grew up in an extremely science-nurturing household in Far Rockaway, a neighbourhood of New York City. A deep curiosity about the world had been enthusiastically encouraged at every opportunity and such an upbringing made this sudden news from her mother all the more shocking.

Lucille was an enlightened civil-rights campaigner who had marched for women’s suffrage in her youth. Yet she didn’t consider pointing her daughter towards other women of the time as potential role models. “To me, Madame Curie was a mythological figure,” says Joan, “not a real person whom you could strive to emulate.”

Today Joan appreciates that her mother hadn’t reacted like this to be mean. She’d said it because she believed it as an inescapable truth. But Lucille’s damaging misconception would have a lasting, negative effect on her daughter. “It was devastating to be told that all of my dreams were impossible,” says Joan. “I’ve doubted my abilities ever since.”

The other Feynman

In contrast, her brother Richard had been brought up to have complete confidence in his abilities. Their parents had positively thrust him towards a life steeped in maths and science. Even before Richard was born in 1918, Joan’s father Melville had confidently predicted to her mother that the boy was going to be a scientist.

(read more)

Bringing Culture to the Physicists

from Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

Nina Byers, a professor at UCLA, became in charge of the physics colloquium sometime in the early seventies.  The colloquia are normally a place where physicists from other universities come and talk pure technical stuff.  But partly as a result of the atmosphere of that particular period of time, she got the idea that the physicists needed more culture, so she thought she would arrange something along those lines:  Since Los Angeles is near Mexico, she would have a colloquium on the mathematics and astronomy of the Mayans -- the old civilization of Mexico.

(Remember my attitude to culture:  This kind of thing would have driven me crazy if  it were in my university!)

She started looking for a professor to lecture on the subject, and couldn't find anybody at UCLA who was quite an expert.  She telephoned various places and still couldn't find anybody.

Then she remembered Professor Otto Neugebauer, of Brown University, the great expert on Babylonian mathematics [1].  She telephoned him in Rhode Island and asked if he knew someone on the West Coast who could lecture on Mayan mathematics and astronomy.

"Yes," he said.  "I do.  He's not a professional anthropologist or a historian; he's an amateur.  But he certainly knows a lot about it.  His name is Richard Feynman."

She nearly died!  She's trying to bring some culture to the physicists, and the only way to do it is to get a physicist!

The only reason I knew anything about Mayan mathematics was that I was getting exhausted on my honeymoon in Mexico with my second wife, Mary Lou.  She was greatly interested in art history, particularly that of Mexico.  So we went to Mexico for our honeymoon and we climbed up pyramids and down pyramids; she had me following her all over the place.  She showed me many interesting things, such as certain relationships in the designs of various figures, but after a few days (and nights) of going up and down in hot and steamy jungles, I was exhausted.

In some little Guatemalan town in the middle of nowhere we went into a museum that had a case displaying a manuscript full of strange symbols, pictures, and bars and dots.  It was a copy (made by a man named Villacorta) of the Dresden Codex, an original book made by Mayans found in a museum in Dresden.  I knew the bars and dots were numbers.  My father had taken me to the New York World's Fair when I was a little kid, and there they had reconstructed a Mayan temple.  I remembered him telling me how the Mayans had invented the zero and had done many interesting things.

The museum had copies of the codex for sale, so I bought one.  On each page at the left was the codex copy, and on the right a description and partial translation in Spanish.

I love puzzles and codes, so when I saw the bars and dots, I thought, "I'm gonna have some fun!"  I covered up the Spanish with a piece of yellow paper and began playing this game of deciphering the Mayan bars and dots, sitting in the hotel room, while my wife climbed up and down the pyramids all day.

I quickly figured out that a bar was equal to five dots, what the symbol for zero was, and so on.  It took me a little while longer to figure out that bars and dots always carried at twenty the first time, but they carried at eighteen the second time (making cycles of 360).  I also worked out all kinds of things about various faces:  they had surely meant certain days of the weeks.

After we got back home I continued to work on it.  Altogether, it's a lot of fun to try to decipher something like that, because when you start out you don't know anything -- you have no clue to go by.  But then you notice certain numbers that appear often, and add up to other numbers, and so on.

There was one place in the codex where the number 584 was very prominent.  This 584 was divided into periods of 236, 90, 250, and 8.  Another prominent number was 2920, or 584 x 5 (also 365 x 8).  There was a table of multiples of 2920 up to 13 x 2920, then there were multiples of 13 x 2920 for a while, and then -- funny numbers!  They were errors, as far as I could tell.  Only many years later did I figure out what they were. 

Because figures denoting days were associated with this 584 which was divided up so peculiarly, I figured if it wasn't some mythical period of some sort, it might be something astronomical.  Finally I went down to the astronomy library and looked it up, and found that 583.92 days is the period of Venus as it appears from the earth.  Then the 236, 90, 250, 8 became apparent:  it must be the phases that Venus goes through.  It's a morning star, then it can't be seen (it's on the far side of the sun); then it's an evening star, and finally it disappears again (it's between the earth and the sun).  The 90 and the 8 are different because Venus moves more slowly through the sky when it is on the far side of the sun compared to when it passes between the earth and the sun.  The difference between the 236 and the 250 might indicate a difference between the eastern and western horizons in Maya land.

I discovered another table nearby that had periods of 11,959 days.  This turned out to be a table for predicting lunar eclipses.  Still another table had multiples of 91 in descending order.  I never did figure that one out (nor has anyone else).

When I had worked out as much as I could, I finally decided to look at the Spanish commentary to see how much I was able to figure out.  It was complete nonsense.  This symbol was Saturn, this symbol was a god -- it didn't make the slightest bit of sense.  So I didn't have to have covered the commentary; I wouldn't have learned anything from it anyway.

After that I began to read a lot about the Mayans, and found that the great man in the business was Eric Thompson, some of whose books I now have.

When Nina Byers called me up I realized that I had lost my copy of the Dresden Codex.  (I had lent it to Mrs. H. P. Robertson, who had found a Mayan codex in an old trunk of an antique dealer in Paris.  She had brought it back to Pasadena for me to look at -- I still remember driving home with it on the front seat of my car, thinking, "I've gotta be careful driving:  I've got the new codex" -- but as soon as I looked at it carefully, I could see immediately that it was a complete fake.  After a little bit of work I could find where each picture in the new codex had come from in the Dresden Codex.  So I lent her my book to show her, and I eventually forgot she had it.)  So the librarians at UCLA worked very hard to find another copy of Villacorta's rendition of the Dresden Codex, and lent it to me.

I did all the calculations all over again, and in fact I got a little bit further than I did before:  I figured out that those "funny numbers" which I thought before were errors were really integer multiples of something closer to the correct period (583.923) -- The Mayans had realized that 584 wasn't exactly right! [2]

After the colloquium at UCLA Professor Byers presented me with some beautiful color reproductions of the Dresden Codex.  A few months later Caltech wanted me to give the same lecture to the public in Pasadena.  Robert Rowan, a real estate man, lent me some very valuable stone carvings of Mayan gods and ceramic figures for the Caltech lecture.  It was probably highly illegal to take something like that out of Mexico, and they were so valuable that we hired security guards to protect them.

A few days before the Caltech lecture there was a big splurge in the New York Times, which reported that a new codex had been discovered.  There were only three codices (two of which are hard to get anything out of) known to exist at the time -- hundreds of thousands had been burned by Spanish priests as "works of the Devil."  My cousin was working for the AP, so she got me a glossy picture copy of what the New York Times had published and I made a slide of it to include in my talk.

This new codex was a fake.  In my lecture I pointed out that the numbers were in the style of the Madrix codex, but were 236, 90, 250, 8 -- rather a coincidence!  Out of the hundred thousand books originally made, we get another fragment, and it has the same thing on it as the other fragments!  It was obviously, again, one of these put-together things which had nothing original in it.

These people who copy things never have the courage to make up something really different.  If you find something that is really new, it's got to have something different.  A real hoax would be to take something like the period of Mars, invent a mythology to do with it, and then draw pictures associated with this mythology with numbers appropriate to Mars -- not in an obvious fashion; rather, have tables of multiples of the period with some mysterious "error," and so on.  The numbers should have to be worked out a bit.  Then people would say, "Geez!  This had to do with Mars!"  In addition, there should be a number of things in it that are not understandable, and are not exactly like what has been seen before.  That would make a good fake.

I got a big kick out of giving my talk on "Deciphering Mayan Hieroglyphics."  There I was, being something I'm not, again.  People filed into the auditorium past these glass cases, admiring the color reproduction of the Dresden Codex and the authentic Mayan artifacts watched over by an armed guard in uniform; they heard the two-hour lecture on Mayan mathematics and astronomy from an amateur expert in the field (who even told them how to spot a fake codex), and then they went out, admiring the cases again.  Murray Gell-Mann countered in the following weeks by giving a beautiful set of six lectures concerning the linguistic relations of all the languages of the world.


[1] When I was a young professor at Cornell, Professor Neugebauer had come one year to give a sequence of lectures, call the Messenger Lectures, on Babylonian mathematics.  They were wonderful.  Oppenheimer lectured the next year.  I remember thinking to myself, "Wouldn't it be nice to come, someday, and be able to give a lecture like that!"  Some years later, when I was refusing invitations to lecture in various places, I was invited to give the Messenger Lectures at Cornell.  Of course I couldn't refuse, because I had put that in my mind, so I accepted an invitation to go over to Bob Wilson's house for a weekend and we discussed various ideas.  The result was a series of lectures call "The Character of Physical Law."

[2]  While I was studying this table of corrections for the period of Venus, I discovered a rare exaggeration by Mr. Thompson.  He wrote that by looking at the table, you can deduce how the Mayans calculated the correct period of Venus -- use this number four times and that difference once and you get an accuracy of one day in 4000 years, which is really quite remarkable, especially since the Mayans observed for only a few hundred years.  Thompson happened to pick a combination which fit what he thought was the right period for Venus, 583.92.  But when you put in a more exact figure, something like 583.923, you find the Mayans were off by more.  Of course, by choosing a different combination you can get the numbers in the table to give you 583.923 with the same remarkable accuracy!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Above Where Any Farmer Would Now Think of Ploughing

                     Newburgh (looking east), Fife, Scotland

Lindores Abbey and Its Burgh of Newburgh:  Their History and Annals
Alexander Laing, George Seton, Anthony Hamilton
Chapter 1:  Prehistoric
pages 3,4.

In a district so thoroughly cultivated as Fife, most of the traces of primitive occupation have been obliterated by the plough, but on the southern shoulder of the hill immediately behind Newburgh, a little west from Ormiston, may still be seen the foundation of one of those primeval circular huts, of which numerous clusters remain, where they happen to be out of the range of cultivation.  The floor of the hut measures thirty feet in diameter, and, like almost all of the kind that have been discovered, the doorway faces the south.  There seems no reason to doubt that this is the remains of one of those kind of huts, having a tapering roof of straw or wattles, which Julius Caesar found the inhabitants of the southern portion of the island occupying at the time of his invasion (B.C. 55) [1] .  In its immediate neighbourhood we have evidence that its occupants had advanced beyond the nomadic state, and were in the enjoyment of the comforts derived from the cultivation of the soil.  Close by, where there are patches of soil of that rich dry kind to be found on the shelves of the trap formation, are still to be seen several short, narrow, high-raised ridges, evidently the remains of primitive agriculture.  Close at hand there are also yet to be seen traces of a small square fold for cattle, so well chosen, that in stormy weather the flocks still seek shelter in and around it.  There is of very necessity much obscurity regarding primitive agriculture, -- the silent on-goings of peace taking less hold on the imagination or memory, than the feats of war, and they are therefore left unrecorded.  But beyond all doubt, there are in many places 'marks of cultivation at a height above where any farmer would now think of ploughing or sowing.'[2]  One explanation of this may be found in the fact, that the low lands, at that period, were either in a state of morass, utterly unfit for bearing grain, or overgrown with wood.  As usual, when the people meet with any work of antiquity which they do not understand, they attribute it to supernatural agency, -- this elevated tillage is accordingly known, in many parts of the country, as elf furrows.  The very small patches, however, which exhibit evidence of cultivation, show how circumscribed were the agricultural operations in these early times, and how dependent the population must have been on their cattle, and perhaps in no less a degree, on the chase, for sustenance.[3]

[1]  See Wilson's Prehistoric Annals, chap. iv., for an interesting account of these primitive dwellings; also 'Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries,' Vol. VI., pp. 402-410, for an equally interesting account of groups of them at Balnabroch, in the parish of Kirkmichael, Strathardle; by John Stuart, LL.D., Secy. of the Society of Antiq.  There are traces of the foundation of a smaller hut, 20 feet in diameter, adjacent to the one mentioned in the text.

[2]  Cosmo Innes, Pro. of Soc. of Ant., Vol. V., p. 203; Sinclair's Statist. Acct., Vol. II., p. 582.

[3]  The numerous terraces which are found on hillsides in Scotland are believed, with good reason, to have been thrown up for the cultivation of grain; and it is obvious, that this mode of treating the soil must have had the same effect as draining in modern times, making the ground thrown up no only deeper but drier, and fitter for bearing crops.

Related Post:

First of His Tribe to this Fair Vale

Funny . . .


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Poeme Electronique (1958)

I'm passively enjoying the many wonderful blog posts, papers and twitter feeds that are attached to this blog.  I won't comment except to say that the popular media really does us a disservice.  There is, after all, intelligent (as well as kind, sincerely concerned, funny, witty, ironic . . .) life in the universe.

I'm taking a bit of a break from the blog, collecting my thoughts.  In the meantime, a friend of mine here in San Francisco sometimes plays with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.  I tagged along last weekend to hear her play in a live performance of Edgard Varese's Poème Electronique.                     

Edgard Varèse's 1958 Poème Electronique is a landmark in the history of high fidelity audio and also in contemporary music.  I notice that youtube has a short video describing its production:

From my program last weekend "Edgard Varèse composed his eight-minute Poème Electronique for the performance in the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels Worlds Fair.  The occasion was a confluence of extraordinary energies; the architect was Le Corbusier, though the complex structure underpinning the building was the brainchild of the young architect/composer Iannis Xenakis whose work "Concrete PH" was also performed in the Pavilion.  Varèse was not the first choice of the Philips committee, but Le Corbusier insisted and Poème Electronique was chosen over competing proposals by Benjamin Britten and Aaron Copland.  Poème Electronique broke new ground in the arena of electro-acoustic music.  It not only joined the cadre of a very few works by major composers for the medium, it added a spectacular element of spatial diffusion.  Some 450 speakers where embedded in the walls of the pavilion's cavernous interior, and through a system of manual switches could be activated in groups such that sound swirled through space.  Unfortunately contemporary audiences cannot experience Poème Electronique in its original form.  The pavilion was dismantled at the end of the Fair.  Much to the delight of the architects who had suffered through a barrage of criticisms that the structure would collapse under its own weight, the thin concrete sheaves that Le Corbusier and Xenakis mounted on a hyperbolic substructure proved to be nearly indestructible."

Here's a youtube version of Poème Electronique (unfortunately without the acoustic spatial diffusion of the original):

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Green Isle of the West

Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend
There was once a prince who found himself in the Green Isle of the West, and this is how the story of his adventures are told:

The Prince of the Kingdom of Level-Plains set out on his travels to see the world, and he went northward and westward until he came to a red glen surrounded by mountains. There he met with a proud hero, who spoke to him, saying: "Whence come you, and whither are you going?"

Said the prince: "I am searching for my equal," and as he spoke he drew his sword. He was a bold and foolish young man.

"I have no desire to fight with you," the proud hero answered. "Go your way in peace."

The prince was jealous of the hero who spoke thus so calmly and proudly, and said: "Draw your sword or die."

Then he darted forward. The hero swerved aside to escape the sword-thrust, and next moment he leapt upon the prince, whom he overcame aftera brief struggle, and bound with a rope. Then he carried him to the top of a cliff, and said: "You are not fit to be among men. Go and dwell among the birds of prey."

He flung him over the cliff. The prince fell heavily into a large nest on a ledge of rock, the nest of the queen of eagles--a giant bird of great strength.

For a time he lay stunned by his fall. When he came to himself he regretted his folly, and said: "If ever I escape from this place I shall behave wisely, and challenge no man without cause."

He found himself in the great nest with three young eagles in it. The birds were hungry, and when the prince held his wrists towards one, it pecked the rope that bound them until it was severed; so then he stretched his legs towards another bird, and it severed the rope about his ankles. He was thus set free. He rose up and looked about him. The ledge jutted out in midair on the cliff-side, and the prince saw it was impossible either to ascend or descend the slippery rocks. Behind the nest there was a deep cave, into which he crept. There he crouched, waiting to see what would happen next.

The young birds shrieked with hunger, and the prince was hungry also. Ere long the queen of eagles came to the nest. Her great body and outstretched wings cast a shadow like that of a thunder cloud and when she perched on the ledge of a rock, it shook.

The eagle brought a hare for her young and laid it in the nest. Then she flew away. The prince at once crept out of the cave and seized the hare. He gathered together a bundle of dry twigs from the side of the nest and kindled a fire in the cave, and cooked the hare and ate it. The smoke from the fire smothered the young birds, and when the queen of eagles returned she found that they were dead. She knew at once that an enemy must be near at hand, and looked into the cave. There she saw the prince, who at once drew his sword bravely and fought long and fiercely against her, inflicting many wounds to defend himself. But he was no good match for that fierce bird, and at length she seized him in her talons and, springing off the ledge of rock, flew through the air with him. His body was soon torn by the eagle's claws and sore with wounds. The eagle, also sorely wounded, rose up among the clouds, and turning westward flew hurriedly over the sea. Her shadow blotted out the sunshine on the waters as she passed in her flight, and boatmen lowered their sails, thinking that a sudden gust of wind was sweeping down upon them.

The prince swooned, and regained consciousness,and swooned again. As the bird flew onwards the sun scorched him. Then she dropped him into the sea, and he found the waters cold as ice. "Alas!" he thought, "I shall be drowned." He rose to the surface and began to swim towards an island near at hand, but the eagle pounced down, and seizing him again, rose high in the air. Once again she dropped him, and then he swooned and remembered no more, until he found himself lying on a green bank on a pleasant shore. The sun was shining, birds sang sweetly among blossoming trees of great beauty, and the sea-waves made music on the beach. Somewhere near he could hear a river fairy singing a summer song.

Next he heard behind him a splashing of water, and a shower of pearly drops fell upon his right arm as he lay there weak and helpless. But no sooner did the water touch his arm than it became strong again. The splashing continued, and he twisted himself this way and that until the pearly spray had drenched every part of his body. Then he felt strong and active again, and sprang to his feet. He looked round, and saw that the showers of spray had come from a well in which the wounded queen of eagles was bathing herself. The prince knew then that this was a Well of Healing.

He remembered how fiercely the eagle had dealt with him, and wished he still had his sword.

Having no sword, he drew his dirk and crept softly towards the well. He waited a moment, crouching behind a bush, and then, raising his dirk, struck off the eagle's head. But he found it was not easy to kill the monster in the Well of Healing. No sooner was the head struck off than it sprang on again. Thrice he beheaded the eagle, and thrice the head was restored. When, however, he struck off the head a fourth time, he held the blade of his dirk between the head and neck until the eagle was dead. Then he dragged the body out of the well, and buried the head in the ground. Having done so, he bathed in the well, and when he came out of it, all his wounds were healed, and he found himself as active and able as if he had just awakened from a long sleep.

He looked about him, and saw fruit growing on a blossoming tree. He wondered at that, but being very hungry he plucked the fruit and ate it. Never before had he tasted fruit of such sweet flavour. Feeling refreshed, and at the same time happy and contented, he turned to walk through the forest of beautiful trees and singing birds, when he saw three men coming towards him. He spoke to them, saying: "Who are you, and whence come you?" They answered: "There is no time to tell. If you are not a dweller on this island, come with us while there is yet time to escape.

The prince wondered to hear them speak thus, but, having learned wisdom, he followed them in silence. They went down the beach and entered a boat. The prince stepped in also. Two of the men laid oars in the rowlocks, and one sat at the stern to steer. In another moment the boat darted forward, cleaving the waves; but not until it had gone half a league did the man at the helm speak to the prince. He said simply: "Look behind and tell me what you see."

The prince looked and all he saw was a green speck on the horizon. A cry of wonder escaped his lips.

"The speck you see," said the steersman, "is the Green Isle. It is now floating westward to the edge of the ocean."

Then the prince understood why the men had hurried to escape, and he realized that if he had not taken their advice, he would have been carried away beyond the reach of human aid.

Said the steersman: "Now we can speak. Who are you, and whence come you?"

The prince told the story of his adventure with the queen of eagles, and the men in the boat listened intently. When he was done, the steersman said: "Now listen, and hear what we have gone through."

This was the story told by the steersman, whose name was Conall Curlew, the names of the rowers being Garna and Cooimer.

Yesterday at dawn we beheld the Green Isle lying no farther distant from the shore than a league. The fourth man who was with us is named Mac-a-moir, and he spoke, saying: "Let us visit the Green Isle and explore it. I am told that the king has a daughter named Sunbeam, who is of peerless beauty, and that he will give her as a bride to the bravest hero who visits his castle. He who is bold enough will come with me."

We all went down to the beach with Mac-a-moir and launched a boat to cross over to the Green Island. The tide favoured us, and we soon reached it. We moored the boat in a sheltered creek, and landed. The beauties of the forest tempted us to linger, and eat fruit and listen to the melodious songs of numerous birds, but Mac-a-moir pressed us to hasten on. Soon we came to a green valley in which there was a castle. I, Conall, knocked at the gate, and a sentinel asked what I sought, and I answered: "I have come to ask for Sunbeam, daughter of the King of Green Isle, to be the bride of Mac-a-moir."

Word was sent to the king, who said: "He who seeks my daughter Sunbeam must first hold combat with my warriors."

"I am ready for combat," Mac-a-moir declared.

The gate was opened, and the heroes entered. Mac-a-moir drew his sword, and the first warrior came against him. Ere long Mac-a-moir struck him down. A second warrior, and then a third, fought and fell also in turn.

Said the king, when the third warrior fell: "You have overcome the champion of Green Isle."

"Bring forth the next best," Mac-a-moir called.

Said the king: "I fear, my hero, that you wish to slay all my warriors one by one. You have proved your worth. Now let us test you in another manner. My daughter dwells in a high tower on the summit of a steep hill. He who can take her out will have her for his bride. He will also receive two-thirds of my kingdom while I live, and the whole of my kingdom when I die."

All who were present then went towards the tower, which stood on three high pillars.

"Who will try first to take out the king's daughter?" I asked.

Said Mac-a-moir: "I shall try first."

He tried, but he failed. He could neither climb the pillars nor throw them down.

Said the king: "Many a man has tried to take my daughter out of this tower, but each one has failed to do so. You had better all return home."

The other two, Garna and Cooimer, made attempts to shake down the tower, but without success.

Said the king: "It is no use trying. My daughter cannot be taken out."

Then I, Conall, stepped forward. I seized one of the pillars and shook it until it broke. The tower toppled over, and as it came down I grasped the Princess Sunbeam in my arms, and placed her standing beside me.

"Your daughter is now won," I called to the king.

The Princess Sunbeam smiled sweetly, and the king said: "Yes, indeed, she has been won."

"I have won her," I, Conall, reminded him, "for Mac-a-moir."

Said the king: "He who will marry Sunbeam must remain on Green Isle."

"So be it," Mac-a-moir answered him as he took Sunbeam's hand in his and walked towards the castle, following the king.

A great feast was held in the castle, and Mac-a-moir and the princess were married.

Said the king: "I am well pleased with Mac-a-moir. It is my desire that his three companions should remain with him and be my warriors."

I, Conall, told him: "It is our desire to return to our own country."

The king did not answer. He sat gloomily at the board, and when the wedding feast was ended he walked from the hall.

Mac-a-moir came and spoke to us soon afterwards, saying: "If it is your desire to go away, make haste and do so now, for the king is about to move Green Isle far westward towards the realms of the setting sun."

We bade him farewell, and took our departure. You met us as we hastened towards the boat, and it is as well that you came with us.

The prince dwelt a time with Conall and his companions. Then he returned to his own land, and related all that had taken place to his father, the King of Level-Plains.

Not a Good Day on Wonder-Plain

Prehistoric North Sea 'Atlantis' hit by 5m tsunami (about 8000 years ago)
Paul Rincon Science editor, BBC News website
Related Posts from this blog:
The Daughter of King Land-Under-Waves (Link)
Map of the World with Approximate LGM Sea Level (Link)