Did cooking make us evolve?

Tom Marcinko @ 19-05-2009

campfireBecause there’s still got to be an optimistic sf story in here somewhere:

Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangman theorizes that cooking with fire triggered hominids to evolve into humans. His experience in the wild led him to conclude that humans could never live on what chimpanzees eat. Cooking, he thinks, might account for the sharp rise in brain size, and the decrease in the size of teeth, that occurred about 1.6 million years ago in Homo erectus over its predecessor, homo habilis. It might explain our relatively small guts and weak jaws, not to mention certain preferences that seem innately human:

[O]ne of the fascinating things for me as I ventured into this was really learning about what hunters and gatherers eat—and it turns out that there are no records of people having a large amount of their food come from raw food. Everywhere, everyone expects a cooked meal every evening.

The problem is lack of evidence that people used fire that long ago. A lot of scientists believe cooking didn’t really start till only 500,000 years ago.

Lacking the proof for widespread fire use by H. erectus, Wrangham hopes that DNA data may one day help his cause. “It would be very interesting to compare the human and Homo erectus genetics data to see when certain characteristics arose, such as, When did humans evolve improved defenses against Maillard reaction products?” he says, referring to the chemical products of cooking certain foods that can lead to carcinogens.

Human origins have been in the news.  How and when we began is a source of wonder. Call me mammal-centric, but I found it impossible to look at the (eerily well-preserved) face of the newly unearthed lemur-like fossil without feeling a bit of kinship.

[Image: Campfire, P. Sto]


What English words are dying out?

Tom James @ 26-02-2009

lettersLinguists at the University of Reading have developed a computer model of the development of the English language:

Reading University researchers claim “I”, “we”, “two” and “three” are among the most ancient, dating back tens of thousands of years.

Their computer model analyses the rate of change of words in English and the languages that share a common heritage.

The team says it can predict which words are likely to become extinct – citing “squeeze”, “guts”, “stick” and “bad” as probable first casualties.

This reminds me of another exploration of the future of language.

[at BBC News][image from AYUMi ~ PHOTOGRAPHY]


Stonehenge was ‘prehistoric rave venue’; Lake Michigan wants slice of the action

Paul Raven @ 06-01-2009

StonehengeHere in the UK, the endless debate over what Stonehenge was actually used for continues with a new suggestion: professor and part-time DJ Rupert Till believes his measurements show that Stonehenge has ideal acoustic properties for amplifying a “repetitive trance rhythm”.

One wonders whether, had Professor Till been working in the seventies and been a Hawkwind fan, he wouldn’t have concluded the monument’s suitability for amplifying fifteen-minute space-rock wig-outs… [image from Wikimedia Commons]

Meanwhile, Geoff Manaugh at BLDBLOG points us to more mysterious stones arranged in a circle… this time, though, they’re at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

… a series of stones – some of them arranged in a circle and one of which seemed to show carvings of a mastodon – 40-feet beneath the surface waters of Lake Michigan. If verified, the carvings could be as much as 10,000 years old – coincident with the post-Ice Age presence of both humans and mastodons in the upper midwest.

That said, there may be other explanations; as an anonymous commenter at BLDGBLOG says:

I did this about 10 years ago, it was a college project.