Science Briefs: Ancient women left their mark on caves

October 20, 2013 

Ancient women certainly left their mark on caves

A Penn State anthropologist can determine the sex of some of the ancient people who left their prints on rocks and cave walls – and the majority of them were women.

The assumption has been that handprints, whether stencils (paint blown around the hand) or actual paint-dipped prints, were produced by men because other images on cave walls were often hunting scenes. Smaller handprints were assumed to be adolescent boys.

Dean Snow, emeritus professor of anthropology at Penn State, published his results in the current issue of American Antiquity.

Snow first measured the overall size of the hand using five different measurements to separate adult male hands from the rest. The result: Only 10 percent of the handprints on cave walls in Spain and France were left by adult males. He then compared the ratios of the index finger to the ring finger and the index finger to the pinky to distinguish between adolescent males and females. Results indicates that 15 percent were placed by adolescent males, leaving 75 percent of the handprints female.

Plants helped keep planet from cooking in past 60 years

Enhanced growth of Earth’s leafy greens during the 20th century has significantly slowed the planet’s transition to being red-hot, according to the first study to specify the extent to which plants have prevented climate change since pre-industrial times. Researchers based at Princeton University found that land ecosystems have kept the planet cooler by absorbing billions of tons of carbon, especially during the past 60 years.

The planet’s land-based carbon-storage capacity has kept 186 billion to 192 billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere since the mid-20th century, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From the 1860s to the 1950s, land use by humans was a substantial source of the carbon entering the atmosphere because of deforestation and logging. After the 1950s, humans began restoring forests and adopting agriculture that, while larger-scale, is higher-yield. At the same time, industries and automobiles continued to steadily emit carbon dioxide that contributed to a botanical boom. Though a greenhouse gas and pollutant, carbon dioxide is also a plant nutrient.

Those “carbon savings” amount to a current average global temperature that is cooler by one-half of a degree Fahrenheit. The planet has warmed by only 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit since the early 1900s. The point at which scientists calculate the global temperature would be dangerously high is just 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit more than pre-industrial levels.

This Amazon singer has a great bill for fine music

Researchers from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Cornish College of the Arts, in Seattle, have found striking parallels between our music and the song of a small brown bird living in the Amazon region. The musician wren favors consonant over dissonant intervals, something rarely observed in other animal species before. Moreover, the bird prefers to sing perfect consonances (octaves, perfect fifths and perfect fourths).

Consonant intervals are perceived to fit well together. They sound calm and stable and are the basis for keys in Western music.

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