Sunday, August 31, 2014

Physicists create tool to foresee language destruction impact and thus prevent it

There have been numerous cases of cultural changes throughout history. Either by imposition or assimilation, cultural traits are transmitted between neighbouring regions and often one replaces the original cultural traits of the other. Physicists Joaquim Fort, from the University of Girona (UdG), and Neus Isern, from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), are experts in modelling these phenomena by adequately representing a reality, as they have demonstrated with their previous projects.

In this occasion, the researchers applied their expertise to the area of language substitution, i.e. when the language of one region comes under the influence of the language of a neighbouring region considered to be at a greater social and economic advantage. The model helps to estimate the degree to which the languages are under threat and, therefore, are useful in designing actions to control or reverse language diversity destruction.

Researchers analysed the case of Welsh and its deterioration. Isern and Fort verified how, from 1961 to 1981, English took over Welsh and became the main language of communication. The researchers described the evolution in number of speakers, by reproducing the decrease over time in speakers of the native language as they substituted Welsh for the neighbouring language, English.

In this research, the physics defined parameters which allow them to estimate the speed - in kilometres per year - in which the stronger language expands geographically over the native language. Their work has also focused on observing the evolution of other languages such as Quechua and Scottish Gaelic. Neus Isern explains that "these parameters can be applied to languages spoken in countries where the governments are not concerned about their conservation, while they are more difficult to use with languages such as Catalan, which is protected under a series of linguistic policies".

In a wider context, this type of model could be applied to other examples of cultural changes in which the more favourable traits expand and abolish the predominance of a native cultural trait.

EurekAlert. 2014. “Physicists create tool to foresee language destruction impact and thus prevent it”. EurekAlert. Posted: July 25, 2014. Available online:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Fire ecology manipulation by California native cultures

California's tribal peoples utilized wildfire to diversify resources

Before the colonial era, 100,000s of people lived on the land now called California, and many of their cultures manipulated fire to control the availability of plants they used for food, fuel, tools, and ritual. Contemporary tribes continue to use fire to maintain desired habitat and natural resources.

Frank Lake, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Station, will lead a field trip to the Stone Lake National Wildfire Refuge during the Ecological Society of America's 99th Annual Meeting, in Sacramento, Cal. this August. Visitors will learn about plant and animal species of cultural importance to local tribes. Don Hankins, a faculty associate at California State University at Chico and a member of the Miwok people, will co-lead the trip, which will end with a visit to California State Indian Museum.

Lake will also host a special session on a "sense of place," sponsored by the Traditional Ecological Knowledge section of the Ecological Society, that will bring representatives of local tribes into the Annual Meeting to share their cultural and professional experiences working on tribal natural resources issues.

"The fascinating thing about the Sacramento Valley and the Miwok lands where we are taking the field trip is that it was a fire and flood system," said Lake. "To maintain the blue and valley oak, you need an anthropogenic fire system."

Lake, raised among the Yurok and Karuk tribes in the Klamath River area of northernmost California, began his career with an interest in fisheries, but soon realized he would need to understand fire to restore salmon. Fire exerts a powerful effect on ecosystems, including the quality and quantity of water available in watersheds, in part by reducing the density of vegetation.

"Those trees that have grown up since fire suppression are like straws sucking up the groundwater," Lake said.

The convergence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers was historically one of the largest salmon bearing runs on the West Coast, Lake said, and the Miwok, Patwin and Yokut tribal peoples who lived in the area saw and understood how fire was involved.

California native cultures burned patches of forest in deliberate sequence to diversify the resources available within their region. The first year after a fire brought sprouts for forage and basketry. In 3 to 5 years, shrubs produced a wealth of berries. Mature trees remained for the acorn harvest, but burning also made way for the next generation of trees, to ensure a consistent future crop. Opening the landscape improved game and travel, and created sacred spaces.

"They were aware of the succession, so they staggered burns by 5 to 10 years to create mosaics of forest in different stages, which added a lot of diversity for a short proximity area of the same forest type," Lake said. "Complex tribal knowledge of that pattern across the landscape gave them access to different seral stages of soil and vegetation when tribes made their seasonal rounds."

In oak woodlands, burning killed mold and pests like the filbert weevil and filbert moth harbored by the duff and litter on the ground. People strategically burned in the fall, after the first rain, to hit a vulnerable time in the life cycle of the pests, and maximize the next acorn crop. Lake thinks that understanding tribal use of these forest environments has context for and relevance to contemporary management and restoration of endangered ecosystems and tribal cultures.

"Working closely with tribes, the government can meet its trust responsibility and have accountability to tribes, and also fulfill the public trust of protection of life, property, and resources," Lake said. "By aligning tribal values with public values you can get a win-win, reduce fire along wildlife-urban interfaces, and make landscapes more resilient."

EurekAlert. 2014. “Fire ecology manipulation by California native cultures”. EurekAlert. Posted: July 25, 2014. Available online:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Cultural stereotypes may evolve from sharing social information

Millenials are narcissistic, scientists are geeky and men like sports — or so cultural stereotypes would have us believe.

Regardless of whether we believe them to be true, we all have extensive knowledge of cultural stereotypes. But how does this information become associated with certain groups in the first place?

Research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that cultural stereotypes are the unintended but inevitable consequence of sharing social information.

"We examined how social information evolves when it is repeatedly passed from person to person," explained psychological scientist Doug Martin, who leads the Person Perception Laboratory at the University of Aberdeen. "As it passes down a chain of individuals, social information that is initially random complex and very difficult to remember becomes a simple system of category stereotypes that can be learned easily."

According to Martin and colleagues, stereotypes may have negative consequences when they contribute to prejudice, but they can also help us make sense of the world around us, helping us in "the way we organize, store, and use information about other people."

"For example, if we meet a stranger, stereotypes provide us with a foundation on which we can begin to build an impression of this person and therefore guide our behaviour towards them," says Martin.

Martin and colleagues conducted lab experiments in which they asked people to remember information about novel alien characters and then pass this information from person to person. Like the game "Telephone," they expected the information to change as it travelled down the chain of people.

Volunteers were asked to learn personality attributes that described the aliens, all of whom shared certain physical features such as their color, their shape, or the way they moved.

Each person was then tested to see what they could remember. Whatever information they produced was then passed on to be learned by the next volunteer and so on until a chain of information was created.

"As information is passed from person to person, what begins as a chaotic and random association of aliens and attributes becomes simpler, more structured and easier to learn," says Martin. "By the end of the chain we have what look very much like stereotypes with physical features — such as color — strongly associated with the possession of specific personality attributes."

The researchers say stereotypes appear to form and evolve because people share similar cognitive limitations and biases.

People are more likely to confuse the identity of individuals when they belong to the same social category than when they belong to different categories. Similarly, people are more likely to mistakenly think that individuals who belong to the same social category also share the same attributes. Because we all experience the same category-based memory biases, when social information is repeatedly shared it is continually filtered as it passes from one mind to the next until eventually it becomes organised categorically and a stereotype has formed.

The scientists say their research appears to explain why some stereotypes have a basis in reality while others have no obvious origin.

"For example, the cultural stereotype of Scottish people includes attributes that are overrepresented among Scots, such as wearing kilts and having red hair, but also attributes that seemingly have no basis in reality, such as being miserly or dour," says Martin.

"Where a genuine relationship exists between social categories and attributes, people are very good at detecting this, remembering it and then passing this information on. Equally, however, where there is no existing relationship between social categories and attributes, we see this association emerging spontaneously over time as the social information evolves," Martin explains. "If we can understand how cultural stereotypes form and naturally evolve then we might be able to positively influence their content in the future."

EurekAlert. 2014. “Cultural stereotypes may evolve from sharing social information”. EurekAlert. Posted: July 24, 2014. Available online:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tonga May Have Been a Vast Seafaring Empire

The seafaring empire of Tonga in the South Pacific Ocean once spanned more than a thousand miles, serving as the hub through which distant settlements exchanged artifacts and ideas, researchers say. This finding could help explain the rise of monumental structures throughout the Pacific starting about 700 years ago, scientists added.

Tonga is an archipelago of about 160 Polynesian islands, with the core of the kingdom covering an area of about 195,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers). The islands, located about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, were first settled about 2,800 years ago by the Lapita people.

Beginning about 800 years ago, a powerful chiefdom arose in Tonga, unique in Oceania — that is, the islands of the South Pacific — in how it successfully united an entire archipelago of islands. However, much remained unknown about how far Tonga's influence actually reached.

"How much voyaging and interaction occurred in the prehistoric Pacific has been debated for centuries," said lead study author Geoffrey Clark, an archaeologist at the Australian National University in Canberra.

To learn more about the extent of Tonga's empire, scientists chemically analyzed nearly 200 stone tools excavated from the centers of its leaders, especially artifacts from the royal tombs on Tongatapu, the main island of Tonga. They also chemically analyzed more than 300 stone artifacts and rock samples taken from other Pacific islands, such as Samoa.

"All of the work has been done with a large Tongan workforce from the community who are now being funded to conserve many of the monumental tombs," Clark said.

They found that stone artifacts in Tonga often matched rock samples from Samoa and Fiji — in fact, 66 percent of stone tools analyzed from Tonga were long-distance imports. One tool apparently was made from rock that came from as far away as Tahiti, about 1,550 miles (2,500 km) east of Tongatapu. In contrast, stone tools from a monumental stone mound in Samoa were made from local sources of rock.

These findings revealed that Tonga was the center of a maritime empire that goods flowed toward as tribute from distant locales. The researchers suggest these exotic artifacts may have served as status symbols among Tongan elites.

"Complex societies like the Tongan maritime chiefdom had extensive contacts with other island groups," Clark told Live Science. "The chiefdom was an important interaction hub through which ideas, goods and people could move over large distances."

In addition, these findings could help explain puzzling discoveries seen elsewhere in Oceania.

"It has been observed that many of the significant chiefdoms in the Pacific began to build monumental architecture around the same time as one another — 1300 to 1500 A.D. — and it's been unclear why this should be, as the societies are often separated by thousands of kilometers of ocean," Clark said. This new work suggests the formation of the Tongan state may have stimulated these widespread changes in the Pacific.

In the future, the researchers want to find and examine stone tools from before the rise of the Tongan state to understand how interactions between Tonga and other islands changed over time.

"At the moment there are few sites and no significant stone assemblages from this important period," Clark said. "We also want to know whether the high proportion of exotic tools found at the central place of the Tongan state [Tongatapu] exists at other sites in Tonga of the same age. For example, did everyone in Tonga have access to stone tools from Samoa and other places, or did the central place have a higher proportion because exotic stone tools were chiefly valuables?"

The scientists detailed their findings online July 7 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Choi, Charles Q. 2014. “Tonga May Have Been a Vast Seafaring Empire”. Live Science. Posted: July 23, 2014. Available online:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Essays in English yield information about other languages

Computer scientists at MIT and Israel's Technion have discovered an unexpected source of information about the world's languages: the habits of native speakers of those languages when writing in English

The work could enable computers chewing through relatively accessible documents to approximate data that might take trained linguists months in the field to collect. But that data could in turn lead to better computational tools.

"These [linguistic] features that our system is learning are of course, on one hand, of nice theoretical interest for linguists," says Boris Katz, a principal research scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and one of the leaders of the new work. "But on the other, they're beginning to be used more and more often in applications. Everybody's very interested in building computational tools for world languages, but in order to build them, you need these features. So we may be able to do much more than just learn linguistic features. … These features could be extremely valuable for creating better parsers, better speech-recognizers, better natural-language translators, and so forth."

In fact, Katz explains, the researchers' theoretical discovery resulted from their work on a practical application: About a year ago, Katz proposed to one of his students, Yevgeni Berzak, that he try to write an algorithm that could automatically determine the native language of someone writing in English. The hope was to develop grammar-correcting software that could be tailored to a user's specific linguistic background.

Family resemblance

With help from Katz and from Roi Reichart, an engineering professor at the Technion who was a postdoc at MIT, Berzak built a system that combed through more than 1,000 English-language essays written by native speakers of 14 different languages. First, it analyzed the parts of speech of the words in every sentence of every essay and the relationships between them. Then it looked for patterns in those relationships that correlated with the writers' native languages.

Like most machine-learning classification algorithms, Berzak's assigned probabilities to its inferences. It might conclude, for instance, that a particular essay had a 51 percent chance of having been written by a native Russian speaker, a 33 percent chance of having been written by a native Polish speaker, and only a 16 percent chance of having been written by a native Japanese speaker.

In analyzing the results of their experiments, Berzak, Katz, and Reichart noticed a remarkable thing: The algorithm's probability estimates provided a quantitative measure of how closely related any two languages were; Russian speakers' syntactic patterns, for instance, were more similar to those of Polish speakers than to those of Japanese speakers.

When they used that measure to create a family tree of the 14 languages in their data set, it was almost identical to a family tree generated from data amassed by linguists. The nine languages that are in the Indo-European family, for instance, were clearly distinct from the five that aren't, and the Romance languages and the Slavic languages were more similar to each other than they were to the other Indo-European languages.

What's your type?

"The striking thing about this tree is that our system inferred it without having seen a single word in any of these languages," Berzak says. "We essentially get the similarity structure for free. Now we can take it one step further and use this tree to predict typological features of a language for which we have no linguistic knowledge."

By "typological features," Berzak means the types of syntactic patterns that linguists use to characterize languages -- things like the typical order of subject, object, and verb; how negations are formed; or whether nouns take articles. A widely used online linguistic database called the World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) identifies nearly 200 such features and includes data on more than 2,000 languages.

But, Berzak says, for some of those languages, WALS includes only a handful of typological features; the others just haven't been determined yet. Even widely studied European languages may have dozens of missing entries in the WALS database. At the time of his study, Berzak points out, only 14 percent of the entries in WALS had been filled in.

The new system could help fill in the gaps. In work presented last month at the Conference on Computational Natural Language Learning, Berzak, Katz, and Reichart ran a series of experiments that examined each of the 14 languages of the essays they'd analyzed, trying to predict its typological features from those of the other 13 languages, based solely on the similarity scores produced by the system. On average, those predictions were about 72 percent accurate.

Branching out

The 14 languages of the researchers' initial experiments were the ones for which an adequate number of essays -- an average of 88 each -- were publicly available. But Katz is confident that given enough training data, the system would perform just as well on other languages. Berzak points out that the African language Tswana, which has only five entries in WALS, nonetheless has 6 million speakers worldwide. It shouldn't be too difficult, Berzak argues, to track down more English-language essays by native Tswana speakers.

Science Daily. 2014. “Essays in English yield information about other languages”. Science Daily. Posted: July 23, 2014. Available online:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

'Family That Walks on All Fours' Not Evolutionary Throwbacks

When Turkish evolutionary biologist Uner Tan introduced the world to a Turkish family with some members who could walk only on all fours, in a "bear crawl," he and other scientists speculated this odd gait was the resurgence of a trait lost during human evolution. Not so, a new study finds.

The family and other people with Uner Tan syndrome do not represent "a backward stage in human evolution," as Tan wrote in a 2006 paper in the International Journal of Neuroscience, said Liza Shapiro, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. In new research, Shapiro and her colleagues compared videos of the family's gait with the gaits of nonhuman primates, such as chimpanzees or gorillas. They found the gait patterns did not match. Instead of recreating ape walks, people with Uner Tan are simply adapting to their disorder, Shapiro and her colleagues reported July 16 in the journal PLOS ONE.

On all fours

Tan first noticed the syndrome that now bears his name in a family of 19 living in rural southern Turkey. Five of the family members walk using their feet and hands, and also have cognitive disabilities. The family was the subject of the 2006 BBC2 documentary, "The Family That Walks on All Fours."

Research has since revealed that the disorder is caused by a genetic mutation on chromosome 17, which affects the cerebellum, part of the brain responsible for movement and balance. From the beginning, Tan's statements about the evolutionary nature of the affected family's walking patterns were controversial. The affected children never had physical therapy or adaptive technology such as wheelchairs, making their gait a necessity.

But no one ever challenged the primary claim: that the affected children walked like nonhuman primates. Primates that walk on all fours do so differently than most other mammals, Shapiro told Live Science. Primates walk in a diagonal sequence, putting down a hind limb and then the opposite front limb: left foot, right hand, right foot, left hand.

Most other mammals walk in a lateral sequence, with the same-side limbs following each other: left foot, left hand, right foot, right hand. Human babies and adults asked to "bear crawl" on hands and feet typically walk in a lateral sequence, too, Shapiro said.

Adapting, not devolving

Shapiro said she became interested in studying the gait of people with Uner Tan Syndrome in 2006 after seeing the documentary on the Turkish family.

"It was all about whether or not it was evolutionary reversal, which kind of horrified me," she said. Immediately, though, she could see that the family was not using the primate diagonal gait.

Shapiro did not have access to good video of the family's walking patterns until recently, when one of her co-authors told her he had footage from the BBC. From that video, she and her colleagues were able to analyze more than 500 strides made by the five family members with the disorder.

About 99 percent of the strides were lateral, not diagonal — a blow against the notion that the family members had "rediscovered" an ancestral primate way of walking. Instead, they were walking like any typical adult would if asked to move on hands and feet.

A lateral gait is handy for long-limbed animals (such as humans) when walking on all fours, she said, because it helps keep the limbs from bumping into one another.

"They're doing what any human does in that situation where they can't stand up," Shapiro said.

Shapiro emphasized that even if the family had moved with a diagonal gait, the pattern would not prove anything about human evolution or the origins of bipedalism.

"Bipedalism requires a lot of changes, physical and anatomical changes in the body," she said. "Neurological changes. Motor changes. It's not just one thing."

Pappas, Stephanie. 2014. “'Family That Walks on All Fours' Not Evolutionary Throwbacks”. Live Science. Posted: July 22, 2014. Available online:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Try, try again? Study says no: Trying harder makes it more difficult to learn some aspects of language, neuroscientists find

When it comes to learning languages, adults and children have different strengths. Adults excel at absorbing the vocabulary needed to navigate a grocery store or order food in a restaurant, but children have an uncanny ability to pick up on subtle nuances of language that often elude adults. Within months of living in a foreign country, a young child may speak a second language like a native speaker

Brain structure plays an important role in this "sensitive period" for learning language, which is believed to end around adolescence. The young brain is equipped with neural circuits that can analyze sounds and build a coherent set of rules for constructing words and sentences out of those sounds. Once these language structures are established, it's difficult to build another one for a new language. In a new study, a team of neuroscientists and psychologists led by Amy Finn, a postdoc at MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, has found evidence for another factor that contributes to adults' language difficulties: When learning certain elements of language, adults' more highly developed cognitive skills actually get in the way. The researchers discovered that the harder adults tried to learn an artificial language, the worse they were at deciphering the language's morphology -- the structure and deployment of linguistic units such as root words, suffixes, and prefixes.

"We found that effort helps you in most situations, for things like figuring out what the units of language that you need to know are, and basic ordering of elements. But when trying to learn morphology, at least in this artificial language we created, it's actually worse when you try," Finn says. Finn and colleagues from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Stanford University, and the University of British Columbia describe their findings in the July 21 issue of PLOS ONE. Carla Hudson Kam, an associate professor of linguistics at British Columbia, is the paper's senior author.

Too much brainpower

Linguists have known for decades that children are skilled at absorbing certain tricky elements of language, such as irregular past participles (examples of which, in English, include "gone" and "been") or complicated verb tenses like the subjunctive.

"Children will ultimately perform better than adults in terms of their command of the grammar and the structural components of language -- some of the more idiosyncratic, difficult-to-articulate aspects of language that even most native speakers don't have conscious awareness of," Finn says.

In 1990, linguist Elissa Newport hypothesized that adults have trouble learning those nuances because they try to analyze too much information at once. Adults have a much more highly developed prefrontal cortex than children, and they tend to throw all of that brainpower at learning a second language. This high-powered processing may actually interfere with certain elements of learning language.

"It's an idea that's been around for a long time, but there hasn't been any data that experimentally show that it's true," Finn says.

Finn and her colleagues designed an experiment to test whether exerting more effort would help or hinder success. First, they created nine nonsense words, each with two syllables. Each word fell into one of three categories (A, B, and C), defined by the order of consonant and vowel sounds.

Study subjects listened to the artificial language for about 10 minutes. One group of subjects was told not to overanalyze what they heard, but not to tune it out either. To help them not overthink the language, they were given the option of completing a puzzle or coloring while they listened. The other group was told to try to identify the words they were hearing.

Each group heard the same recording, which was a series of three-word sequences -- first a word from category A, then one from category B, then category C -- with no pauses between words. Previous studies have shown that adults, babies, and even monkeys can parse this kind of information into word units, a task known as word segmentation.

Subjects from both groups were successful at word segmentation, although the group that tried harder performed a little better. Both groups also performed well in a task called word ordering, which required subjects to choose between a correct word sequence (ABC) and an incorrect sequence (such as ACB) of words they had previously heard.

The final test measured skill in identifying the language's morphology. The researchers played a three-word sequence that included a word the subjects had not heard before, but which fit into one of the three categories. When asked to judge whether this new word was in the correct location, the subjects who had been asked to pay closer attention to the original word stream performed much worse than those who had listened more passively.

Turning off effort

The findings support a theory of language acquisition that suggests that some parts of language are learned through procedural memory, while others are learned through declarative memory. Under this theory, declarative memory, which stores knowledge and facts, would be more useful for learning vocabulary and certain rules of grammar. Procedural memory, which guides tasks we perform without conscious awareness of how we learned them, would be more useful for learning subtle rules related to language morphology.

"It's likely to be the procedural memory system that's really important for learning these difficult morphological aspects of language. In fact, when you use the declarative memory system, it doesn't help you, it harms you," Finn says.

Still unresolved is the question of whether adults can overcome this language-learning obstacle. Finn says she does not have a good answer yet but she is now testing the effects of "turning off" the adult prefrontal cortex using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation. Other interventions she plans to study include distracting the prefrontal cortex by forcing it to perform other tasks while language is heard, and treating subjects with drugs that impair activity in that brain region.

Science Daily. 2014. “Try, try again? Study says no: Trying harder makes it more difficult to learn some aspects of language, neuroscientists find”. Science Daily. Posted: July 21, 2014. Available online:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Beyond the bones: The archaeology of human networks

The idea of human as networker is fast replacing the idea of human as toolmaker in the story of the human brain, claim two new books on our evolution

"HELL is other people," goes Jean-Paul Sartre's famous line. It is a hell that may have created us and our culture, judging by two new books. They show that the idea that we are defined by our struggles to deal with our fellow humans is shaking up archaeology and how we think about the key force driving human evolution.

The first book is Thinking Big by archaeologists Clive Gamble and John Gowlett and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. It is the story of a seven-year project – From Lucy to Language – that confronted archaeologists with the social brain hypothesis of human evolution.

The result is a dramatic demolition of the "stones and bones" approach to archaeology, which keeps researchers firmly fixed only on the physical evidence they dig up, and a move towards a grand look at the evolving human mind. There is "more to humanity than the bits of chipped bone", write the authors as they seek a framework for all human psychological traits, from kinship and laughter to language and ceremony. Old dogma is derided as never moving beyond "WYSWTW" (What You See is What There Was).

The second book is a solo effort by Dunbar, the key thinker behind the social brain hypothesis. In Human Evolution, he lays out the big ideas that the archaeologists later took up. At its heart is the observation that as brains grew bigger, so did the groups we live in: bigger brains were built for and by social life. Modern humans have a cognitive limit of about 150 friends and family (the well-known "Dunbar's number"). Within that circle are an average of five "intimates", 15 best friends and 50 good friends. Chimps have an average community size of 55.

Studies of living, non-human primates show why you might need bigger brains to live in bigger groups. The more others are around, the more likely you are to be bullied out of a juicy food patch or a safe sleeping site. Such stress can be hell, especially for low-ranking females, who can be driven into infertility. To cope, primates create cliques of allies which they sustain through the pleasurable endorphin rush induced by regular mutual grooming. This solution fails if groups grow bigger, for there is not enough time for one-on-one attention. Bigger brains are key to developing smarter ways of dealing with others, the theory goes.

For Dunbar, these included laughter and singing, both great endorphin-releasers within groups. There was also fire, which gave light so evenings could be used for cooking and more "social grooming". Then came language, together with a growing ability to read others' intentions, which ultimately made it possible to tell stories, maintain far-flung relationships and use religion to bind communities.

The Thinking Big archaeologists take from Dunbar the grand hypothesis that social life drives human change, switching from a view of "man the toolmaker" to "man the networker". Alongside that, the proven relationship between brain size, group size and mental skills makes it possible to estimate the size of groups our ancestors lived in and their capacity to interact with others.

A fresh look at the Neanderthals is telling. They dominated Europe for 250,000 years, much longer than modern humans. They were skilled hunters, toolmakers and had mastered fire. Their brain size suggests they lived in groups of about 110 and had the cognitive skills to understand the feelings of others. That fits well with archaeological evidence that older and disabled Neanderthals were cared for: they perhaps knew compassion.

So why did they vanish so fast during a time of changing climate, when modern humans prospered? It may be that their mental skills were not quite adequate to maintain relationships beyond immediate group members, something we can do easily. That may have been crucial to our success: in hard times, bigger networks can mean gaining help from distant friends who are still doing well, and who you'll help in turn. Without that "social storage" of resources, local extinction may loom. Archaeological evidence again tallies with the social brain theory: one study shows that 70 per cent of the raw materials of Neanderthal tools travelled less than 25 kilometres, while 60 per cent of those of contemporaneous humans had travelled more than 25 kilometres.

The two books fit well together but are very different. Thinking Big inspires, but much wonderful research is passed over too briefly amid general argument. An exception is a story from Beeches Pit, a 400,000-year-old site in the east of England. Archaeologists there painstakingly reassembled the flint flakes struck from a rock in the process of making a hand axe. Two flakes were found burnt bright red; they had fallen into a fire just in front of the axe-maker. We can almost see our ancestors working around what must have been a communal fire, for no one person could have gathered enough wood to keep it burning.

Dunbar's solo work, Human Evolution, however, is a must-read. It has the great strength of showing you the inner workings of an imaginative mind, while allowing you the freedom to think, and even to disagree about whether that hellish social pressure really has given us our distinct cognitive design, along with science and the arts.

Anderson, Alun. 2014. “Beyond the bones: The archaeology of human networks”. New Scientist. Posted: July 21, 2014. Available online:

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thousands of women, accused of sorcery, tortured and executed in Indian witch hunts

If it began like the others, the first sign that Saraswati Devi would be murdered was an accusation delivered to a shaman. Perhaps she had offended someone. Perhaps someone had fallen sick and had wondered why. Perhaps a community well had suddenly dried and someone needed blaming. Perhaps they chose her because Devi was lower caste, because she was a woman, and because they’d probably get away with it.

The killers came for her on Saturday. Two of her sons tried to save her, but couldn’t and were beaten. Their punishment wouldn’t match Devi’s. Before the 14 villagers inflicted injuries so severe they would claim her life, they “forced her to consume human excreta,” police told the Hindustan Times.

Though shocking by nearly any standard, the murder was not unique. It was not even uncommon in pockets of rural India.

In places where superstition and vigilantism overlap and small rumors can turn deadly, nearly 2,100 people accused of witchcraft have been killed between 2000 and 2012, according to crime records gathered by the Indian newspaper Mint. Others placed the number at 2,500; others higher still. “Like the proverbial tip of a very deep iceberg, available data hides much of the reality of a problem that is deeply ingrained in society,” according to New Delhi-based Partners for Law in Development. “It is only the most gruesome cases that are reported — most cases of witch-hunting go unreported and unrecorded.”

It’s an issue that despite its prevalence is rarely covered outside of India, where it’s almost weekly newspaper fodder. Last week in Chandrapur, one man was lynched and his “woman accomplice thrashed by a mob for practicing black magic,” reported the Times of India, which said the man “was caught red-handed by the mob of over 500 villagers.” Another woman accused of witchcraft was grabbed by relatives carrying “traditional weapons” and beaten to death. Late last year, in Jharkhand, a 50-year-old woman and her daughter were hacked to death after they were accused of practicing witchcraft.

The forces driving the killings, which occur predominantly in Indian states with large tribal populations, are as much cultural as they are economic and caste-based, experts said. While the easiest explanation is that angered mobs confuse a sudden illness or crop failure with witchcraft and exact their revenge, it’s rarely that simple. Much more often, it isn’t superstition but gender and class discrimination. Those accused of sorcery often come from similar backgrounds: female, poor and of a low caste.

“Witch-hunting is essentially a legacy of violence against women in our society,” wrote Rakesh Singh of the Indian Social Institute. “For almost invariably, it is [low caste] women, who are branded as witches. By punishing those who are seen as vile and wild, oppressors perhaps want to send a not-so-subtle message to women: docility and domesticity get rewarded; anything else gets punished.”

The veil of superstition, others said, only hides the true motive behind the killings. “Superstition is only an excuse,” Pooja Singhal Purwar, a social welfare official, told The Washington Post’s Rama Lakshmi in 2005. “Often a woman is branded a witch so that you can throw her out of the village and grab her land, or to settle scores, family rivalry, or because powerful men want to punish her for spurning their sexual advances. Sometimes, it is used to punish women who question social norms.”

If there is a state most susceptible to witchcraft killings, it’s the eastern state of Jharkhand, a land pervaded by dense forest and tribes. In 2013, 54 witchcraft-accused women were killed there, reported the News Minute, the highest rate in the country. Despite local legislation to try and clamp down on the murders – no national law exists that addresses witchcraft killings – they have continued if not increased. And patterns there are worth examining to understand how the horror unfolds.

According to Mint, an Indian publication which has written extensively on the subject, a witch is identified through various methods. The person who suspects witchcraft will often consult a witch doctor called an “ojha.” The witch doctor, who uses medicinal herbs, in part learned their skills to counter the darker powers of the witches, called “daayan.”

The ojha then goes about the business of sussing out the witch. This involves incantations, Mint reports, and possibly the branches of a sal tree. The ojha writes the names of all those suspected of witchraft onto the branches of the tree, and the name that’s on the branch that withers is condemned as a witch. Other times, rice is wrapped in cloth emblazoned with names. Then the rice is placed inside a nest of white ants. Whichever bag the ants eat out identifies the witch. Another method: potions. One Indian shaman in 2011 forced 30 women to drink a potion to prove they weren’t witches. The concoction was made out of a poisonous herb, all women fell ill, and the shaman was arrested.

After a witch is chosen, they are either forced to do unspeakable things or tortured. “In many reported cases recently, women who are branded as witches were made to walk naked through the village, were gang-raped, had their breasts cut off, teeth broken or heads tonsured, apart from being ostracized from their village,” reported Live Mint. They “were forced to swallow urine and human feces, to eat human flesh, or drink the blood of a chicken.”

This, too, was the fate of Saraswati Devi, the latest woman, though likely not the last, to be accused of witchcraft, tortured and murdered.

McCoy, Terrence. 2014. “Thousands of women, accused of sorcery, tortured and executed in Indian witch hunts”. Washington Post. Posted: July 21, 2014. Available online:

Friday, August 22, 2014

70,000 Year-Old African Settlement Unearthed

During ongoing excavations in northern Sudan, Polish archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Poznań, have discovered the remains of a settlement estimated to 70,000 years old. This find, according to the researchers, seems to contradict the previously held belief that the construction of permanent structures was associated with the so-called Great Exodus from Africa and occupation of the colder regions of Europe and Asia.

The site known as Affad 23, is currently the only one recorded in the Nile Valley which shows that early Homo sapiens built sizeable permanent structures, and had adapted well to the wetland environment.

This new evidence points to a much more advanced level of human development and adaptation in Africa during the Middle Palaeolithic.

Locating the “village”

“Discoveries in Affad are unique for the Middle Palaeolithic. Last season, we came across a few traces of light wooden structures. However, during the current research we were able to precisely locate the village and identify additional utility areas: a large flint workshop, and a space for cutting hunted animal carcasses, located at a distance” – explained project director Dr. Marta Osypińska.

The researchers are also working on a list of animal species that these early humans hunted. Despite the relatively simple flint tools produced using the Levallois technique, these humans were able to hunt both large, dangerous mammals such as hippos, elephants and buffalo, as well as small, nimble monkeys and cane rats (large rodents that inhabited the wetlands).

Palaeolithic hunters

This year, the researchers intended to precisely date the time period in which the Palaeolithic hunters lived here, using optically stimulated luminescence.

“At this stage we know that the Middle Palaeolithic settlement episode in Affad occurred at the end of the wet period, as indicated by environmental data, including the list of hunted animal species. But in the distant past of the land such ecological conditions occurred at least twice” about 75 millennia and about 25 millennia ago. Determining the time when people inhabited the river bank near today’s Affad is the most important objective of our project “- said prehistory expert Piotr Osypiński.

The Polish team is working with scientists from Oxford Brookes University, who are helping to analyse the geological history of the area. The results will help determine climatic and environmental conditions that prevailed in the Central Nile Valley during the late Pleistocene and hope to identify factors that contributed to the excellent state of preservation at the Affad 23 site.

Past Horizons. 2014. “70,000 Year-Old African Settlement Unearthed”. Past Horizons. Posted: July 20, 2014. Available online:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Little too late: Pathogenic bacterium in 700-year-old skeleton identified

Researchers at the University of Warwick, working with Italian anthropologist Raffaella Bianucci and others, have recovered a genome of the bacterium Brucella melitensis from a 700-year-old skeleton found in the ruins of a Medieval Italian village.

Reporting this week in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology, Warwick Medical School's Professor Mark Pallen and his colleagues describe using a technique called shotgun metagenomics to sequence DNA from a calcified nodule from the pelvic region of a middle-aged male skeleton excavated from the settlement of Geridu in Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy. Geridu is thought to have been abandoned in the late 14th century. Shotgun metagenomics allows scientists to sequence DNA without looking for a specific target.

From this sample, the researchers recovered the genome of Brucella melitensis, which causes an infection called brucellosis in livestock and humans. In humans, brucellosis is usually acquired by ingesting unpasteurized dairy products or from direct contact with infected animals. Symptoms include fevers, arthritis and swelling of the heart and liver. The disease is still found in the Mediterranean region.

"Normally when you think of calcified material in human or animal remains you think about tuberculosis, because that's the most common infection that leads to calcification," says Professor Pallen, PhD. "We were a bit surprised to get Brucella instead."

The skeleton contained 32 hardened nodules the size of a penny in the pelvic area, though Pallen says it's unclear if they originated in the pelvis, or higher up in the chest or other body part.

In additional experiments, the research team showed that the DNA fragments extracted had the appearance of aged DNA -- they were shorter than contemporary strands, and had characteristic mutations at the ends. They also found that the medieval Brucella strain, which they called Geridu-1, was closely related to a recent Brucella strain called Ether, identified in Italy in 1961, and two other Italian strains identified in 2006 and 2007.

Pallen and others have used shotgun metagenomics before to detect pathogens in contemporary and historical human material. Last summer, he and his colleagues published a report in the New England Journal of Medicine describing the recovery of tuberculosis genomes from the lung tissue of a 215-year-old mummy from Hungary. His team also has identified the outbreak strain genome using metagenomics on stool samples from a 2011 E. coli outbreak in Germany.

Pallen's team is now testing the technique on a range of additional samples, including historical material from Hungarian mummies; Egyptian mummies; a Korean mummy from the 16th or 17th century; and lung tissue from a French queen from the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled France from the 5th to 8th centuries; as well as contemporary sputum samples from the Gambia.

"Metagenomics stands ready to document past and present infections, shedding light on the emergence, evolution and spread of microbial pathogens," Pallen says. "We're cranking through all of these samples and we're hopeful that we're going to find new things."

Science Daily. 2014. “Little too late: Pathogenic bacterium in 700-year-old skeleton identified”. Science Daily. Posted: July 15, 2014. Available online:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ötzi's non-human DNA: Opportunistic pathogen discovered in Iceman tissue biopsy

Ötzi's human genome was decoded from a hip bone sample taken from the 5,300 year old mummy. However the tiny sample weighing no more than 0.1 g provides so much more information. A team of scientists from EURAC in Bolzano/Bozen together with colleagues from the University of Vienna successfully analysed the non-human DNA in the sample. They found evidence for the presence of Treponema denticola, an opportunistic pathogen involved in the development of periodontal disease. Thus, by just looking at the DNA, the researchers could support a CT-based diagnosis made last year which indicated that the Iceman suffered from periodontitis. The results of the current study have recently been published in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Much of what we know about Ötzi -- for example what he looked like or that he suffered from lactose intolerance -- stems from a tiny bone sample which allowed the decoding of his genetic make-up. Now, however, the team of scientists have examined more closely the part of the sample consisting of non-human DNA. "What is new is that we did not carry out a directed DNA analysis but rather investigated the whole spectrum of DNA to better understand which organisms are in this sample and what is their potential function," is how Frank Maixner, from the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bozen/Bolzano, described the new approach which the team of scientists are now pursuing.

"This 'non-human' DNA mostly derives from bacteria normally living on and within our body. Only the interplay between certain bacteria or an imbalance within this bacterial community might cause certain diseases. Therefore it is highly important to reconstruct and understand the bacterial community composition by analysing this DNA mixture," said Thomas Rattei, Professor of Bioinformatics from the Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science at the University of Vienna.

Unexpectedly the team of scientists, specialists in both microbiology as well as bioinformatics, detected in the DNA mixture a sizeable presence of a particular bacterium: Treponema denticola, an opportunistic pathogen involved in the development of periodontitis. Thus this finding supports the computer tomography based diagnosis that the Iceman suffered from periodontitis. Even more surprising is that the analysis of a tiny bone sample can still, after 5,300 years, provide us with the information that this opportunistic pathogen seems to have been distributed via the bloodstream from the mouth to the hip bone. Furthermore, the investigations indicate that these members of the human commensal oral microflora were old bacteria which did not colonise the body after death.

Besides the opportunistic pathogen, the team of scientists led by Albert Zink -- head of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman -- also detected Clostridia-like bacteria in the Iceman bone sample which are at present most presumably in a kind of dormant state. Under hermetically sealed, anaerobic conditions, however, these bacteria can re-grow and degrade tissue. This discovery may well play a significant part in the future conservation of the world-famous mummy. "This finding indicates that altered conditions for preserving the glacier mummy, for example when changing to a nitrogen-based atmosphere commonly used for objects of cultural value, will require additional micro-biological monitoring," explained the team of scientists who will now look closer at the microbiome of the Iceman.

Science Daily. 2014. “Ötzi's non-human DNA: Opportunistic pathogen discovered in Iceman tissue biopsy”. Science Daily. Posted: July 15, 2014. Available online:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Do women talk more than men? It's all about context

Use of sociometers shows that the extent that women are more talkative and collaborative than men depends on the situation

We've all heard the stereotype: Women like to talk. We bounce ideas off each other about everything from career moves to dinner plans. We hash out big decisions through our conversations with one another and work through our emotions with discussion.

At least, that's what "they" say. But is any of it actually true? A new study from Northeastern University professor David Lazer's lab says it isn't that simple.

Lazer, who researches social networks and holds joint appointments in the Department of Political Science and the College of Computer and Information Sciences, took a different approach. Using so- called "sociometers" – wearable devices roughly the size of smartphones – the researchers collected real- time data about the user's social interactions. Lazer's team was able to tease out a more accurate picture of the talkative- woman stereotype we're so familiar with—and they found that context plays a large role.

But can we really make such sweeping generalizations about the communication patterns of women versus those of men? The research is surprisingly thin considering the strength of the stereotype: Some studies say yes, women are more talkative than men. Others say there's no pattern at all. Still others say men are even bigger chatterboxes.

Perhaps all this contradiction comes from the difficulty of studying such a phenomenon. Most of these studies rely on either self- reported data, in which researchers gather information by asking subjects about their past conversational exploits, or observational data, in which researchers watch the interactions directly. But both of these approaches bring with them some hefty limitations. For one thing, our memories are not nearly as good as we like to think they are. Secondly, researchers can only observe so many people at once, meaning large data sets, which offer the most statistical power to detect differences, are hard to come by. Another challenge with direct observation is that subjects may act in a more affiliative manner in front of a researcher.

The research was published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports and represents one of the first academic papers to use sociometers to address this kind of question. The research team includes Jukka- Pekka Onnela, who previously worked in Lazer's lab and is now at the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory and the Harvard Kennedy School.

For their study, Lazer's research team provided a group of men and women with sociometers and split them in two different social settings for a total of 12 hours. In the first setting, master's degree candidates were asked to complete an individual project, about which they were free to converse with one another for the duration of a 12- hour day. In the second setting, employees at a call- center in a major U.S. banking firm wore the sociometers during 12 one- hour lunch breaks with no designated task.

"In the one setting that is more collaborative we see the women choosing to work together, and when you work together you tend to talk more," said Lazer, who is also co- director of the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, Northeastern's research- based center for digital humanities and computational social science. "So it's a very particular scenario that leads to more interactions. The real story here is there's an interplay between the setting and gender which created this difference."

EurekAlert. 2014. “Do women talk more than men? It's all about context”. EurekAlert. Posted: July 15, 2014. Available online:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Prehistoric 'bookkeeping' continued long after invention of writing

An archaeological dig in southeast Turkey has uncovered a large number of clay tokens that were used as records of trade until the advent of writing, or so it had been believed.

But the new find of tokens dates from a time when writing was commonplace – thousands of years after it was previously assumed this technology had become obsolete. Researchers compare it to the continued use of pens in the age of the word processor.

The tokens – small clay pieces in a range of simple shapes – are thought to have been used as a rudimentary bookkeeping system in prehistoric times.

One theory is that different types of tokens represented units of various commodities such as livestock and grain. These would be exchanged and later sealed in more clay as a permanent record of the trade – essentially, the world's first contract.

The system was used in the period leading up to around 3000 BC, at which point clay tablets filled with pictorial symbols drawn using triangular-tipped reeds begin to emerge: the birth of writing, and consequently history.

From this point on in the archaeological record, the tokens dwindle and then disappear, leading to the assumption that writing quickly supplanted the token system.

However, recent excavations at Ziyaret Tepe – the site of the ancient city Tušhan, a provincial capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire – have unearthed a large quantity of tokens dating to the first millennium BC: two thousand years after 'cuneiform' – the earliest form of writing – emerged on clay tablets.

"Complex writing didn't stop the use of the abacus, just as the digital age hasn't wiped out pencils and pens," said Dr John MacGinnis from Cambridge's MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, who led the research.

"In fact, in a literate society there are multiple channels of recording information that can be complementary to each other. In this case both prehistoric clay tokens and cuneiform writing used together."

The tokens were discovered in the main administrative building in Tušhan's lower town, along with many cuneiform clay tablets as well as weights and clay sealings. Over 300 tokens were found in two rooms near the back of the building that MacGinnis describes as having the character of a 'delivery area', perhaps an ancient loading bay.

"We think one of two things happened here. You either have information about livestock coming through here, or flocks of animals themselves. Each farmer or herder would have a bag with tokens to represent their flock," said MacGinnis.

"The information is travelling through these rooms in token form, and ending up inscribed onto cuneiform tablets further down the line."

Archaeologists say that, while cuneiform writing was a more advanced accounting technology, by combining it with the flexibility of the tokens the ancient Assyrians created a record-keeping system of greater sophistication.

"The tokens provided a system of moveable numbers that allowed for stock to be moved and accounts to be modified and updated without committing to writing; a system that doesn't require everyone involved to be literate."

MacGinnis believes that the new evidence points to prehistoric tokens used in conjunction with cuneiform as an empire-wide 'admin' system stretching right across what is now Turkey, Syria and Iraq. In its day, roughly 900 to 600 BC, the Assyrian empire was the largest the world had ever seen.

Types of tokens ranged from basic spheres, discs and triangles to tokens that resemble oxhide and bull heads.

While the majority of the cuneiform tablets found with the tokens deal with grain trades, it's not yet known what the various tokens represent. The team say that some tokens likely stand for grain, as well as different types of livestock (such as goats and cattle), but – as they were in use at the height of the empire – tokens could have been used to represent commodities such as oil, wool and wine.

"One of my dreams is that one day we'll dig up the tablet of an accountant who was making a meticulous inventory of goods and systems, and we will be able to crack the token system's codes," said MacGinnis.

"The inventions of recording systems are milestones in the human journey, and any finds which contribute to the understanding of how they came about makes a basic contribution to mapping the progress of mankind," he said.

EurekAlert. 2014. “Prehistoric 'bookkeeping' continued long after invention of writing”. EurekAlert. Posted: July 13, 2014. Available online:

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ancient Coins Found Buried in British Cave

Digging through a cave in central Britain, archaeologists uncovered 26 ancient gold and silver coins belonging to the Corieltauvi tribe, a group of people that lived in Britain before the Roman conquest. Archaeologists previously found collections of coins like these in other parts of Britain, but this is the first time they have ever been discovered buried in a cave. The discovery of the coins was a surprise, because they were found at a site called Reynard's Kitchen Cave, which is located outside the Corieltauvi's usual turf.

"It might be that we have a member of the tribe living beyond the boundary that is more usually associated with the territory," Rachael Hall, an archaeologist at the National Trust who led the excavation, told Live Science in an email.

Back in 2000, a group of almost 5,000 Corieltauvi coins were discovered in Leicestershire. This more recent find at Reynard's Kitchen Cave might be additional evidence that members of the tribe once hoarded coins. Hall and the team speculate that the coins were hidden to ensure they weren't stolen, and whoever buried them may have planned on returning to the site to dig the coins up again. The discovery included 20 Iron Age coins, three Roman coins and three coins from much later eras, according to a treasury report prepared by Ian Leins, curator of Iron Age and Roman coins at the British Museum. While the coins are not all from the same time period, Hall and the team of archaeologists said it's common to find collections of coins from different times, in the same way that, for example, U.S. coins from earlier decades are still circulating among newer coins.

Archaeologists are still unsure how Iron Age coins were used, but it is unlikely they were used as money to purchase items. They were more likely used as a means for storing wealth, given as gifts or offered as sacrifice. The three Roman coins discovered predate the Roman invasion, so archaeologists believe the coins may have been given as gifts.

A climber seeking shelter in the cave first discovered four of the coins, which prompted a full-scale excavation by the National Trust and Operation Nightingale, a group that helps injured military members recuperate by having them perform field archaeology.

The monetary value today of the coins discovered is around two thousand pounds (about $3,400 USD). The collection of coins officially qualifies as "treasure" under the United Kingdom's 1996 Treasure Act, which means it is valuable enough that it needs to be reported to authorities and offered up to museums.

Earlier excavation of Reynard's Kitchen Cave revealed animal bones and pieces of pottery. The coins will be put on display later this year at the Buxton Museum in Derbyshire.

Dickerson, Kelly. 2014. “Ancient Coins Found Buried in British Cave”. Live Science. Posted: July 11, 2014. Available online:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mobile phone bling may be a personal, but also cultural thing

Choosing mobile phone cases and customizing phones with charms and decorations may reveal a lot about a person's culture, as well as increase attachment to the devices, according to researchers. In a study on culture and mobile phone customization, researchers found that people from Eastern cultures tend to be more motivated to change the look and sound of their mobile phones than people in Western countries, said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, Penn State.

"People who live in collectivist cultures are often more other-directed," said Sundar. "They want to know how others might look at them and also look to others as a way of influencing their own behaviors."

The researchers gave American and South Korean students surveys on how they customized their mobile phones and asked them how they perceived their social identity and efforts to self-promote. Mobile phone accessories, which are big business South Korea, Japan and other Eastern countries, include physical items, such as charms, cases, bags and stickers, as well as functional additions, such as ringtones and screen wallpaper.

The surveys revealed that Koreans were more focused on how to fit into social situations, according to Sundar, who worked with Seoyeon Lee, a mobile user-interface and user-experience researcher at LG Electronics in Seoul. They also were more likely to look at the actions of others to give them cues on behavior. Americans, on the other hand, valued self-expression more and were less worried about how others perceived them. This could be why Americans customize less, while Koreans accessorize their phones to a greater degree.

People see their phones not as a tool, but as part of themselves, according to the researchers, who present their findings in an upcoming issue of Media Psychology that is now available online.

"The more you customize your phone for aesthetic reasons the more it reflects who you are," said Sundar. "You see your phone as your self."

While people who live in Eastern cultures, which are typically more collectivist than Western cultures, tend to be more expressive with their mobile phone customization than Westerners, both cultures become more attached to the devices after they are customized.

Technology companies may want to provide more ways for a consumer to customize products to enhance this feeling of attachment.

"Tools for aesthetic customization can enhance people's attachment to a device, regardless of culture," said Sundar. "In this study we looked at phones, but it could also apply to other information technology products that people use in public, such as iPads."

Market research may help these companies to better match their accessories to consumers, according to the researchers.

"This may differ from one county to another," said Lee. Phone manufacturers sell different designs, colors and accessories in different countries, she added.

The study also reinforces previous research that showed how people are becoming more connected with their mobile phones, according to Sundar.

"If you ask people what objects they want to make sure they have with them when they leave their house, usually their phone is in the top three, along with keys and money," Sundar said.

A total of 400 American students from a U.S. university and 205 Korean students from various South Korean universities were asked to fill out a survey with 112 questions. Approximately 49 of the respondents did not have any customization.

EurekAlert. 2014. “Mobile phone bling may be a personal, but also cultural thing”. EurekAlert. Posted: July 10, 2014. Available online:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Korean Mummy's Hernia Diagnosed 300 Years Later

This diagnosis is 300 years too late.

An autopsy of a Korean mummy entombed in the 17th century shows that the middle-age man suffered from a potentially painful hernia during his lifetime, according to a new study.

The mummy, only discovered last year, had been buried in a royal tomb of Korea's Chosun (or Joseon) Dynasty in Andong, a city in modern-day South Korea. The well-preserved remains belonged to a man who was about 45 years old and 5 feet, 3 inches (160.2 cm), the researchers said in their report published this month in the journal PLOS ONE. Based on his topknot hairstyle, archaeologists concluded that the man was married.

Before he died, the middle-age man may have roamed the streets of Andong with pain in his chest and abdomen. Perhaps he was sometimes short of breath or nauseated. But he wouldn't have known what was wrong with him; doctors have only been able to diagnose his condition, known as Bochdalek-type congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), with the advent of radiological imaging technologies, such as X-ray and computed tomography (CT) scans, in the 20th century.

Bochdalek hernias arises from a birth defect that causes a hole in the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle that stetches across the bottom of the lungs. Other organs in the abdomen might push through this hole into the chest cavity, compressing one or both of the lungs and moving the heart.

A computed tomography (CT) scan of the mummy hinted that something was wrong with the placement of the man's organs. An autopsy confirmed that there was indeed a hole in his diaphragm and that several of his organs were herniated, including the right lobe of his liver, part of his stomach and part of his colon, the scientists said.

The researchers, led by Yi-Suk Kim of Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea, looked for other complications that may have been caused by the man's condition, such as perforation or strangulation of his herniated organs, which often causes death in Bochdalek CDH patients today. However, the scientists found no such evidence for these problems.

"This means that the CDH itself might not have been the main cause of death in his case," the authors wrote. "He could have lived with CDH in this lifetime while experiencing a few signs of respiratory disturbances. We suspected that the functional defects caused by the CDH in the present male mummy case might have been largely compensated for as he grew older."

The researchers pointed to a modern example for comparison: a 50-year-old Chinese woman who suffered from a "tremendous" Bochdalek hernia, but showed few clinical signs of the condition. According to her case report, detailed in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery, a CT scan revealed that her abdominal organs had invaded the left side of her chest cavity, crushing her left lung and pushing her heart against her right lung. And yet, the patient only complained of mild shortness of breath.

Gannon, Megan. 2014. “Korean Mummy's Hernia Diagnosed 300 Years Later”. Live Science. Posted: July 10, 2014. Available online:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Urban Aboriginal people face unique health challenges

For the first time, researchers have access to detailed information about how an urban Aboriginal population in Canada uses health care. A new study, called Our Health Counts, uses this health database to clearly demonstrate the unique challenges faced by urban Aboriginal people in Canada – according to researchers at St. Michael's Hospital.

The findings, published today in BMJ Open, illustrate striking disparities between urban First Nations individuals and the general population.

Researchers interviewed 554 First Nations adults in Hamilton, Ont. – chosen for its large Aboriginal population and strong infrastructure of Aboriginal community health and social services. Researchers collected data for factors that influence a person's health such as poverty, illness and income for Hamilton's First Nations population.

"Compared to Hamilton's general adult population, we found elevated emergency room use, multiple barriers to health care access and significant rates of chronic disease among urban Aboriginal adults," said Dr. Michelle Firestone, an associate scientist with St. Michael's Hospital's Centre for Research on Inner City Health.

More than 10 per cent of First Nations adults visited the emergency room six times or more in the previous two years – only 1.6 per cent of Hamilton's general adult population could say the same.

"Hamilton has extensive health and social services but 40 per cent of respondents felt their access to health care was either fair or poor," said Dr. Firestone, who holds a PhD in public health. "This shows geography is not the only health care barrier for First Nations people."

Almost half of respondents reported that long waiting lists to see a specialist were a barrier. Other common barriers included not being able to arrange transportation; not being able to afford direct costs or transportation; services not covered by non-insured health benefits and lack of trust in health care providers.

More than 60 per cent of Aboriginal people living in Ontario live in urban areas. An increasing number of First Nations individuals are moving to urban centers to seek better housing, employment and education opportunities and for the services and amenities available.

The most common chronic conditions of Hamilton's First Nations adults included arthritis (30.7 per cent), high blood pressure (25.8 per cent), asthma (19 per cent) and diabetes (15.6 per cent).

Among First Nations adults living in Hamilton:

  • 73 per cent of respondents reported an upper respiratory tract infection in the past 12 months
  • 25 per cent reported having been injured over the past 12 months
  • 78 per cent earn less than $20,000 per year
  • 70 per cent live in the city's lowest-income neighbourhoods

Aboriginal people are often excluded, unidentified, or under-represented in most Canadian health information databases. Our Health Counts fills this health information void by using respondent-driven sampling – a research method used to recruit hidden or stigmatized populations by relying on participants to identify the next wave of study recruits. Our Health Counts is the first respondent-driven sampling of urban First Nations people in Canada.

"Our Health Counts is a significant contribution to public health," said Dr. Firestone. "This data will have important implications for health service delivery, programming and policy development. It should directly inform strategic directions and improve health of urban Aboriginal people in Ontario."

EurekAlert. 2014. “Urban Aboriginal people face unique health challenges”. EurekAlert. Posted: July 10, 2014. Available online:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Earth's Magnetic Field Flip Could Happen Sooner Than Expected

Earth's magnetic field, which protects the planet from huge blasts of deadly solar radiation, has been weakening over the past six months, according to data collected by a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite array called Swarm.

The biggest weak spots in the magnetic field — which extends 370,000 miles (600,000 kilometers) above the planet's surface — have sprung up over the Western Hemisphere, while the field has strengthened over areas like the southern Indian Ocean, according to the magnetometers onboard the Swarm satellites — three separate satellites floating in tandem.

The scientists who conducted the study are still unsure why the magnetic field is weakening, but one likely reason is that Earth's magnetic poles are getting ready to flip, said Rune Floberghagen, the ESA's Swarm mission manager. In fact, the data suggest magnetic north is moving toward Siberia.

"Such a flip is not instantaneous, but would take many hundred if not a few thousand years," Floberghagen told Live Science. "They have happened many times in the past."

Scientists already know that magnetic north shifts. Once every few hundred thousand years the magnetic poles flip so that a compass would point south instead of north. While changes in magnetic field strength are part of this normal flipping cycle, data from Swarm have shown the field is starting to weaken faster than in the past. Previously, researchers estimated the field was weakening about 5 percent per century, but the new data revealed the field is actually weakening at 5 percent per decade, or 10 times faster than thought. As such, rather than the full flip occurring in about 2,000 years, as was predicted, the new data suggest it could happen sooner.

Floberghagen hopes that more data from Swarm will shed light on why the field is weakening faster now.

Still, there is no evidence that a weakened magnetic field would result in a doomsday for Earth. During past polarity flips there were no mass extinctions or evidence of radiation damage. Researchers think power grids and communication systems would be most at risk.

Earth's magnetic field acts like a giant invisible bubble that shields the planet from the dangerous cosmic radiation spewing from the sun in the form of solar winds. The field exists because Earth has a giant ball of iron at its core surrounded by an outer layer of molten metal. Changes in the core's temperature and Earth's rotation boil and swirl the liquid metal around in the outer core, creating magnetic field lines.

The movement of the molten metal is why some areas of the magnetic field strengthen while others weaken, Florberghagen said. When the boiling in one area of the outer core slows down, fewer currents of charged particles are released, and the magnetic field over the surface weakens.

"The flow of the liquid outer core almost pulls the magnetic field around with it," Floberghagen said. "So, a field weakening over the American continent would mean that the flow in the outer core below America is slowing down."

The Swarm satellites not only pick up signals coming from the Earth's magnetic field, but also from its core, mantle, crust and oceans. Scientists at the ESA hope to use the data to make navigation systems that rely on the magnetic field, such as aircraft instruments, more accurate, improve earthquake predictions and pinpoint areas below the planet's surface that are rich in natural resources. Scientists think fluctuations in the magnetic field could help identify where continental plates are shifting and help predict earthquakes.

These first results from Swarm were presented at the Third Swarm Science Meeting in Denmark on June 19.

Dickerson, Kelly. 2014. “Earth's Magnetic Field Flip Could Happen Sooner Than Expected”. Scientific American. Posted: July 9, 2014. Available online:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Imperiled Amazon Indians Make 1st Contact with Outsiders

Indigenous people with no prior contact to the outside world have just emerged from the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and made contact with a group of settled Indians, after being spotted migrating to evade illegal loggers, advocates say.

The news, which was released yesterday (July 2), comes after sightings of the uncontacted Indians in Brazil near the border with Peru, according to the group Survival International. Officials with the organization had warned last month that the isolated tribes face threats of disease and violence as they moved into new territory and possibly encountered other people.

"Something serious must have happened," José Carlos Meirelles, a former official with the Brazilian Indian Affairs Department FUNAI, said in a statement. "It is not normal for such a large group of uncontacted Indians to approach in this way. This is a completely new and worrying situation, and we currently do not know what has caused it."

Survival International officials said dozens of uncontacted Indians were recently spotted close to the home of the Ashaninka Indians in Brazil's Acre state along the Envira River, while a government investigation in the region uncovered more ephemeral traces of the tribe on the move: footprints, temporary camps and food leftovers. On Sunday (June 29), reports suggest, the vulnerable group of Indians made contact with the Asháninka.

Advocates think the Indians crossed into Brazil from Peru to escape drug traffickers and illegal loggers who started working in their territory, Fiona Watson, research and field director for Survival International, told Live Science in an email.

Advocates warned this could be a deadly development.

As they travel, the tribe may be at risk of clashes with other groups and contagious diseases to which they have no immunity. Illnesses like the flu and malaria, for example, devastated the Zo'e tribe in northern Brazil after Christian missionaries established a base camp in the area in the 1980s.

"I am from the same area as they are," Nixiwaka Yawanawá, an Indian from Brazil's Acre state, said in a statement. "It is very worrying that my relatives are at risk of disappearing. It shows the injustice that we face today. They are even more vulnerable because they can’t communicate with the authorities. Both governments must act now to protect and to stop a disaster against my people," added Yawanawá, who joined Survival to speak out for the rights of such indigenous peoples.

Another uncontacted tribe was famously photographed near the Brazil-Peru border in 2008. Images released by Survival International at the time showed men pointing arrows at the plane photographing them. In 2011, a government post that was monitoring the area was overrun by illegal loggers and drug smugglers.

"International borders don't exist for uncontacted tribes, which is why Peru and Brazil must work together to prevent lives being lost," Survival director Stephen Corry urged in the statement. "Both governments must act now if their uncontacted citizens are to survive."

Gannon, Megan. 2014. “Imperiled Amazon Indians Make 1st Contact with Outsiders”. Live Science. Posted: July 3, 2014. Available online:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Genes that influence children's reading skills also affect their maths

Study suggests that half of the genes that affect 12-year-olds' literacy also play a role in their abilities in mathematics

Many of the genes that affect how well a child can read at secondary school have an impact on their maths skills too, researchers say.

Scientists found that around half of the genes that influenced the literacy of 12-year-olds also played a role in their mathematical abilities. The findings suggest that hundreds and possibly thousands of subtle DNA changes in genes combine to help shape a child's performance in both reading and mathematics.

But while genetic factors are important, environmental influences, such as home life and schooling, contributed roughly the same amount as genetics in the children studied, the researchers said.

"Children differ genetically in how easy or difficult they find learning, and we need to recognise, and respect, these individual differences," said Robert Plomin, professor of behavioural genetics at Kings College London and an author on the study.

"Finding such strong genetic influence does not mean that there is nothing we can do if a child finds learning difficult. Heritability does not imply that anything is set in stone. It just means it may take more effort from parents, schools and teachers to bring the child up to speed."

In the study, 12-year old twins and unrelated children from around 2,800 British families were assessed for reading comprehension and fluency, and tested on mathematics questions from the UK national curriculum. This information was then analysed alongside the children's DNA.

Oliver Davis, a geneticist at University College London, said: "We looked at this question in two ways, by comparing the similarity of thousands of twins, and by measuring millions of tiny differences in their DNA. Both analyses show that similar collections of subtle DNA differences are important for reading and maths."

The study did not identify specific genes linked to numeracy or literacy, and researchers do not know what the various gene variants do. But they may affect brain development and function, or other biological processes that are important for learning both skills.

The findings build on previous studies showing that genetic variations among British schoolchildren explain most of the differences in how well they perform in exams.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the authors explain that understanding how genes affect children's abilities "increases our chances of developing effective learning environments that will help individuals attain the highest level of literacy and numeracy, increasingly important skills in the modern world".

Chris Spencer at Oxford University said: "We're moving into a world where analysing millions of DNA changes, in thousands of individuals, is a routine tool in helping scientists to understand aspects of human biology. This study used the technique to help investigate the overlap in the genetic component of reading and maths ability in children. Interestingly, the same method can be applied to pretty much any human trait, for example to identify new links between diseases, or the way in which people respond to treatments."

Sample, Ian. 2014. “Genes that influence children's reading skills also affect their maths”. The Guardian. Posted: July 8, 2014. Available online:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Remains of Long-Lost Temple Discovered in Iraq

Life-size human statues and column bases from a long-lost temple dedicated to a supreme god have been discovered in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

The discoveries date back over 2,500 years to the Iron Age, a time period when several groups — such as the Urartians, Assyrians and Scythians — vied for supremacy over what is now northern Iraq.

"I didn't do excavation, just archaeological soundings —the villagers uncovered these materials accidentally," said Dlshad Marf Zamua, a doctoral student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who began the fieldwork in 2005. The column bases were found in a single village  while the other finds, including a bronze statuette of a wild goat, were found in a broad area south of where the borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey intersect.

For part of the Iron Age, this area was under control of the city of Musasir, also called Ardini, Marf Zamua said. Ancient inscriptions have referred to Musasir as a "holy city founded in bedrock" and "the city of the raven."

A lost ancient temple

"One of the best results of my fieldwork is the uncovered column bases of the long-lost temple of the city of Musasir, which was dedicated to the god Haldi," Marf Zamuatold Live Science in an email. Haldi was the supreme god of the kingdom of Urartu. His temple was so important that after the Assyrians looted it in 714 B.C., the Urartu king Rusa I was said to have ripped his crown off his head before killing himself.

He "threw himself on the ground, tore his clothes, and his arms hung limp. He ripped off his headband, pulled out his hair, pounded his chest with both hands, and threw himself flat on his face …" reads one ancient account (translation by Marc Van De Mieroop).

The location of the temple has long been a mystery, but with the discovery of the column bases, Marf Zamua thinks it can be narrowed down.

Additionally, Marf Zamua analyzed an ancient carving of Musasir, discovered in the 19th century at Khorsabad. The carving, he found, shows hillside houses with three windows on the second floor and a doorway on the ground floor. Such a design can still be seen today in some villages, the bottom floor being used as a stable and storage area, he noted.

Life-size statues

This long-lost temple is just the tip of the archaeological iceberg. During his work in Kurdistan, Marf Zamua also found several life-size human statues that are up to 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) tall. Made of limestone, basalt or sandstone, some of these statues are now partly broken.

They all show bearded males, some of whom "are holding a cup in their right hands, and they put their left hands on their bellies," said Marf Zamua. "One of them holds a hand ax. Another one put on a dagger."

Originally erected above burials, the statues have a "sad moment" posture, Marf Zamua said. Similar statues can be found from central Asia to eastern Europe. "It is art and ritual of nomads/pastorals, especially when they [buried] their chieftains," Marf Zamua said.

Mostof the newfound statues date to the seventh or sixth century B.C., after Musasir fell to the Assyrians, and during a time when the Scythians and Cimmerians were advancing through the Middle East.

Modern-day dangers and ancient treasures

Over the past few weeks, conflict in Iraq has been increasing as a group called the "Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant" (ISIS) has taken several cities and threatened to march on Baghdad. The Kurdistan area, including this archaeological site, is autonomous, and its militia has been able to prevent ISIS from entering it.

Marf Zamuasaid there are risks associated with living and working in the border area. Due to the conflicts of the past few decades, there are numerous unexploded land mines, one of which killed a young shepherd a month back, he said. Additionally the National Iraqi News Agency reports that Iranian artillery recently fired onto the Iraqi side of the border, and there have been past instances where planes from Turkey have launched attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan.

Despite these risks, there are also terrific archaeological finds to be made. In addition to the statues and column bases, Marf Zamuafound a bronze statuette of a wild goat about 3.3 inches (8.4 centimeters) long and 3.2 inches (8.3 cm) tall. Researchers are now trying to decipher a cuneiform inscription on the statuette.

Marf Zamua presented the discoveries recently in a presentation given at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, held at the University of Basel in Switzerland. In addition to his doctoral studies, Marf Zamua teaches at Salahaddin University in Erbil, which is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Jarus, Owen. 2014. “Remains of Long-Lost Temple Discovered in Iraq”. Live Science. Posted: July 7, 2014. Available online:

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Unknown culture discovered in Peru

Archaeologists from the University of Wrocław working in the Atacama Desert in Peru have discovered more than 150 burials belonging to a previously unknown culture.

The find, dating to between the 4th-7th century CE, indicates that the northern part of the Atacama Desert had been inhabited by a farming community before the expansion of the Tiwanaku civilisation into the region.

Tambo project

The team from the Institute of Archaeology has carried out research in the area since 2008 as part of the Tambo Project  along with researchers from Peru and Colombia.

The cemetery was discovered in the Tambo river delta, in the northern part of the Atacama Desert. “These graves had been dug in the sand without any stone structures, and for this reason they were so difficult to locate that they have not fallen prey to robbers” – said Prof. Józef Szykulski, leader of the research project.

Desert conditions also preserved the contents of the graves. “These burials are of a virtually unknown people, who inhabited the area before the expansion of the Tiwanaku civilisation. Items found in individual graves indicate that the people already had a clear social division” – said Prof. Szykulski.

Inside the tombs, the archaeologists found many artefacts including headgear made of felted lama wool, which could have functioned as a type of helmet. Some of the bodies were wrapped in mats, others in cotton burial shrouds, and others in nets.

“Inside some of the graves we have found bows and quivers with arrows tipped with obsidian heads. This is a very interesting find, because bows are a rarity in Peru” – said the archaeologist. Another interesting find is the skeleton of a young llama, which proves that the animal had been brought to the Tambo Delta earlier than thought.

A stratified culture

In some of the male graves, archaeologists found maces with stone or copper finials. “These objects along with the bows were symbols of power, which suggests that the culture had a stratified society with elites who took their power into the afterlife” – said Prof. Szykulski.

Grave goods also included decorated weaving tools and many jewellery items, including objects made of copper and tumbaga (an alloy of gold and copper). Another interesting discovery are reed withes that were attached to the ears of the dead, and which protruded above the surface of the graves. Scientists suspect that they served as ritual “communication” tools between the dead and the living members of the community.

Tiwanaku discovery

Prof. Szykulski announced that Polish archaeologists also discovered the tombs of Tiwanaku civilisation in the Tambo River delta, dating back to the 7th-10th century CE. “These stone tombs contain ceramic vessels, tools and weapons. This find is sensational, it was previously thought that in this period the Tiwanaku civilisation had not reached this area“- said the scientist.

Archaeological work carried out in Peru by the Institute of Archaeology, University of Wrocław, is a part of an interdisciplinary research project aimed to analyse the settlement processes in the pre-Columbian era in the river valleys of southern Peru.

The study area covers the Tambo river basin which spans more then 20,000 square kilometres on the south-east boundary of Arequipa Province and the north-western part of the Mariscal Nieto and Sánchez Cerro Provinces, and will continue for several more years.

View the project gallery here:

Past Horizons. 2014. “Unknown culture discovered in Peru”. Past Horizons. Posted: July 4, 2014. Available online:

Friday, August 8, 2014

GIS model tests Caesar’s accounts of the Gallic Wars

According to Caesar’s account of his Gallic Wars (58-51 BCE) over 250,000 Helvetii abandoned their territory in what is now northern Switzerland and attempted to relocate to Gaul in 58 BCE (Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Book 1, chapter 28).

Was Caesar exaggerating the size of the migrating population in order to increase the importance of his final victory over the Helvetii, and did encroaching famine really play a part in the decision of these people to move?

The Helvetii

Previously, the Celtic Helvetii under pressure from Alamanni in the 2nd century BCE, had migrated from southern Germany into what is now northern Switzerland. In March 58 BCE however, under the leadership of Orgetorix they moved en masse to western Gaul. Julius Caesar, at the start of a campaign to subdue and annexe Gaul, refused them entry and followed them along the banks of the River Saone, where he eventually defeated them near Bibracte. The remains of the Helvetian force which included all the non-combatant men, women and children as well as their warriors,  returned to Switzerland, and of the supposed 250,000 only 110,ooo were said to have survived.

Later, under Augustus, their territory formed part of Gallia Belgica and the capital at Aventicum (Avenches) became a Roman colony, with the baths at Aquae Helveticae (Baden, Switz.) becoming a well known site for visitors.

In a twist of fate, the Helvetii end up manning the Roman frontier forts against the Alamanni until at last they succombed to their ancient enemy by the mid-5th century. The name Helvetia or Confederatio Helvetica survives as an official name of Switzerland.

Modelling large scale economic systems

To try to answer the question of why the Helvetii migrated en masse, University of Western Australia (UWA) archaeologist Tom Whitley is developing a geographic information system (GIS) model to examine a large scale economic system of their lands, focussing on subsistence farming. His team will attempt to analyse both wild and agricultural sources of potential energy available in the local environment. The model tests Caesar’s assertions that they numbered quarter of a million against the amount of calories that would have been available to the people if they had completely populated the territory.

Professor Whitley explains, “Does that in fact reflect what he was saying, that there was a stress on the amount of energy that is available versus how many people are there to use it?” and he continues, “Or does it look like he’s exaggerating his numbers to make it look like he defeated more people than actually he did?”

The team are using the historical account, ecological and archaeological data which will allow them to construct detailed models of a complex economic system as they admit that it is difficult to reconstruct what was going on from the archaeological data alone as it is a very fragmentary record.

With computer simulation the researchers can quickly model a variety of different stress effects and view the potential results.

Roman military infrastructure

A secondary part of the study aims to find specific archaeological signatures for the war, such as Roman riverfront fortifications.

“Some of the GIS modelling is intended to say where it is likely that the Romans would have been building these structures,” he explains.

“Can we simulate what that past environment looked like where people were likely to have crossed and … go to those locations and see if we can find them?”

Using this form of predictive terrain modelling, the team are also testing the effectiveness of ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry matched with aerial photogrammetry, to see if the potentially massive Helvetian encampments can be identified on what are now vineyards and small farms.

Vineyards contain wire and metal posts, making magnetometry impractical, and radar can only be used in strips between the vines, no one technique can be used in isolation. The results will be released next year.

Past Horions. 2014. “GIS model tests Caesar’s accounts of the Gallic Wars”. Past Horions. Posted: June 29, 2014. Available online: