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Ancient Puebloans used ice caves to survive droughts
Carbon dating allows us to know exactly when ice was melted for drinking water in pre-Columbian America.
- A new study shows that ancient peoples in the American Southwest were using the same caves to collect ice for a millennium.
- The dates of their collection activities line up with tree-ring records of drought events in the area.
- The ice in the cave is melting, and studies on other possible collection events must occur soon before the evidence vanishes.
Living in the desert isn't easy. Being defined by lacking water, the one thing everybody needs at least every couple of days, groups of people who live there are known for coming up with a wide variety of methods of maximizing the water they have and minimizing the amount they waste.
It should not surprise us then that the ancestors of the Pueblo people of the American Southwest had more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Starting nearly two thousand years ago, they were spelunking in caves so cold, winding, and deep that ice was available year-round, providing a safeguard in the event of drought. A recently released study in Nature sheds light on their methods and even provides us with these collection events' dates.
Ancient secrets hidden in a deep dark cave
Researchers led by Bogdan P. Onac of the University of South Florida investigated an ice core collected from a lava tube in a cave in El Malpais National Monument. Known as Cave 29, the cave is chilly and structured so that it doesn't allow warm air from the outside to reach the lowest recesses easily. This enables water ice that accumulates there to remain frozen year-round. It is of considerable size and likely held an ice deposit of roughly 1000 m3 at some point.
The team drilled a 59cm long ice core out of an ice deposit. Even a glance at it shows darkened areas where ash and charcoal buildup occurred from nearby wood burning. Radiocarbon dating allowed the scientists to place these burn dates roughly at the years AD 167, AD 368, AD 747, AD 829, and AD 933.
These years are known to have been years of drought in the Southwest, suggesting that ancient people ventured into the cave searching for ice to melt into drinking water on each occasion over a millennium. In the cave's lower depths, one can also find charred wood, old torches, charcoal, and other evidence of controlled burning.
"This study demonstrates the ingenuity of indigenous people who used the area. It also shows how knowledge about the trails, caves and harvesting practices was passed down over many centuries, even millennia."
While previous studies proved that pre-Columbian peoples in the Americas turned to melting ice from lava tubes for water, this study appears to have pushed back the earliest known occurrence.
How can we know what the weather was like that long ago?
The ice block the core was taken from, still covered in ashes. The close up shows a piece of pottery next to burned pieces of wood.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Tree rings can be used to learn the meteorological history of an area. As trees grow outward, new rings appear inside their trunk, taking on differing appearances with changes in the environment. By looking at these rings, scientists can get an idea of what conditions were like in ages past.
By comparing the radiocarbon dating of the charcoal samples with the tree rings, a pattern emerges. The periods the samples date back to correspond to the same periods when droughts appear in the local tree ring record. This provides powerful evidence that the burning was taking place during droughts to collect water.
The scientists also note that some of these collection events match the time of the medieval warm period drought, which is known to have occurred during continuous periods of La Nina conditions and negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation; both of which are known to cause drought conditions in the Southwestern parts of the United States.
These events affect large areas of the world and are recorded by tree rings from many places, not just the American Southwest. Combining these records lends further credence to the idea that the burnings were tied to drought periods.
While the authors admit the possibility that the burned wood samples could be the result of wildfires, which were then blown or swept into the cave by natural forces, they point out that this is unlikely. The lack of air circulation nearly rules out anything being blown into the lower reaches of the cave, and that the concentration of ash in some areas combined with an utter lack of it in others points strongly towards human intervention- if the ashes blew in, you'd expect some of it to get everywhere.
Thus, they conclude that these findings are "unambiguous evidence" that this is evidence of people melting ice for their own purposes rather than a natural occurrence.
Precisely what the people of over a thousand years ago thought when they went to these caves is also the realm of speculation. While it is clear that people were collecting the water during drought periods, the water's ceremonial or medicinal use cannot be ruled out. Indeed, the archaeologist and member of the Ashiwi people of the Pueblo of Zuni Kenny Bowekaty explained to E&E news that the ice caves did serve a religious purpose in addition to the others they had.
The study focused on a single lava tube's contents, and further studies may find evidence of other collection events. They will have to take place soon, though. Increasing global temperatures are causing cave ice to melt and for records of ancient events to disappear forever.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.