Wednesday, September 29, 2004

When the Sun lost its heat

Locked away in fossils is evidence of a sudden solar cooling. Kate Ravilious meets the experts who say it could explain a 3,000-year-old mass migration - and today's global warming.

Just under 3,000 years ago, a group of horse-riding nomads, known as the Scythians, started to venture east and west across the Russian steppes. At about the same time, African farmers began to explore their continent, and Dutch farmers abandoned their land and moved east. All over the world people became restless and started to move - but why? Archaeologists have never found a clear answer, but now one scientist thinks the explanation may lie on the surface of the Sun.

This idea of solar activity causing fluctuations in the Earth's climate has been kicking around for some time, largely in relation to past climate changes such as the Little Ice Age, Medieval Warm Period, etc., but was eclipsed (heh, that pun wasn't intended) by the recent anthropogenic hypothesis. Several researchers have been exploring this in some detail, see for example:

Rozelot, J.P. 2001. Possible links between the solar radius variations and the Earth's climate evolution over the past four centuries. Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 63: 375-386.

Parker, E.N. 1999. Sunny side of global warming. Nature 399: 416-417.

Also here.

Update on old story Researchers find signs of grain milling, baking 23,000 years ago

Archaeologists have found strong evidence that wheat and barley were refined into cereals 23,000 years ago, suggesting that humans were processing grains long before hunter-gatherer societies developed agriculture. The findings, including the identification of the earliest known oven and hence the oldest evidence of baking, were described in a recent issue of the journal Nature. "This is an observation of key progress in human society, as the beginning of baking was likely a major step forward in nutrition," says author Ehud Weiss, a postdoctoral researcher in Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology and Peabody Museum. "Our work also provides evidence that ancient people held important knowledge that survives to this day. Ten thousand years before agriculture developed, humans recognized the value of cereals."

Well, we're not sure what to make of this. Certainly, no one believes that the first time people started using grains was also the same time they domesticated them and developed full-fledged agriculture. Generally, it's been known for some time that hunter-gatherers were using wild cereals to some extent as a food source, without actual full-scale production and domestication. Eh, read it and make of it what you will.

Out of Africa: Scientists find earliest evidence yet of human presence in Northeast Asia

Early humans lived in northern China about 1.66 million years ago, according to research reported in the journal Nature this week. The finding suggests humans--characterized by their making and use of stone tools--inhabited upper Asia almost 340,000 years before previous estimates placed them there, surviving in a pretty hostile environment.

The research team, including Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, reports the results of excavating four layers of sediments at Majuangou in north China. All the layers contained indisputable stone tools apparently made by early humans, known to researchers as "hominins."

The top layer, located at about 43.3-45.0 meters deep in the Earth's soil, contains the oldest known record of hominin stone tools, dating back to 1.32 million years ago. But the fourth and deepest layer, in which Potts and his team also found stone tools, is about 340,000 years older than that.

See? 1.6 million years ago we can find undisputed stone tools, but for some reason the pre-Clovis people in North America could barely knock some rocks together.

Archaeologists to the rescue Hi-tech bid to find ancient treasures

There is something missing from the ornate church in one of Norfolk's most picture-perfect villages.

Twelve stone apostles and one stone Jesus Christ were stripped from it during Henry VIII's Reformation, so folklore goes, before being thrown into the nearby harbour in a bout of religious fervour.

Now the residents of Cley, in North Norfolk, want them back. But instead of relying on divine inspiration, the very traditional village is turning towards rather hi-tech methods to sniff them out.

CSI: Paris

After 550 years, mystery death of French king's lover may be solved

SHE was one of the most beautiful women of her time, who won the heart of a king to become France’s first officially recognised royal mistress.

But when Agnes Sorel died in agony at the age of 28, rumours began to circulate that she had been murdered.

The lover of Charles VII, Sorel enraged the king’s son and heir, the future Louis XI, with the influence she exerted over his father’s court.

Rumour has it the dauphin paid one of the king’s officials to poison Sorel, who died in 1450 shortly after giving birth. Now French historians hope to clear up what has become one of their country’s most enduring mysteries, by exhuming her body to discover how she died.

We found this supposed painting of young Agnes on the Web:

Who says history never repeats itself. . .

In all seriousness, however, we find the confluence of a premature birth and subsequent death of the young lady involving abdominal pain to be not particularly unusual since many women died during or shortly after childbirth.