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News Article | May 8, 2017

Animal-hair cords dating to the late 1700s contain a writing system that might generate insights into how the Inca communicated, a new study suggests. Researchers have long wondered whether some twisted and knotted cords from the Inca Empire, which ran from 1400 to 1532, represent a kind of writing about events and people. Many scholars suspect that these textile artifacts, known as khipus, mainly recorded decimal numbers in an accounting system. Yet Spanish colonial documents say that some Inca khipus contained messages that runners carried to various destinations. Now a new twist in this knotty mystery comes from two late 18th century khipus stored in a wooden box at San Juan de Collata, a Peruvian village located high in the Andes Mountains. A total of 95 cord combinations of different colors, animal fibers and ply directions, identified among hundreds of hanging cords on these khipus, signify specific syllables, reports Sabine Hyland. Hyland, a social anthropologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, describes the khipus online April 19 in Current Anthropology. Her findings support a story told by Collata villagers that the khipus are sacred writings of two local chiefs concerning a late 18th century rebellion against Spanish authorities. The Collata khipus display intriguing similarities to Inca khipus, including hanging cords with nearly the same proportions of two basic ply directions, Hyland says. A better understanding of Central Andean khipus from the 1700s through the 1900s will permit a reevaluation of the earlier Inca twisted cords, she suggests. Each Collata khipu, like surviving Inca examples, consists of a horizontal cord from which a series of cords hang. One Collata specimen contains 288 hanging cords separated into nine groups by cloth ribbons tied at intervals along the top cord. The other khipu features 199 hanging cords divided by ribbons into four groups. Knots appear only at cord ends to prevent unraveling. In contrast, proposed accounting khipus contain many knots denoting numbers. Collata khipus’ initial hanging cords are made of bundles of colored animal hairs that represent the message’s subject matter, Hyland proposes. One khipu starts with a tuft of bright red deer hair, followed by a woven, cone-shaped bundle with metallic-colored thread. The second khipu commences with a woven, tube-shaped bundle of multicolored alpaca hair atop the remains of a red tassel. “The Collata khipus are completely unlike accounting khipus that I have been studying for over a decade,” Hyland says. Central Andean khipus generally viewed as accounting devices were often made of cotton, and they contain two main colors, between 15 and 39 cord combinations and repetitive knot sequences. Hyland makes an “excellent case” that these cords represent syllables and probably words as well, says anthropological archaeologist Penelope Dransart of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Lampeter. So far, Hyland has translated the final three cords on one khipu as the word Alluka, the name of a family lineage in Collata. She first talked to villagers and identified the lineage chief that they claimed wrote one of the khipus. Hyland then assigned the three syllables in Alluka to the trio of ending cords, assuming that the sender’s name would appear either there or at the beginning of the message. That enabled her to decipher the final cords on the second khipu as Yakapar, the name of a family lineage in a neighboring village. Heads of these lineages wrote the corded messages, Hyland suspects. She has not yet deciphered other cords on the two khipus. Hyland’s insights into 18th century khipus are “profoundly significant,” but won’t help to decipher Inca twisted and knotted cords, predicts Harvard University archaeologist Gary Urton. Collata villagers probably invented a phonetic form of khipu communication after the Inca civilization’s demise, when they were exposed to Spaniards’ alphabetic writing, Urton says. Inca khipus show no signs of cord combinations that corresponded to particular speech sounds, he asserts. Thanks to the new discoveries, though, “we have hope that at least some khipus might be understood,” says archaeologist Jeffrey Splitstoser of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Before Hyland’s report, Splitstoser thought it likely that colored threads on khipus had arbitrary meanings assigned by their makers, making them indecipherable. He studies khipus from the Wari empire, which flourished in the Peruvian Andes from around 600 to 1000 (SN: 5/10/03, p. 302). Officials at several museums with khipu collections have classified as forgeries a few animal-hair specimens that resemble the Collata khipus, Hyland says. Those alleged fakes deserve a closer look for signs of writing, she contends.

Tree J.J.,University of Swansea | Horry R.,University of Swansea | Riley H.,University of Wales Trinity Saint David | Wilmer J.B.,Wellesley College
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance | Year: 2017

Across 2 studies, the authors asked whether extensive experience in portrait art is associated with face recognition ability. In Study 1, 64 students completed a standardized face recognition test before and after completing a year-long art course that included substantial portraiture training. They found no evidence of an improvement in face recognition after training over and above what would be expected by practice alone. In Study 2, the authors investigated the possibility that more extensive experience might be needed for such advantages to emerge, by testing a cohort of expert portrait artists (N = 28), all of whom had many years of experience. In addition to memory for faces, they also explored memory for abstract art and for words in a paired-associate recognition test. The expert portrait artists performed similarly to a large, normative comparison sample on memory for faces and words but showed a small advantage for abstract art. Taken together, the results converge with existing literature to suggest that there is relatively little plasticity in face recognition in adulthood, at which point our substantial everyday experience with faces may have pushed us to the limits of our capabilities. © 2017 American Psychological Association.

Agency: European Commission | Branch: FP7 | Program: MC-ITN | Phase: FP7-PEOPLE-2013-ITN | Award Amount: 3.90M | Year: 2014

In the Early Modern Age (16th-17th centuries) the construction of ocean-going ships was paramount to the development of cultural encounters in what became the Age of Discovery and European expansion. In the case of the Iberian Empires, the establishment of new trade routes brought up the need for armed merchantmen, galleons and smaller vessels, placing unprecedented demands on Iberian forests for the supply of construction timber. Forestry and sea power became inextricably linked, creating new geopolitical tensions, alliances and forest regulations. Key questions in this context are: could Iberian forest resources sustain the increasing demand of sound timber, or was the wood imported from elsewhere? If so, how were the trade networks organized? And did the lack of raw material force the technological changes occurred in shipbuilding in the 16th century, or were they a result of exchange between Mediterranean and Atlantic shipbuilding traditions? This project will address these questions through a multidisciplinary and innovative training research program to improve the understanding of our historical past, our cultural heritage, and our knowledge of the use of resources for shipbuilding. The prerequisite for such approach is combining knowledge derived from Humanities and Life Sciences. The aims of the project are: i) to consolidate a research line combining historical research, underwater archaeology, GIS and wood provenancing methods (dendrochronology, wood anatomy and geo/dendrochemistry); ii) to increase the background and experience of trainees in the different research areas, by engaging the fellows in training courses and workshops aimed at developing their scientific, communication, and management skills; and iii) to develop their transferable skills for future careers in academia or the private sector whilst advancing the research fields through the integration of research tools, development of reference datasets and new discoveries.

Abbots E.-J.,University of Wales Trinity Saint David | Attala L.,University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Geoforum | Year: 2017

This article interrogates how social media can provide a platform for contesting dominant discourses. It does so through the lens of competitive eating, demonstrating that amateur competitive eaters use social media sites to challenge and subvert mass media representations of their sport while concomitantly upholding normative notions of healthy eating and bodies. Competitors consider themselves to be skilful athletes that discipline and train their bodies to eat. They regard their eating practices, which are often depicted in the mass media as uncontrolled and gluttonous, as controlled ingestion, and present an alternative perspective of their ‘sport’ – a perspective that stresses health, physical expertise and a fit, trained body over voracity and insatiability. Social media acts as a ‘precipitating agency’ for the creation of these alternative definitions of disciplined eating, as well as the construction of new digital eating identities. Instead of focusing on the food being ingested and the ‘Carnivalesque’ practice of competitive eating, we draw attention to the performers’ voices and the ways they attend to the mechanics of gurgitation, including methods of chewing, swallowing and stomach stretching, and their ability to manage, regulate and operate ingestivity. As hegemonic discourses align the notion of ‘good eating’ to discipline, order and restraint, competitive eating is thus revealed to be a practice that mirrors and appropriates, yet also ultimately reproduces, conventional narratives. Social media is, in turn, shown to be a political tool for counter-discursive practices that are produced in dialogue with, and concomitantly uphold and contest, normative discourses of mass media. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd

News Article | October 5, 2016

Humankind’s bombs, plastics, chickens and more have altered the planet enough to usher in a new chapter in Earth’s geologic history. That’s the majority opinion of a group of 35 experts tasked with evaluating whether the current human-dominated time span, unofficially dubbed the Anthropocene, deserves a formal place in Earth’s geologic timeline alongside the Eocene and the Pliocene. In a controversial move, the Anthropocene Working Group has declared that the Anthropocene warrants being a full-blown epoch (not a lesser age), with its start pegged to the post–World War II economic boom and nuclear weapons tests of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The group made these provisional recommendations August 29 at the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. If eventually approved by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) — the gatekeepers of geologic time — and the Executive Committee of the International Union of Geological Sciences, the Anthropocene would usurp the current Holocene Epoch, which has reigned since the end of the last glacial period around 11,700 years ago. The Holocene would become the shortest completed epoch in history, just thousandths the length of the next shortest epoch. “We’ve left an indelible mark on the Earth,” says Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester in England and convener of the working group. “We now cannot go back to anything that’s ostensibly the same as the Holocene.” Not all scientists are onboard with the plan. Critics say it’s grounded in politics and pop culture, not science, and that not enough time has passed to put just decades-old changes in context. Any proposal advocating for the Anthropocene will face strong skepticism, says Whitney Autin, a sedimentary geologist at the State University of New York at Brockport. “The idea of amending geologic time carries the same weight as eliminating an amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” he says. To build its case for the new epoch, the working group will spend the next two to three years scouring natural records, such as rocks, mud and tree rings, for evidence that humankind’s impacts have brought about a distinct new phase in the stratigraphic record. The group will then submit a formal proposal for approval. “We’re leaving physical signals in sediments, in corals, in trees that are going to be long lasting if not permanent,” says Colin Waters, a geologist at the British Geological Survey in Keyworth and a member of the working group. “It’s not just history, it’s geology as well.” And those geologic changes merit official recognition as a new epoch, Waters says. The goal of the geologic time scale is to label and formalize discrete phases in Earth’s stratigraphic record as a tool for geologists and other scientists. This time scale allows scientists to easily identify, describe and discuss rocks of similar age across the planet. The term “Anthropocene” has risen in popularity among scientists and the general public in recent years, driven in part by its use in a 2002 article by atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen. The article argued that humans’ exploitation of natural resources has reshaped the planet enough to bring about a new epoch. While “Anthropocene” now appears in the titles of papers, conference talks and books about everything from climate change to philosophy, those who embrace the term nonetheless disagree on its definition. Some researchers pin the start of the epoch to when humans first started converting forests to farmland thousands of years ago, while others, such as Crutzen, use the start of the Industrial Revolution or the recent acceleration in fossil fuel burning. The Anthropocene Working Group was convened by the ICS in 2009 to sort out the definition of the Anthropocene and assess whether the time interval should be formally added to the geologic time scale. Among its 35 members, the working group contains an international mix of geologists, climate scientists, archaeologists and other experts. In January, members of the working group published a review of evidence for the Anthropocene in Science. Pro-Anthropocene arguments come from multiple areas of science, from biology to climate to chemistry, the researchers reported. For instance, humans have introduced species such as the domestic chicken worldwide and driven many others to extinction (SN Online: 8/26/15). Emissions from human activities such as fossil fuel burning have altered Earth’s climate (SN: 4/16/16, p. 22). Manufactured materials such as plastics, aluminum and concrete will remain embedded in the ground as “technofossils.” Fallout from nuclear weapons tests has left a radioactive mark in soil, marine sediments and even ice. These human impacts make the Anthropocene distinct in the stratigraphic record from the Holocene, the researchers concluded. For the Anthropocene to become official, the working group will have to establish a starting point for the proposed epoch. That can be accomplished by picking a nice round number — the Hadean-Archean switchover is an even 4 billion years ago, for instance — or by linking the starting point to a physical marker in the global sedimentary record, an approach now favored by ICS. The marker for the start of the Holocene, for instance, is linked to chemical and physical changes in the Greenland ice sheet caused by the warming that brought Earth out of its last bout of glacial growth. Such markers — also called “golden spikes,” similar to the ceremonial spike that marked the union of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad — are chosen for being ubiquitous and consistent throughout the world. Golden spikes are not necessarily important or even relevant to the differences that distinguish geologic time frames, says Stan Finney, a geologist at California State University, Long Beach, and former chair of the ICS. For instance, the Thanetian Age — a 3.2-million-year stretch during the Paleocene Epoch — is marked by just one of many reversals in Earth’s magnetic field. While a golden spike’s geologic signal may be global, the official physical spike itself is literally a single point in the stratigraphic record somewhere on Earth. (A single point avoids the problem of using multiple points that could end up having different ages, muddling the time boundary.) The golden spike for the Holocene is inside an ice core collected from Greenland and kept chilled in a freezer at the University of Copenhagen. The need for a golden spike shaped the working group’s Anthropocene proposal, Zalasiewicz says. While phases in human history such as early agriculture and the Industrial Revolution have had profound impacts on the planet, they didn’t have a simultaneous worldwide effect that could be used to mark the start of the new epoch. Had a major volcanic eruption spewed a distinctive layer of ash across the globe near the start of the Industrial Revolution, “it would have been a pretty good candidate,” Zalasiewicz says. Even though the eruption would have had nothing to do with human activity, the ash would have been a ubiquitous and easily identifiable marker for geologists. Radioactive carbon and plutonium blasted from the ramp up in atmospheric nuclear tests during the 1950s is another story. And the timing is so recent that it opens up many new places to hunt for the proposed epoch’s golden spike, including in living organisms such as trees and corals. “We’re a bit like confused kids wandering around an enormous sweetshop wondering how we’re going to choose,” Zalasiewicz says. Even if the group finds a golden spike, its proposal will face criticism from scientists who contend that the Anthropocene doesn’t warrant its own epoch. Radioactive fallout “is a widespread marker that qualifies for the rules that they need to follow to make a recommendation,” says William Ruddiman, a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, “but that doesn’t mean that it’s right, or that it makes sense.” Not enough time has passed since the proposed start date of the Anthropocene to have enough perspective to put the observed changes in the sedimentary record in proper context, Autin says. “A lot of stratigraphers would say that maybe in thousands or millions of years there will be a distinctive demarcation in the rock record at this point in time, but right now it’s a proposal that’s premature.” Placing the boundary so recently is “dubious, to say the least,” agrees Mike Walker, a professor emeritus at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David who helped establish the golden spike that represents the start of the Holocene. Divisions of geologic time “should have a utility for geoscientists, archaeologists, anthropologists, et cetera,” he says. “I see little of value to the wider science community in an epoch boundary at A.D. 1950.” The formalization of the Anthropocene is not just scientifically motivated, but also driven by a desire to highlight humankind’s impact on the environment, suggests Lucy Edwards, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va. “It’s a meme,” she says. “The thinking is that if you have a concept and you give it a new word, it carries more weight.” The motivation behind the newly announced proposal isn’t overly focused on humankind being to blame for recent changes, Zalasiewicz responds. “If we had all the same changes, but caused by something else, like volcanoes or a meteorite or my cat, then it would be just as significant.” More time isn’t needed to recognize that modern sediments are unique, he adds. After all, he says, if humans had been around 50 years after the environmental catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago, they would have clearly seen that Earth’s environment and ecology had permanently changed.

News Article | July 1, 2016

Megalithic or ancient stone tombs housed the dead after they breathed their last, but a new study suggests that these prehistoric structures may have been of use to the living, too. The long, constricted entry to these megalithic tombs may have been an "advanced" method of viewing the stars for early human cultures. Indeed, the 6,000-year-old megalithic graves located in Portugal may have been the world's first astronomical telescope, albeit without the lens, researchers in the United Kingdom said. It worked because the passageways created a tunnel effect that made it easier to observe the stars, says Fabio Silva, an astronomer from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. He says it is basically just a long tube for looking at the sky, and that its features affected how one could see the sky. For instance, these characteristics include directing your focus to one specific portion of the sky, while also blocking out distractions of other planets and stars. It is also possible that because the megalithic structure's environment was lightless, it helped the eyes adjust to the dark, allowing the person to distinguish faint details such as distant stars. Daniel Brown of Nottingham Trent University, another member of the research team, says the effect of the megalithic structure is ensuring that everything is dark aside from the small area in the sky. Brown, Silva and their colleagues believe that the entrance passageways, especially the Seven-Stone Antas located in central Portugal, may not have been positioned by accident. Silva said the orientations of the megalithic tombs themselves may be in alignment with the brightest star in the Taurus constellation, which is known as Aldebaran. In order to accurately time the first appearance of Aldebaran in the season, it is important to be able to detect stars even during twilight. Furthermore, researchers suggest that the megalithic tombs may have also been used as calendar aids that help them mark the change in season. This helps them become aware of the right time to move to grazing grounds in spring. The ancient stone tombs may have also been used as ritualistic devices, which conferred knowledge to those who are allowed inside the graves, or as a rite of passage that involved youngsters. Silva says a young boy, who was probably scared to death, may have been forced to spend the night in the ancient passage. In the morning, the young boy would see the star rise before the rest of his tribe. This was probably considered as secret knowledge or foresight, and ancient humans probably believed that the knowledge was gained after a night spent "in contact" with dead ancestors who were buried in the grave. In the meantime, researchers plan to expand their hypothesis by replicating the entrance passageway viewing conditions. Silva says they will simulate the star rising at twilight and ask people to tell them what they see. They will then compare it to a control group in a room that replicates the condition of being outside the tombs. Details of the study were presented at the National Astronomy Meeting in Nottingham. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

News Article | July 3, 2016

Carregal do Sal in Portugal is home to mysterious graves that may have once acted like a giant telescope for people of the ancient past. As bizarre as this may seem, this is not the only known megalithic observatory from long ago. So, what makes this massive stone structure in Portugal unique compared with similar structures, such as Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt? Carregal do Sal consists of a network of passage graves, similar to several others found scattered around Europe, dating back 6,000 years, to the New Stone Age. They are constructed with long, narrow hallways, backed by a flat surface. New analysis of passage graves found in Portugal reveals the means by which the structures may have served as telescopes for ancient people. Stonehenge is constructed from large stone slabs, buried into the ground, and rising above the land by 15 feet or more. Like the passage graves of Portugal, these ancient pillars are designed to align with objects in the sky. Such an arrangement would allow our distant ancestors to know when to plant certain crops, or move livestock to new grounds for grazing. Ancient astronomical tools such as Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza utilize placements to create easy views of celestial alignments critical to ancient people. However, the passage graves in Portugal take this idea a step further. Some of the best views of the sky can be seen from within the tomb itself. While contemporary telescopes collect and focus light, the passage graves would have allowed a person to see just a small portion of the sky at a time, and would have blocked extraneous light from the sun at dusk or dawn. In near pitch-dark conditions, the eyes of the observer would also become accustomed to the dark, allowing the viewer to see fainter stars than would otherwise be possible. "[T]he orientations of the tombs may be in alignment with Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus. To accurately time the first appearance of this star in the season, it is vital to be able to detect stars during twilight," Fabio Silva of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David said. The Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge offer no such adaptations, meaning the graves of Portugal would have been more advanced than some better-known ancient observatories. However, the construction of Stonehenge may remain a greater mystery. The stones, weighing up to 25 tons each, were transported around 20 miles from Marlborough Downs to the Salisbury Plain, before the invention of the wheel. Some of the smaller stones, weighing as much as 4 tons, may have been brought to the site from 140 miles away from their current location. "Stonehenge is perhaps the world's most famous prehistoric monument. It was built in several stages: the first monument was an early henge monument, built about 5,000 years ago, and the unique stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2500 BC. In the early Bronze Age many burial mounds were built nearby," English Heritage reports. Carregal do Sal may have been the Hubble Space Telescope of the Neolithic Age. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Henty L.,University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Journal of Physics: Conference Series | Year: 2016

For historical reasons archaeoastronomy and archaeology differ in their approach to prehistoric monuments and this has created a divide between the disciplines which adopt seemingly incompatible methodologies. The reasons behind the impasse will be explored to show how these different approaches gave rise to their respective methods. Archaeology investigations tend to concentrate on single site analysis whereas archaeoastronomical surveys tend to be data driven from the examination of a large number of similar sets. A comparison will be made between traditional archaeoastronomical data gathering and an emerging methodology which looks at sites on a small scale and combines archaeology and astronomy. Silva's recent research in Portugal and this author's survey in Scotland have explored this methodology and termed it skyscape archaeology. This paper argues that this type of phenomenological skyscape archaeology offers an alternative to large scale statistical studies which analyse astronomical data obtained from a large number of superficially similar archaeological sites. © Published under licence by IOP Publishing Ltd.

Abbotse E.-J.,University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Food, Culture and Society | Year: 2015

Celebrity chefs foster a relationship of intimacy with consumers, compounded by presenting styles, social media and the opening up of their personal lives. These intimacies are extended into domestic spaces through material objects such as kitchen equipment, specialist ingredients and cookbooks, which are brought into the home. This article interrogates the ways a group of UK consumers interact with this “stuff” of celebrity chefs and explores the ways these interactions (re)produce chefs and make them present in consumer homes. As such, it elucidates how focusing on the material objects that consumers personalize and associate with a celebrity chef can provide new insights into assessing the ways such chefs influence food and eating practices, as well as showing how these objects enable consumers to actively produce their food identities and social relations. As these relations are social and economic, attention is drawn to the manner in which the fostering of intimacies can obfuscate commercial relations. © Association for the Study of Food and Society 2015.

Agency: GTR | Branch: Innovate UK | Program: | Phase: Knowledge Transfer Partnership | Award Amount: 40.22K | Year: 2015

To review current processes and embed advanced testing techniques/technologies in order to improve processes, testing and the recovery of high value waste materials and minerals.

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