Science Scanner: Previously-Unknown Stone Age People Discovered

Posted March 14th, 2012 at 10:30 pm (UTC+0)
1 comment

An international team of scientists has discovered a previously-unknown Stone Age people.

The fossils of human remains, found in south-west China, reportedly offer a rare glimpse of a fairly recent stage of human evolution.

The remains of what the scientists call “red-deer” – because they hunted and cooked extinct red deer – were first found in 1979 near the village of Longlin, China. Skeletal remains of three more of these people were found a decade later, in 1989, at Maludong, or Red Deer Cave, near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province.

Scientists date the remains to between 11,400 and 14,500 years ago, when farming culture in China first developed. It’s likely these people also shared their early Asian environment with a more modern-looking people.

The fossils are described as the remains of people who had a highly unusual mix of archaic and modern anatomical features. The team says it’s been cautious about classifying the fossils because of the unusual wide range of features.

“These new fossils might be of a previously unknown species, one that survived until the very end of the Ice Age around 11,000 years ago,” says study co-leader Darren Curnoe, of the University of New South Wales, Australia.

According Curnoe, scientists still know little about how modern humans evolved in Asia after our ancestors settled Eurasia some 70,000 years ago.

“The discovery of the red-deer people opens the next chapter in the human evolutionary story – the Asian chapter – and it’s a story that’s just beginning to be told,” says Curnoe.

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‘Your Honor, a Twinkie made me do it’

During Dan White’s trial for the 1978 murders of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, his defense team used the so-called “Twinkie Defense.”

They argued White suffered diminished capacity as a result of his depression and that his consumption of Twinkies, and other such treats, was symptomatic of his underlying depression.

As it turns out, there just might be some scientific support of the “Twinkie Defense”.

Hostess Twinkies. Yellow snack cake with cream filling. (Photo: Evan-Amos via Wikipedia Commons)

Hostess Twinkies: yellow snack cake with cream filling. (Photo: Evan-Amos via Wikipedia Commons)

New research from the University of California, San Diego reveals the consumption of dietary trans-fatty acids (dTFAs), which is found in  Twinkies, is associated with irritability and aggression in men and women of all ages and various ethnic and racial backgrounds.

The researchers studied nearly 1,000 men and women. They say  their findings provide the first evidence linking dTFAs to negative behavior, ranging from impatience to overt aggression.

Dietary trans-fatty acids are primarily products of a process called hydrogenation, which is widely used by food producers. It reduces or saturates organic compounds and makes unsaturated oils solid at room temperature. High levels of dTFAs are found in margarine, shortening and various prepared foods.

Adverse health effects of dTFAs include increased levels of blood lipid (fats), metabolic function changes, resistance to insulin and cardiac disease.

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Japanese honeybees ‘cook’ their enemies

This is a sampling of workers from an artificially formed hot defensive bee ball. (Photos: Ugajin A, Kiya T, Kunieda T, Ono M, Yoshida T, et al. (2012) Detection of Neural Activity in the Brains of Japanese Honeybee Workers during the Formation of a ‘‘Hot Defensive Bee Ball’’. PLoS ONE 7(3): e32902. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032902)

This is a sampling of workers from an artificially formed hot defensive bee ball. (Photos: Ugajin A, Kiya T, Kunieda T, Ono M, Yoshida T, et al. (2012) Detection of Neural Activity in the Brains of Japanese Honeybee Workers during the Formation of a ‘‘Hot Defensive Bee Ball’’. PLoS ONE 7(3): e32902. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032902)

One of the biggest enemies of Japanese honeybees is the Asian giant hornet, a nasty predator with a body length of around 50 mm and a wingspan of approximately 76 mm.

But, according to a new study from two Japanese Universities, the honeybees have developed a unique defense mechanism; they swarm the hornet, creating a “hot defensive bee ball” that literally cooks the hornet.

These defensive measures aren’t practiced by the Japanese honeybee’s European relatives.

The researchers picked out sample honeybees as they formed that hot defensive bee ball, removing the bees at different times to investigate the brain function that created this unique behavior.

They found that neurons which compose the higher brain center are active while the bees are part of the hot ball, which differs from neural activity seen in their European relatives.

>>> Read more…

Robotic handyman’s got the right stuff

A robotic handyman aboard the International Space Station, recently proved it can perform intricate and precise satellite-servicing tasks in space.

Dextre at Work (Photo: NASA)

Dextre at Work (Photo: NASA)

Earlier this month,  Dextre, part of Canada’s contribution to the ISS, successfully completed tasks – which were designed to demonstrate the various tools, technologies and techniques needed to refuel and repair satellites robotically – on the space station’s external RRM module.

Dextre is part of NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM). NASA expects the RRM will reduce risks to humans and lay the ground work for upcoming robotic servicing missions in the microgravity conditions of space.

To prove his worthiness as a repairman, Dextre successfully retrieved and inspected RRM tools, released safety launch locks on tool adapters, and used an RRM tool to cut extremely thin satellite lock wire.

These operations represent the first use of RRM tools in orbit and Dextre’s first participation in a research and development project.

Joining Dextre and the RRM aboard the International Space Station is another robot called Robonaut 2, or R2, the first human-like robot, which was sent up in 2011.

>>> Read more…

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

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