Science & Nature
March 17, 2018 - March 23, 2018
Science Says: European art scene began with Neanderthals
undated image provided by João Zilhão in February 2018 shows perforated
shells found in sediments in the Cueva de los Aviones near Cartagena,
Spain. The artifacts date to between 115,000 and 120,000 years ago. New
discoveries in some Spanish caves give the strongest evidence yet that
Neanderthals created art. (João Zilhão via AP)
New York (AP) -
From the murky depths of Spanish caves comes a surprising insight:
Neanderthals created art.
proposed before, but experts say two new studies finally give convincing
evidence that our evolutionary cousins had the brainpower to make
artistic works and use symbols.
The key finding:
New age estimates that show paintings on cave walls and decorated
seashells in Spain were created long before our species entered Europe.
So there’s no way Homo sapiens could have made them or influenced
Neanderthals to merely copy their artwork.
Until now, most
scientists thought all cave paintings were the work of our species. But
the new work concludes that some previously known paintings - an array
of lines, some disks and the outline of a hand - were rendered about
20,000 years before H. sapiens moved into Europe.
That’s a surprise
that “constitutes a major breakthrough in the field of human evolution
studies,” said Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands, an
expert on Neanderthals who didn’t participate in the new work.
Now, he said in an
email, Neanderthal “ownership of some cave art is a fact.”
The second study
provided evidence that Neanderthals used pigments and piercings to
modify shells some 115,000 years ago, which is far earlier than similar
artifacts are associated with H. sapiens anywhere. That shows
Neanderthals “were quite capable of inventing the ornaments themselves,”
said Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder, who
also didn’t participate in the new work.
in Europe and Asia before disappearing about 40,000 years ago, around
the time H. sapiens moved into Europe from Africa.
released Thursday by the journals Science and Science Advances,
focused on determining the ages of previously known artifacts.
One team of
European researchers concentrated on painted artwork in three caves in
northern, southern and west-central Spain. They carefully removed tiny
bits of rocky crust that had formed on the artwork surfaces and analyzed
them in a lab. Results indicated artwork from all three were around
65,000 years old, much older than the arrival of H. sapiens in Europe,
which occurred some 45,000 to 40,000 years ago.
The artwork is
rudimentary, but a study author, Dirk Hoffmann of the Max Planck
Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said it’s
symbolic. One work is a collection of lines that look like a ladder, and
others include red dots and disks on curtain-like rock formations.
Another is a stenciled outline of a hand, made by spewing pigment over a
hand held against the wall, Hoffmann said.
Making the hand
stencil involves so many steps, including preparation of the pigment,
that it’s clearly a deliberate creation, he and other authors wrote in
the paper. What’s more, a number of hand stencils seem to have been
placed with care rather than randomly, so they are certainly “meaningful
symbols,” the authors wrote.
The other study
sought to find the age of shells that had been colored and punctured in
another cave, in southeast Spain. Previous studies had estimated an age
of 45,000 to 50,000 years old, too young to rule out a link to H.
For the new work,
researchers analyzed rock that had formed above where the shells had
the shells were around 115,000 years old. That is some 20,000 to 40,000
years older than comparable artifacts in Africa or western Asia that are
attributed to H. sapiens. The finding shows Neanderthals shared symbolic
thinking with H. sapiens, and suggests the two species were
“indistinguishable” in terms of overall mental ability, the researchers
Nobody knows what
the shells symbolized. Maybe they indicated membership in a group like a
clan, said Joao Zilhao of the Catalan Institution for Research and
Advanced Studies in Barcelona, Spain, who did the study with Hoffmann
Not all experts
were convinced by the studies. Harold Dibble, an archaeologist at the
University of Pennsylvania who studies Neanderthal behavior, wondered if
the shell color and holes could have occurred naturally. And he said
he’d like to see the dating in the cave art paper confirmed by another
Warren Sharp of the
Berkeley Geochronology Center in California, an expert on the dating
technique used in both papers, said he found the results of both studies
to be “very solid.”
They show “we are
not the only ones capable of ‘modern’ behavior,” he wrote in an email.
Update March 10, 2018 - March 16, 2018
Satellites show warming is accelerating sea level rise
Oct. 30, 2012 file photo, the intersection of 8th Street and Atlantic
Avenue is flooded in Ocean City, N.J., after the storm surge from
Superstorm Sandy flooded much of the town. New satellite research shows
that global warming is making seas rise at an ever increasing rate. (AP
Photo/Mel Evans, File)
- Melting ice sheets in Greenland and
Antarctica are speeding up the already fast pace of sea level rise, new
satellite research shows.
At the current
rate, the world’s oceans on average will be at least 2 feet (61
centimeters) higher by the end of the century compared to today,
according to researchers who publish the Proceedings of the National
Academies of Sciences.
Sea level rise is
caused by warming of the ocean and melting from glaciers and ice sheets.
The research, based on 25 years of satellite data, shows that pace has
quickened, mainly from the melting of massive ice sheets. It confirms
scientists’ computer simulations and is in line with predictions from
the United Nations, which releases regular climate change reports.
“It’s a big deal”
because the projected sea level rise is a conservative estimate and it
is likely to be higher, said lead author Steve Nerem of the University
said even small changes in sea levels can lead to flooding and erosion.
concerns that coastal communities have for 2100 may occur over the next
few decades,” Oregon State University coastal flooding expert Katy
Serafin said in an email.
Of the 3 inches
(7.5 centimeters) of sea level rise in the past quarter century, about
55 percent is from warmer water expanding, and the rest is from melting
But the process is
accelerating, and more than three-quarters of that acceleration since
1993 is due to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the study
Like weather and
climate, there are two factors in sea level rise: year-to-year small
rises and falls that are caused by natural events and larger long-term
rising trends that are linked to man-made climate change. Nerem’s team
removed the natural effects of the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption that
temporarily chilled Earth and the climate phenomena El Nino and La Nina,
and found the accelerating trend.
Sea level rise,
more than temperature, is a better gauge of climate change in action,
said Anny Cazenave, director of Earth science at the International Space
Science Institute in France, who edited the study. Cazenave is one of
the pioneers of space-based sea level research.
Global sea levels
were stable for about 3,000 years until the 20th century when they rose
and then accelerated due to global warming caused by the burning of
coal, oil and natural gas, said climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf of
the Potsdam Institute in Germany, who wasn’t part of the study.
Two feet of sea
level rise by the end of the century “would have big effects on places
like Miami and New Orleans, but I don’t still view that as catastrophic”
because those cities can survive - at great expense - that amount of
rising seas under normal situations, Nerem said.
But when a storm
hits like 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, sea level rise on top of storm surge
can lead to record-setting damages, researchers said.
Some scientists at
the American Geophysical Union meeting last year said Antarctica may be
melting faster than predicted by Monday’s study.
caused three times more sea level rise than Antarctica so far, but ice
melt on the southern continent is responsible for more of the
less stable than we thought a few years ago,” Rutgers climate scientist
Robert Kopp said.
Update March 3, 2018 - March 9, 2018
Trump aims for moon, pulls back
on space station, telescopes
FILE - In
this Dec. 12, 2006, file photo, made available by NASA, astronaut Robert L.
Curbeam Jr., left, and European Space Agency astronaut Christer Fuglesang,
participate in a spacewalk during construction of the International Space
Station. Under President Donald Trump’s 2019 proposed budget released,
Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, U.S. government funding for the space station would
cease by 2025. (NASA via AP, File)
Marcia Dunn & Seth Borenstein
Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP) - The
Trump administration wants NASA out of the International Space Station by
2025, and private businesses running the place instead.
Under President Donald Trump’s 2019
proposed budget released Monday, U.S. government funding for the space
station would end by 2025. The government would set aside $150 million to
encourage commercial development and use future savings to aim for the moon.
Many space experts and legislators are
expressing concern. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who rocketed into
orbit in 1986, said “turning off the lights and walking away from our sole
outpost in space” makes no sense.
Retired NASA historian and Smithsonian
curator Roger Launius notes that any such move will affect all the other
countries involved in the space station; Russia is a major player, as is
Europe, Japan and Canada.
NASA has spent close to $100 billion on
the orbiting outpost since the 1990s. The first piece was launched in 1998,
and the complex was essentially completed with the retirement of NASA’s
space shuttles in 2011.
MIT astronautics professor Dava Newman,
who was the deputy NASA chief under Barack Obama, called the space station
“the cornerstone of space exploration today” but said the Trump
administration’s proposal makes sense because it is doing long-term
The president proposes shifting large
chunks of money from the space station, satellites studying a warming Earth
and a major space telescope toward a multi-year $10.4 billion exploration
plan aimed at returning astronauts to the moon in about five or six years.
“We’re building capability for the
eventual human exploration of deep space and the moon is a stepping stone,”
NASA’s acting chief financial officer Andrew Hunter said in a Monday news
The president’s budget proposal,
including NASA’s portion, was obsolete even before it was made public, but
it provides a view into the administration’s priorities. Congress earlier
this month passed a spending package that set limits through the end of the
next budget year.
The same budget proposal proposes to
pull the plug on WFIRST, a space telescope mission that NASA said is
“designed to settle essential questions in the areas of dark energy,
exoplanets, and infrared astrophysics.”
And for the second straight year, the
Trump administration proposes killing five missions that study Earth,
especially its climate and the effects of carbon dioxide. The president also
plans to end education programs in the space agency.
Private businesses already have a hand
in the space station project. The end of the shuttle program prompted NASA
to turn over supply runs to the commercial sector. SpaceX and Orbital ATK
have been making deliveries since 2012, and Sierra Nevada Corp. will begin
making shipments with its crew-less mini shuttles in a few years.
SpaceX and Boeing, meanwhile, are
developing crew capsules to fly astronauts to and from the space station
within the next year. These commercial flights will represent the first
astronaut launches from U.S. soil since NASA’s shuttles stopped flying.
A complete transfer to the commercial
sector is a different matter, however. Mike Suffredini, a former space
station program manager for NASA who now runs Axiom Space in Houston and
aims to establish the world’s first commercial space station cautioned that
the U.S. government needs to have a direct hand in the International Space
Station until it comes down. No company would accept the liabilities and
risks associated with the station, he said, if the sprawling complex went
out of control and came crashing down.
His company’s plan is to attach its own
compartments to the existing International Space Station and, once the
decision is made to dismantle the complex, detach its segment and continue
orbiting on its own.
Altogether, the administration’s
proposed budget, along with an addendum, seeks to increase NASA’s budget
slightly to $19.9 billion.
While the budget plan said it places
renewed support on returning humans to the moon, followed by human
expeditions to Mars and elsewhere, no precise timeline and few details are
provided. The supersize Space Launch System rocket being built by NASA to
send astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit - along with its Orion crew capsule -
would get $3.7 billion under this budget. A test launch of this system would
remain on track for 2020, with a first crewed launch around the moon three
years later, according to budget details.
In an agency-wide address, NASA’s
acting administrator Robert Lightfoot said it was a “very exciting” budget
with lots of potential, despite some hard decisions. Among them: the
proposed end of WFIRST, a telescope with 100 times the field of view of the
Hubble Space Telescope. WFIRST was a mission that the National Academies of
Science listed as the decade’s No. 1 priority for future NASA astrophysics
The WFIRST telescope’s cost estimates
have ballooned to $3.6 billion and Hunter said it just got too expensive.