A study of indigenous temples, or heiau, on the island of Maui was conducted to identify when the island’s native population first went from living under many small chiefdoms to living under a single ruler. The island’s sacred sites range from small shrines dedicated to deities of fishing and agriculture, to “monumental” temples whose foundations are still identifiable today. Maui is a rare archaeological site in Hawaii. It is untouched by agriculture, or tourism, or housing development. That means the archaeological remains of the entire district are intact, making Maui an excellent place to study the development of pre-contact Hawaiian society.
Heiau vary tremendously in size and form; there were different kinds of heiau for different gods. The structures themselves were made of perishable wood and thatch but their stone bases remain. These are generally platforms or terraces, and sometimes even walled enclosures. The study went over the heiau's remains looking for pieces of a small, stony coral known as Pocillopora meandrina, which were offerings and sometimes incorporated into the buildings themselves. Because coral are animals they can be dated -- telling us when the heiau were constructed and used. Which in turn can tell us something about the political landscape on Maui at the time.
If there was a a temple-building boom, that often means a period of political consolidation, as ancient Hawaiian rulers utilized increasing religious authority in order to also wield economic and political authority. To enhance their religious authority Hawaiian rulers would build more temples and shrines, often near farmlands and other areas of food production. This strengthened the symbolic association between rulers and the gods who controlled nature’s bounty. And it was probably not a coincidence that the temples also made it easier for leaders to collect tribute from the local food producers.
The new study found that most of the heiau were built recently and rapidly, over a span of no more than 150 years, beginning around 1550 and ending around the year 1700. Because coral carbon dating has an error range of 2 to 10 years, we can be relatively certain of these findings. Well, as certain as you can ever be with relatively new methods and fieldwork. Luckily, the study has outside support: its time range is the same time during which the Hawaiian oral traditions indicate that Maui island was consolidated into a single kingdom, under the reigns of King Pi’ilani and his successors Kiha-a-Pi’ilani and Kamalalawalu.
The term the "Boring Billion" refer to the approximately one billion-year period between 1.8 and 0.8 Ga in Earth's history, during the Proterozoic Eon. Earth's oceans were a soup of one-celled organisms, multicellular algae and fungi, and the land was barren rock until around the end of the Boring Billion, when land began to be colonized by cyanobacteria and proto-lichens. In short, it was a comparatively slow period of biological evolution and what had evolved was not very interesting by modern standards. Other nicknames for the Boring Billion include the "Barren Billion", "Dullest Time on Earth", and "Earth’s Middle Ages."
One of the earliest sites showing Aboriginal occupation of northwestern Australia — dating to some 50,000 years ago — has been discovered at the Drysdale River catchment in the Kimberley region of Australia. They also found evidence of an early ax production industry at the Minjiwarra site, which had previously been interpreted as a dune feature indicating a break in Aboriginal occupation. The "dune feature" is actually a sedimentary flood feature which built up over 50,000 years. It preserves early, intermediate and more recent occupation by Aboriginal people. Minjiwarra was settled even through the peak of the Ice Age 19,000 years ago, when environmental conditions were especially cold and dry.
This new hominin species was discovered in a cave in Luzon, the Philippines' largest island. A small set of human remains, coming from three individuals, were found and their combination of modern and ancient features suggested a new hominin species. Dating showed they were on Luzon before 50,000 years ago. That would put them contemporary with Homo sapiens, as well as with Homo floresiensis, the diminutive homonin species found on Indonesia’s Flores island. The new species has been named Homo luzonensis.
In 2017, a comprehensive study looked into why eggs are shaped like, well, eggs. Why are eggs ellipses, and not spheres? Why are they often asymmetrical with one pointier end and one rounder end? These were the questions the scientists set out to answer.
The research team gathered together a large dataset of 49,175 images of eggs produced by 1,400 species, both living and extinct, and examined exactly how elliptical and how asymmetrical each egg was (and made a pretty graph, see above). The scientists also paid attention to the parents' nesting behaviors, clutch sizes, diet, and flight ability. Previously, it was suggested that eggs are pointy on one end to prevent them from rolling away from the nest or to make laying easier for females. But the study did not support that.
Instead, they found multiple lines of evidence that the shape evolved to simply fit better inside the parent’s aerodynamic body. The stronger, better fliers had the longest and pointiest eggs. Meanwhile, some flightless birds (like ostriches) hatch from squat orbs.
Heracles inexpectatus (yes, that's really its scientific name) was discovered based on re-classification of bones discovered initially in 2008. The fossils were dug up in St Bathans, New Zealand, labeled as giant eagle bones, and promptly put into storage. Recently a paleontology graduate student Ellen Mather re-discovered the bones as part of another research project. And realized something was not right about these "eagle bones."
At 3 feet tall, or about 1 meter, Heracles inexpectatus is the largest parrot ever discovered. It is nearly double the weight New Zealand's largest living bird the kakapo. Heracles probably lived during the Early Miocene, which spanned from about 23 million to 16 million years ago. It was likely flightless and ate what it could reach on the ground. Which wouldn't have been hard with its gigantic beak, which paleontologists suspect was capable of cracking most anything it fancied eating. Including bones. Researchers say yes, Heracles might have even been eating other parrots, leading them to bestow the cannibalistic nickname: "Squawkzilla."
Here's the history behind my favorites: New Zealand is a mash-up of English (New) and Dutch (Zeeland), but it should also be called “Aotearoa,” its Māori name, which means "Land of the Long White Cloud". And Nauru may derive from the Nauruan word "anáoero", which means "I go to the beach."
Eharo mask worn during ritual dances before formal sacred rituals from the Elema culture of Papua New Guinea. The eharo masks were intended to be humorous figures, not solemn, and were made of hammered bark, rattan, vegetable fiber, and various pigments for color. 1800-1882.
In his 1991 book Human Universals, American anthropologist Donald Brown listed “features of culture, society, language, behavior, and psyche for which there are no known exception”:
- fear of death
- baby talk
- rites of passage
- belief in supernatural
- musical variation
The whole list is here.
The oldest dog (that can be verified) was an Australian cattle dog named Bluey who lived for 29 years and 5 months, from 1910 to 1939. In human years that's more than 160 years old.