Neanderthals did not descale their teeth regularly, for which modern scientists can be very thankful. Embedded in the fossilized calculus, or tartar, on teeth from the Shanidar cave, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and elsewhere are some remarkable remains that are beginning to shed far more light on what Neanderthals ate. I don’t want to give too much away just yet. Let’s just say that if, like me, when you think of the Neanderthal diet you think of a bunch of cavemen and women sitting around chewing their way through a woolly mammoth, you’re in for a surprise.
My guide through the recent discoveries on Neanderthal diet is John Speth, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.
Amanda Henry’s research clearly points to moist-cooked starch grains in the mouths of Neanderthals (but did they swallow?). Archaeologists, however, have found almost no evidence of Neanderthals using the hot-rocks boil-in-a-bag method of modern people who lack fire-proof containers. And surprisingly, they didn’t know what John Speth discovered while watching TV in a motel room: that it is perfectly possible to boil water in a flimsy container over a direct fire. In the interests of time I had to cut his fascinating description of an experiment to make maple syrup by boiling the sap in a birch-bark tray over an open fire, which concluded that it was “both efficient and worthwhile”. So, now that they know it can be done, how long before they discover it was done?
There is evidence that Neanderthals ate moist-cooked starch. There is evidence that one can moist-cook without fire-proof containers and hot rocks. All we need now is evidence that Neanderthals used similar techniques, and the palaeo-dieters can add a nice mess of potage to their daily fare.
Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium). (A scientific paper.)
National Geographic’s early report on Amanda Henry’s discovery of plant remains on Neanderthal teeth and a more recent report from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
More on Neanderthal diets at John Hawks’ weblog.
Photograph of the Regourdou Neanderthal mandible used by permission of the photographer, Patrick Semal, and the Musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord.
Intro music by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com.
Final music played by Ljuben Dimkaroski on a replica of a Neanderthal bone flute found in a cave in western Slovenia.
While I’ve read lots of research surrounding this area, this is the kind of area which more mainstream food journalists, entertainers, and educators could and should be covering. Aside from a semi-regular appearance of Deb Duchon, a nutritional anthropologist, appearing on Alton Brown‘s Good Eats, this may be one of the few places I’ve seen such an interesting interview of this type.
Among the more miraculous edible transformations is the one that turns raw meat, salt and a few basic spices into some of the most delicious foods around.
Time was when curing meat, especially stuffed into a casing to make a sausage, was the only way both to use every part of an animal and to help make it last longer than raw meat. Done right, a sausage would stay good to the next slaughtering season and beyond.
The process relied on the skill of the sausage-maker, the help of beneficial bacteria and moulds, the right conditions, a great deal of patience, and sometimes luck. Luck is less of a factor now, because to keep up with demand the vast majority of cured meats are produced in artificial conditions of controlled precision. Here and there, though, the old ways survive. Jan Davison spent months touring the sausage high-spots of Europe looking for the genuine article, and shared some of her favourites at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking last year.
This tempts me greatly to consider decommissioning an incubator from science related use to food related use…
Bog Butter by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast, March 4, 2013
Peat diggers in Ireland and elsewhere have occasionally unearthed objects, usually made of wood, that contained some kind of greasy, fatty material with a “distinctive, pungent and slightly offensive smell”.
Butter. Centuries-old butter.
Who buried it, and why, remain mysteries that motivated Ben Reade, an experimental chef at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, to make some himself. He brought some of his modern-day bog butter, still nestled in moss and wrapped in its birch-bark barrel, to share with the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery last year.
Ben mentioned two plants that have been found around bog butter, hypnum moss (Hypnum cupressiforme) and bog cotton (Eriophorum angustifolium).
The Nordic Food Lab research blog details all of their astonishing edible experiments.
I found Seamus Heaney reading his poem Bogland at The Internet Poetry Archive.
Caroline Earwood (1997) Bog Butter: A Two Thousand Year History, The Journal of Irish Archaeology, 8: 25-42 is available at JStor, which has a new scheme allowing you to read up to three items at a time online for free.
Music by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com.
An awesome little podcast I found recently, so I’m going back to the beginning to catch up on all the past episodes. Science, food, heaps of technical expertise, great interviews, and spectacular production quality. Highly recommend it to everyone.
We are naturally drawn to finding solutions. But are there ever problems we shouldn't try to solve? Lulu Miller visits a town in Belgium with a completely different approach to dealing with mental illness. Families in the town board people – strangers - with severe mental illnesses in their homes, sometimes for decades. And it works, because they are not looking to cure them.
A stunning idea, and one that could do well not only for the mentally ill among our friends and families, but some interesting psychology for parenting and expectations of parents for their children.
We like to think of our own personalities - and those of our spouses, children and friends - as predictable and constant over time. But what if they aren't? In this episode, Alix Spiegel visits a prison to explore whether there is such a thing as a stable personality. And Lulu Miller asks whether scientists can point to a single thing about a person that doesn't change over time. The answer might surprise you.
Not explicitly said, but this episode points out the heavy nurture side of the nature/nurture question in relation to the stability of one’s personality over time. In some sense, you are who those around you expect you to be. This also makes me think I ought to go back to working for a larger company with more people around me.
Yet another great episode, though to me not as intriguing as some of their other prior efforts. Still overall, a stellar podcast series.
The New Norm by Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin from Invisibilia | NPR.org
You probably don't even notice them, but social norms determine so much of your behavior - how you dress, talk, eat and even what you allow yourself to feel. These norms are so entrenched we never imagine they can shift. But Alix Spiegel and new co-host, Hanna Rosin, examine two grand social experiments that attempt to do just that: teach McDonald's employees in Russia to smile, and workers on an oil rig how to cry.
This is a fantastic episode that fits right into the heart of their running theme. The psychology of the smile isn’t something one thinks about often, but it has such a profound effect on our daily lives.
In Our Computers, Ourselves, a look at the ways technology affects us, and the main question is : Are computers changing human character? You'll hear from cyborgs, bullies, neuroscientists and police chiefs about whether our closeness with computers is changing us as a species.
Possibly not as interesting to me because I’ve watched this space more closely over the past 20 years or so. Still it’s an interesting episode asking some great questions.
I can’t believe I flew through season one so quickly.
The Power Of Categories examines how categories define us — how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. The show looks at what categories provide for us, and you'll hear about a person caught between categories in a way that will surprise you. Plus, a trip to a retirement community designed to help seniors revisit a long-missed category.
The transgender/sexual dysphoria story here is exceedingly interesting because it could potentially have some clues to how those pieces of biology work and what shifts things in one direction or another. How is that spectrum created/defined? A few dozen individuals like that could help provide an answer.
The story about the Indian retirement community in Florida is interesting, but it also raises the (unasked, in the episode at least) question of the detriment it can do to a group of people to be lead by some the oldest members of their community. The Latin words senīlis (“of or pertaining to old age”) and senex (“old”) are the roots of words like senate, senescence, senility, senior, and seniority, and though it’s nice to take care of our elders, the younger generations should take a hard look at the unintended consequences which may stem from this.
In some sense I’m also reminded about Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and why progress in science (and yes, society) is held back by the older generations who are still holding onto outdated models. Though simultaneously, they do provide some useful “brakes” on both velocity of change as well as potential ill effects which could be damaging in short timeframes.
Entanglement by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel from Invisibilia | NPR.org
In Entanglement, you'll meet a woman with Mirror Touch Synesthesia who can physically feel what she sees others feeling. And an exploration of the ways in which all of us are connected — more literally than you might realize. The hour will start with physics and end with a conversation with comedian Maria Bamford and her mother. They discuss what it's like to be entangled through impersonation.
I can think of a few specific quirks I’ve got that touch tangentially on mirror synethesia. This story and some of the research behind it is truly fascinating. Particularly interesting are the ideas of the contagion of emotion. It would be interesting to take some complexity and network theory and add some mathematical models to see how this might look. In particular the recent political protests in the U.S. might make great models. This also makes me wonder where Donald Trump sits on this emotional empathy spectrum, if at all.
One of the more interesting take-aways: the thoughts and emotions of those around you can affect you far more than you imagine.
Four episodes in and this podcast is still impossibly awesome. I don’t know if I’ve had so many thought changing ideas since I read David Christian’s book Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History.  The sad problem is that I’m listening to them at a far faster pace than they could ever continue to produce them.
D. Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. Univ of California Press, 2004.
In "How to Become Batman," Alix and Lulu examine the surprising effect that our expectations can have on the people around us. You'll hear how people's expectations can influence how well a rat runs a maze. Plus, the story of a man who is blind and says expectations have helped him see. Yes. See. This journey is not without skeptics.
Expectations are much more important than we think.
Is it possible that this podcast is getting more interesting as it continues along?! In three episodes, I’ve gone from fan to fanboy.
Fearless by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel from Invisibilia | NPR.org
In "Fearless," co-hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller explore what would happen if you could disappear fear. A group of scientists believe that people no longer need fear — at least not the kind we live with — to navigate the modern world. We'll hear about the striking (and rare) case of a woman with no fear. The second half of the show explores how the rest of us might "turn off" fear.
Our evolution certainly hasn’t been keeping up with our level of fear in the modern world. Even simple things like kids playing around their own neighborhood like I did as a kid in the 70’s and 80’s has changed drastically. How can we keep ourselves from being held back unnecessarily?
Jeff Jarvis' report from the World Economic Forum in Davos. Artificial intelligences of the future. Google smartwatch with Android Wear 2.0 to launch February 9th. The most common passwords of 2016. Chelsea Manning's sentence commuted. Samsung Galaxy Note 7 battery fires caused by... the battery, details to follow January 23rd.
Jeff's Number: 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer
Stacey's Thing: Stringify
Kevin's Stuff: Homebrew Website Club, Webmention, Micro.blog
Leo's Tools: The Nicest Place on the Internet, Astronaut.io, The Internet Archive
Word of the day:
A piebald or pied animal is one that has a pattern of pigmented spots on an unpigmented (white) background of hair, feathers or scales.
In "The Secret History of Thoughts," co-hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller ask the question, "Are my thoughts related to my inner wishes, do they reveal who I really am?" The answer can have profound consequences for your life. Hear the story of a man gripped by violent thoughts, and explore how various psychologists make sense of his experience. Also, meet a man trapped inside his head for 13 years with thoughts as his only companion.
What an awesome little podcast Invisibilia is! Can’t wait to catch the rest of the episodes. Interesting to hear the quick overview of the three schools of thought on thought.
I had been hearing commercials for this off and on from other podcasts for almost a year; glad I finally downloaded to listen.
Stacey's LONG list of great IoT gadgets at CES. The Ara modular smartphone's rise and fall. The death of Google Hangouts API. WayMo makes LIDAR way cheaper. Marissa Mayer to leave Yahoo after sale. Bogus "inventor of e-mail" sues Techdirt.
Aaron's Thing: The Onion Omega2
Stacey's Do Buy: truMedic Instashiatsu Plus Neck and Shoulder Massager
Stacey's Don't Buy: GE Z-Wave Wireless Smart Door Sensor
Leo's Thing: Project Fi - A World of Thanks