After the massive success of the LOTR films, almost everyone is familiar with J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. The sources for his work are as legendary as the books and films themselves. His high fantasy novels synthesize Celtic, Scandinavian, Germanic, Jewish legends and mythologies with Plato's account of the lost Kingdom of Atlantis and contextualize that synthesis in fictional reflections of his own experiences with the industrialization of England and World War I. What is most compelling, though, about Tolkien's fantasy world is that it was presented as a historically viable construction. That is, Tolkien, through his academic studies of ancient languages, cultures and myths, developed completely new, but real-seeming, languages, histories and lore for his fictitious world. Even more important was that Middle-earth was presented as an 'alternate,' lost or unaccounted history of our own planet.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
Why are the transitions from one geological time era to another marked by mass extinctions? The explanations all involve climate change and associated survivable conditions for some species. But somehow there is an additional sense that as time turns over, for certain species, 'time is up.' At present we are living in the Cenozoic Era, which means 'new life era.' This is the time when the continents moved to their current positions, after the extinction of the dinosaurs. The Cenozoic Era is sub-divided as well - we are in its second, Quaternary Period. And in that period, we are in the Holocene Epoch, which means 'entirely recent epoch.'
The movement of the continents away from each other has changed the oceans and the earth's climate. Wiki: "There are two types of global earth climates: Icehouse and Greenhouse. Icehouse is characterized by frequent continental glaciations and severe desert environments. We are now in the icehouse phase, moving towards Greenhouse. Greenhouse is characterized by warm climates. Both reflect the supercontinent cycle." Technically, we are in an Ice Age right now, called the Quaternary Glaciation. But the Holocene Epoch is considered a warm geological time within that Ice Age, or what's known as an interglacial period. Ice ages run on 100,000 year cycles (just like everything else it seems). In addition to plate tectonics, the earth's climate is affected by associated rises in atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (we're not helping that natural shift), wobbles in our planet's orbit, and shifts in the earth's magnetic poles.
So with all this going on, it's not surprising that the primary geological event of our Holocene Epoch is the Holocene Extinction.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Reuters is reporting on a July 7 article in Nature about palaeontological findings that early humans settled Britain 800,000 years ago, at least 100,000 years earlier than originally thought. Artifacts found by palaeontologists from the British Museum include "78 knapped flint artefacts that the research team think were used by hunter-gatherers to pierce and cut meat or wood" (Parfitt, S. A. et al. Nature 466, 229-233 (2010)).
There is a film about the dig in Happisburgh, East Anglia here. Scientists at the Natural History Museum have been X-raying the flint tools found at the site to establish that they are human-made. For the first time in this field, they are using computed tomography to analyze stone tools and produce 3-D computer models of each artifact. At the site, palaeontologists are also finding fossilized hyena droppings, mammoth teeth, jawbones of semi-aquatic rodents, and almost-million-year-old pine cones that point toward these Stone Age Britons surviving winters in coniferous forests as cold as present-day Scandinavia.
But what really caught my eye was the Reuters passage: "The ancient human populations were small, made up of a few hundreds, or possibly thousands, and would either be driven out or severely reduced due to the cold climate, only to repopulate approximately every 100,000 years, the scientists said." This means that "Britain has been subject to at least nine distinct human colonisations in history."
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Terra 2 by Kerry Gammill. San Diego Convention Sketch (2009)
Today's blog post continues the history I'm writing of DC's character Terra. I've backdated it so that all the pieces on that topic are together. The link to the entry, which covers the character's adventures in the first half of the 1990s, is here.
Posted by Tam B at 7:05:00 PM
Monday, July 5, 2010
Planck Telescope Photograph: ESA.
BBC is reporting that the European Space Agency's Planck telescope has captured a picture of our universe. Astronomers' intention is to peel away layers of time in the above picture like peeling way layers of a cosmic onion until they can see the oldest light in the universe. They will strip away images of the newer light until they can see only the Cosmic Microwave Background, which is the first light to appear in the universe after the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. Other reports here, here and here.