Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Showing posts with label Prehistory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prehistory. Show all posts

Monday, October 8, 2018

Hallowe'en Countdown 2018: London's Dragons, Druids, and Pumping Stations

Image Source: Bob Speel.

The countdown this week is devoted to arcane secrets which lie in plain sight. We start in the streets of London, where for seven years, the brilliant and acerbic vlogger swilliamism (aka Samuel William) has explored the dark nooks and crannies of the UK's capital. During his lunch breaks from work, he peeks behind the white façades with his digital camera, and reveals unnerving little details.

Occult Symbols in London (23 April 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

The Symbolism Of The Dragon (20 May 2014). Video Source: Youtube.

Sam describes London's history with low key sarcasm. His videos have titles like: Where's Daddy's Pig?; Proud Taxpayer Day; Theft Appreciation Day; the eye-opening The Strange Mystical Horse and the companion video, The Strange Mystical Dead Horse; The Fresh Face of Fascism; Hello Data Subject; Very Nearly Grenfell; and A Day At The Arms Fair.

This vlogger's paranoia is not entirely joyless, like the time, inspired by fears of Santa Claus, he gave up Christmas to break his social conditioning. His main channel concentrates on the symbolism of London architecture, and he expresses his opinions more explicitly on his back-up channel.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Countdown to Hallowe'en 2017: The Famine of Memory

This is an early incarnation of the villain, Sauron, when he was known as Mairon. Image Source: The Land of Shadow.

One of the premises of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is that the characters live in a perilous time when real history has been lost. Thus, mortal danger arises not from the arch-villain, exactly, but from the abandoned vigilance of memory.

A later incarnation of Sauron, when he was known as Annatar. Image Source © Angel Falto/Tolkien Gateway.

Another conception of Annatar, who deceived the elves in the Second Age. Image Source © Alaïs/deviantART/Tolkien Gateway.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Last of Their Kinds: On and Off the Red List

Image Source: Sebastian Kennerknecht/PantheraCats/Twitter.

This year, the blog keeps returning to the Himalayas, and there must be something to that: see my earlier posts on the Himalayas here, here, and a 2015 post, here.

Today's post concerns the BBC report from 14 September 2017 that the snow leopard (Panthera uncia), the great cat of the Himalayas, has been removed from the endangered list, and is now classified as vulnerable. Scientists argue that the reclassification could place these cats at greater risk, but it is still good news that their population has improved.

As the snow leopard departs the endangered list, more than 150 species have been added to it. The ash trees of North America, a population of 9 billion trees, have been classified on the brink of extinction, due to an invasive Asian insect, the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis). In the past few years, all the beautiful ash trees around my home in eastern Canada have died or started dying.

The Christmas Island pipistrelle bat was declared extinct this month. Image Source: Lindy Lumsden/Mongabay.

The Christmas Island Pipistrelle vesper bat of Australia (Pipistrellus murrayi) was declared extinct in September 2017. I have previously written on extinctions as less-recognized moments in history and as turning points in time. I have also discussed efforts to use genetic manipulation and cloning to bring back extinct species, as scientists work against the course of time and evolution; this is most noticeable when they plan to revive prehistoric species.

Image Source: BBC.

Image Source: BBC.

Image Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images/NPR.

Snow Leopard: First Intimate Images In The Wild - Planet Earth - BBC Earth (12 March 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

See all my posts on Extinction.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Times Outside History 11: Neanderthal Cave Rings

Images Source: Etienne Fabre/SSAC via Guardian.

On 25 May 2016, The Guardian reported that archaeologists have redated structures in the Bruniquel cave, near the Pyrénées mountains, in the Tarn-et-Garonne region of southwest France. They claim stalagmite circles in the cave were built 176,500 years ago, rather than 47,600 years ago; the original estimate was based on carbon-dating findings elsewhere in the cave. The revision means that only Neanderthals could have created these mysterious installations:
"Mysterious structures found deep inside a French cave are the work of Neanderthal builders who lived in the region more than 100,000 years before modern humans set foot in Europe.

The extraordinary constructions are made from nearly 400 stalagmites that have been yanked from the ground and stacked on top of one another to produce rudimentary walls on the damp cave floor.

The most prominent formations are two ringed walls, built four layers deep in places, which appear to have been propped up with stalagmites wedged in place as vertical stays. The largest of the walls is nearly seven metres across and, where intact, stands up to 40 cm high.

'This is completely different to anything we have seen before. I find it very mysterious,' said Marie Soressi, an archaeologist at Leiden University, who was not involved in the research. Unique in the history of Neanderthal achievements, the structures rank among the earliest human building projects ever discovered.

Parts of the walls show clear signs of fire damage, with the stalagmites blackened or reddened and fractured from the heat, leading researchers to suspect that the Neanderthals embedded fireplaces in the structures to illuminate the cave."
The structures lie some 1,100 feet from the cave entrance, in total darkness, which indicates purposeful intent to build structures far from natural light. The size of these installations reveals complex cooperation and social organization. There is no sign of ongoing domestic occupation in the cave, which may imply that these sites were used for ritualistic purposes. Along with fireplaces, archaeologists have found remains of animal bone torches. From France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS):
"Since no other stalagmite structure of this scale has yet been discovered, the team developed a new concept to designate these carefully arranged pieces of stalagmites: 'speleofacts.' An inventory of the cave's 400 speleofacts reveals a total of 112 meters of stalagmites broken into well-calibrated pieces, weighing an estimated 2.2 metric tons. The components of the structures are aligned, juxtaposed and superimposed (in two, three and even four layers), with props around the outside, apparently to hold them in place, and filler pieces. Marks left by the wrenching of stalagmites from the cave floor to make the structures have been identified nearby. "
According to Live Science, there are older constructed sites in the world:
"Evidence of a human-made structure exists in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, dated at over 1 million years old. But this has not been studied extensively, Jaubert said. He added there is similarly little information about a Homo erectus campsite in Bilzingsleben, Germany (about 400,000 years old), early shelters in Terra Amata, France (about 400,000 years old), and the bone and stone materials found in France's Lazaret cave (around 170,000 years old). Researchers have credited Neanderthals with making a building out of mammoth bone in Ukraine. They believe this is about 40,000 years old."
See an article on this story from Nature here, and further reports herehere, here, here, here, here, and here. The original press release is here and related video is here.

"A 3D reconstruction of the structures in Bruniquel Cave. Rendering by Xavier Muth/GET IN SITU/ARCHÉOTRANSFERT/ARCHÉOVISION-SHS-3D; BASE PHOTOGRAPHIQUE PASCAL MORA."

See all my posts on Neanderthals.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Pilgrim Timekeepers

A pilgrim walking the Camino, or Way of St. James. Image Source: Tailored Spain.

If you want to know why tax season is in spring and its subsequent meaning for May, read on. As Catholic pilgrims prepare now for Pentecost on 15 May 2016, the blog returns to France's Chartres cathedral to note how places which attract pilgrims become centres of spirituality and memory. Pilgrimage routes have endured worldwide for thousands of years. One famous European route is the Spanish Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James. In 2014, 200,000 people undertook that journey, and the road is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 'Walking the Camino' is a huge event, even for atheists. For the faithful and secular alike, it is a modern walking holiday, attracting its share of business and crime.

In 2012, The Guardian asked why atheists participated in old Christian pilgrimages. Image Source: Guardian.

Monday, July 6, 2015

ISIS and Post-Diluvian Amnesia

A sphinx on the seafloor off the shores of Alexandria, Egypt. Image Source: All That is Interesting.

The Middle East is the source of all civilization on this planet. Any conflict there stirs the shared memory of all human beings. On 3 July 2015, days after ISIS or ISIL called for a jihad in the Balkans and declared caliphates in the Caucasus and GazaBreitbart reported that the radical Islamic movement has announced it will destroy the Egyptian sphinx and pyramids as a sacred duty:
ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi told followers of his terror group that destroying Egypt’s national monuments, such as the pyramids and the sphinx, is a “religious duty” that must be carried out by those who worship Islam, as idolatry is strictly banned in the religion, according to reports. UK radical Islamist Anjem Choudary echoed Baghdadi’s sentiments, telling The Telegraph: “When Egypt comes under the auspices of the Khalifa [Caliphate], there will be no more pyramids, no more Sphinx, no more idolatry,” saying that the ancient statues’s destruction “will be just.” Another Islamist preacher, Ibrahim Al Kandari, agrees that the cultural monuments need to be destroyed to comply with the Shariah. “The fact that early Muslims who were among prophet Mohammed’s followers did not destroy the pharaohs’ monuments upon entering Egypt does not mean that we shouldn’t do it now,” he told Al-Watan.
ISIS has already made its name destroying the older ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Why is ISIS so threatened by these ruins? As the video lecture below the jump makes clear, the 5,000-year-old Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh is sexually intense, even by today's standards (read it here). Gilgamesh is also the foundation myth to end all foundation myths - it is the core story of our common civilization. It is the source material for our very understanding of organized social life. The opening lines to the 15,000 word work read:

"He who saw all, who was the foundation of the land,
"Who knew (everything), was wise in all matters.
"Gilgamesh, who saw all, who was the foundation of the land,
"Who knew (everything), was wise in all matters."

While there undoubtedly were many other epics sung in humanity's 100,000 to 50,000 years of prehistory, Gilgamesh is the earliest example we have. Its language marks the start of written history and that history begins with a cataclysm, a 'time before' and 'time after.' The story of all peoples is one of this terrible disaster, where great societies had arisen and then been destroyed by an archaic Flood. Most famous among these legendary antediluvian societies is Atlantis. J. R. R. Tolkien constructed part of his Middle Earth stories around an Atlantis idea, in which his hero, Aragorn, is descended from antediluvian superpeopleGilgamesh describes that watershed, that moment at which people still remembered what was before, and what came after. It is likely that Gilgamesh's antediluvian and post-diluvian claim to primacy constitutes the indelible and eternal cultural threat which so unsettles the ISIS zealots.

It unsettles - but also inspires them! The Millennial mind fixates on the turn of ages, and no such time is more fundamental than the Flood, which was likely (if you believe quasi-historical theorists like Graham Hancock) an account of the ending of the Ice Age. If you wanted to understand ISIS's motives in a nutshell, look at their obsession with the Flood. They constantly borrow from the Flood myth, meaning that they intend to create a new watershed moment with a flood of blood to wash the world and erase its memory of what came before. They want to construct a new turning point and create a new reality. Directly below and after the jump, hear the opening of the Epic of Gilgamesh sung in its original language and hear it recited in English.

Peter Pringle performs. "By 2000 B.C., the language of Sumer had almost completely died out and was used only by scholars (like Latin is today). No one knows how it was pronounced because it has not been heard in 4000 years. What you hear in this video are a few of the opening lines of part of the epic poem, accompanied only by a long-neck, three-string, Sumerian lute known as a "gish-gu-di". The instrument is tuned to G - G - D, and although it is similar to other long neck lutes still in use today (the tar, the setar, the saz, etc.) the modern instruments are low tension and strung with fine steel wire. The ancient long neck lutes (such as the Egyptian "nefer") were strung with gut and behaved slightly differently. ... The location for this performance is the courtyard of Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon. The piece is four minutes long and is intended only as a taste of what the music of ancient Sumer might have sounded like." Video Source: Youtube.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Modernity, Myth and the Scapegoat: Martin Heidegger, J. R. R. Tolkien and ISIL

Heidegger, at the centre of the photo, in the era of Nazi academia. Image Source: Le phiblogZophe.

Two paths diverged in the wood. I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. In 2014, the private notebooks of German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) - muse of Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida and Hannah Arendt - saw print. The publication of the so-called Black Notebooks confirmed that Heidegger's philosophy grew out of support for the Nazis and an essential anti-Semitism. Oceans of ink have been spilt over what Heidegger meant by Dasein, or Being-in-the-World (his union of subjective, objective and conscious perspectives with the world at large), but this elaborate existential debate completely misses the historical context which informed Heidegger's thought. Heidegger associated his cherished idea of Authentic Existence with the values of agrarian Europe. For the German philosopher, rootless Jews were part of a new, supranational world of corporate industry, banking and trade. Jewish precursors of globalization contributed to an inauthenticity of being, a life whereby everyday people, distanced from the soil, became phantom slaves in a technology-driven world that destroyed traditional culture.

The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt (1854-1856). Image Source: Wiki.

It is too simplistic to dismiss Heidegger's thoughts on being and time as aspects of the Nazi narrative. But it is also wrong to say that his ideas can be read separately from their Nazi context. Heidegger was in the same ballpark, and that demands a serious reappraisal of his ideas.

In building their Aryan mythology against the Jews, the Nazis ironically appropriated the Hebraic concept of scapegoating. The scapegoat was originally an early Archaic, pre-Classical improvement (dating from around the seventh century BCE) on the sacrificial rites of other ancient societies. Scapegoating, a mental gambit which is alive and well today, occurs when one projects one's sins onto a goat and sends it off into the desert to die; this leaves one free from blame and responsibility, and able to get on with life without feeling guilty for one's wrongdoings.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: Tarot Cards and the Art of Divination

The High Priestess of the Tarot Illuminati deck (2013). Image Source: The Tarot Review.

Welcome to this year's Hallowe'en Countdown! Be sure to check other blogs participating in this October-long blogathon, here. This year, countdown posts will appear every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until the frightful holiday.

Today's post looks at how the tarot deck started with Renaissance social commentary and became a modern occult game which tells your future. During the Renaissance, tarot became less a card game about late medieval life and more a divinatory tool with alchemical symbols. Posing a question to cards is known as cartomancy, a partly rational, partly irrational exploration of the subconscious in relation to objectively- and subjectively-experienced time:
The divinatory meanings of the cards commonly used today are derived mostly from cartomancer Jean-Baptiste Alliette ([1738-1791] also known as Etteilla) and Mlle Marie-Anne Adelaide Lenormand (1776-1843). The belief in the divinatory meaning of the cards is closely associated with a belief in their occult, divine, and mystical properties: a belief constructed in the 18th century by prominent Protestant clerics and freemasons.
With this merger of social, historic and mystical ideas, tarot card games became associated with how an individual life can mesh with the world's larger destiny.

An example of how pre-Masonic alchemical knowledge from the Renaissance was embedded in the earliest tarot decks; this moment of illumination on the left is from the Rosary of the Philosophers (1550), but actually derives from earlier sources and was reproduced in the Sola Busca tarot in 1491 (the Three of Wands, or Clubs, on the right). Image Source: Sola Busca Tarot 1998. 

Illuminatio: the alchemical winged sun (an Egyptian symbol, later represented as variants of the Christian cross, see below) from the Rosary of the Philosophers (1550). "Some of the woodcut images have precedents in earlier (15th century) German alchemical literature, especially in the Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit ([The Book of the Holy Trinity] ca. 1410)." Image Source: Wiki.

"The winged sun is a symbol associated with divinity, royalty and power in the Ancient Near East." 'Winged Sun of Thebes' (from Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity by Samuel Sharpe, 1863). Image Source: Wiki.

Rosicrucian Christian play on the same symbol. Image Source: pinterest.

Comments on the 1912 Cagliostro deck reveal the nuances between famous tarot decks and their different origins and influences: "The deck is based upon the works of Papus (Gérard Anaclet-Vincent Encausse) who was a proponent of the works of Lévi. Qabalistic attributions are also based on Lévi, and the majors are numbered in the continental style. The keywords follow Etteilla. So how to read it? Like a[n occult] Wirth deck." This is the Hermit trump card, one of the major arcana, from the Cagliostro deck. Notice how the wicked are defeated when knowledge is inverted. Image Source: pinterest.

As far as we know, playing cards were likely invented in China in the 9th century; but they are not artifacts which would long survive and probably have an earlier history. Playing cards arrived in Europe, probably from India, in the 14th century. For cards from other regions of the world, such as Indian ganjifa cards, go here, here and here.

When it comes to tarot decks, you can look at the classics or neo-classics: there is the oldest known surviving whole deck, the alchemical Renaissance Sola Busca (circa 1491); reprinted by Wolfgang Mayer in an impressive limited edition in 1998); the Visconti-Sforza (15th century); the Scapini (15th century); the Minchiate (16th century - a larger deck which includes slightly different trumps, the signs of the zodiac, the four elements and four virtues); the Marseilles (16th century); the occult Etteilla (1791); the Classic (1835); the Soprafino (1835); the Rider-Waite (1910); the Cagliostro (1912); the Knapp (1929); the Thoth (1943); or the faux-antique Deck of the Bastard (2013), which reproduces many elements from earlier versions in a deck amateurs can actually use. Or you can look at the latest decks, which I do below the jump.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Visit the Primordial Earth

Yahoo News reports on a collection of photographs from November 2012 from a volcanic field in Russia:
Tolbachik: hell valley on earth: Take a look at these stunning photos of an active volcanic complex called Tolbachik. The complex, located on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia, is one of many volcanoes in the area. Looking at these breathtaking images, it's easy to imagine dragons, demons and rivers of hell. Tolbachik is calm right now. A year ago, however, lava fountains and rivers decorated the landscape after the eruption began with the opening of two Tolbachik fissures. In the midst of this activity, photographers Luda and Andrey (lusika33) took a trip down to see that stunning hell valley on earth.
It is easy to see why this primordial scenery acts like a window on geologic time and appeals to Ur-memory, folkloric sensibilities and mythical imagination. See more below the jump, and compare to a Space.com video of a monster X4.9 class solar flare released 24 February 2014. These are grim reminders of something fundamentally alien in raw nature. All photos © lusika33

"The volcanic complex of Tolbachik is clearly visible from the village of Kozirevsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Clay Tablet News Flash

Image Source: British Museum via news.com.au.

At the British Museum, Irving Finkel, the museum's assistant keeper of the Middle East, has deciphered a 4,000 year old clay tablet, on display as of 24 January 2014, which refers to ancient flood preparations. The tablet came to Britain via an RAF airman's Second World War service in the Middle East. The tablet predates Biblical sources by several centuries:
The tablet gives a version of the ark story far older than the biblical accounts, and Finkel believes the explanation of how "holy writ appears on this piece of Weetabix", is that the writers of the Bible drew on ancient accounts encountered by Hebrew scholars during the Babylonian exile [in the 7th-6th centuries BCE].
The tablet originated in Mesopotamia; its 60 lines of text are written in cuneiform:
The text describes god speaking to Atram-Hasis, a Sumerian king who is the Noah figure in earlier versions of the ark story.
He says: 'Wall, wall! Reed wall, reed wall! Atram-Hasis, pay heed to my advice, that you may live forever! Destroy your house, build a boat; despise possessions And save life! Draw out the boat that you will built with a circular design; Let its length and breadth be the same.'

The ancient Babylonian text describes the ark as a round 220-ft diameter coracle with walls 20-ft high.

According to the tablet, the ark had two levels and a roof on the top.

The craft was divided into sections to divide the various animals into their own sections.

The 60 lines of text, which Dr Finkel describes as a 'detailed construction manual for building an ark', claims the craft was built using ropes and reeds before being smeared with bitumen to make it waterproof.
Because the tablet stipulates that this 'ark,' or 'coarcle' was round, a new unusual detail has been added to the family of flood myths.

Finkel has penned a book and is preparing a television show around his translation of the tablet and the folk memory it relates, The Ark Before Noah (brought to you by the same people who published Teach Yourself: Complete Babylonian). CNN:
The newly decoded cuneiform tells of a divinely sent flood and a sole survivor on an ark, who takes all the animals on board to preserve them. It even includes the famous phrase “two by two,” describing how the animals came onto the ark. ...

We have known for well over a century that there are flood stories from the ancient Near East that long predate the biblical account ... .

What’s really intriguing scholars is the description of the ark itself. The Bible presents a standard boat shape long and narrow. The length being six times the measure of the width, with three decks and an entrance on the side. The newly discovered Mesopotamian text describes a large round vessel, made of woven rope, and coated (like the biblical ark) in pitch to keep it waterproof.

Archaeologists are planning to design a prototype of the ark, built to the specifications of this text, to see if it would actually float. Good luck to them in trying to estimate the weight of its cargo. So, why does this new discovery matter? It matters because it serves as a reminder that the story of the Flood wasn’t set in stone from its earliest version all the way through to its latest incarnation.

The people who wrote down the Flood narrative, in any of its manifestations, weren’t reporting on a historical event for which they had to get their facts straight (like what shape the ark was). Everyone reshapes the Flood story, and the ark itself, according to the norms of their own time and place.
Coincidentally, the British Museum translation, book, and Channel Four TV show are being released just before the CGI-300-style, ancient-prepper film, Noah, starring Russell Crowe. The film will premiere on 28 March 2014. See the trailer below the jump. In the same vein, the sequel to 300, which deals with ancient Babylonia in the 5th century BCE, will be released earlier in March.

"Irving Finkel poses with the 4000-year-old clay tablet containing the story of the Ark at the British Museum in London on Friday." Image Source: The Hindu.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Evolutionary Babylon

"A rainbow-colored beast from the margins of a fifteenth-century text." Image Source: Public Domain Review via Paris Review.

The Justin Bieber mugshot is already an Internet meme (do not click here or here and don't don't don't click here (told you not to)). Fortunately, there are other things to think about, like the origins of life. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old physicist at MIT, thinks that he has identified the physics that underlies the difference between inanimate and animate matter. The thermodynamic theory, which complements Darwin's theory of evolution, is outlined in Quanta Magazine, and summarized below the jump.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with the Tower of Babel in the background ("probably 19th century after the first excavations in the Assyrian capitals"). Image Source: Wiki.

Already, critics are queueing to attack England's ideas. But is this simply because his concept has appeared in many guises, to researchers working in various fields, each of which has a field-specific language and set of research precedents? Is the theory of the origin of life a modern Tower of Babel?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Millennial Extremes 12: Listening at the World's Deepest Hole

Drill tower of the main borehole at Bortum-Erbendorf, Germany. Image Source: W.J.Pilsak/wikimedia commons via Discover.

Since the 1980s, crews have drilled near Windischeschenbach in northern Bavaria in Germany; they made an exploratory hole almost six miles deep (29,859 feet). They chose a spot which once lay on the fault line of an ancient continent. From Discover Magazine blog:
Drilling of the KTB borehole began in the late 1980s in a region of southern Germany called the Zone von Erbendorf-Vohenstrauß—the line where two ancient landmasses once merged to become the supercontinent Pangaea. The geology was bound to be interesting here, but even geologists were surprised by what they saw ... shifting seismic plates, boiling hydrogen, and temperatures reaching 600 degrees Fahrenheit … . The deep-drilling experiment yielded huge surprises about the structure of the earth, including maps of rock temperature, new information about seismic pressure, and beautiful models that show layers of rock wrapped around each other like ribbons.
The Russians drilled even deeper at the Kola Superdeep Borehole from 1970 to 1989; they eventually reached a depth of 40,230 feet, but then their funding ran out. This record-breaking borehole is no longer accessible.

The Russians' Kola Superdeep Borehole cap, welded shut, August 2012. Image Source: Wiki.

The German KTB borehole is the deepest artificial accessible point in the world. There are deeper, inaccessible oil wells. The natural Mariana Trench is slightly deeper than the German borehole. The Trench was explored by Canadian film director James Cameron in an exploratory vessel, Deepsea Challenger, in 2012. Incidentally, when Cameron reached the bottom of the ocean in this dangerous and daring exercise, his phone rang. His wife called to check up on him. He later joked that once a man gets married, he might think he's free when he goes off to explore the limits of the world, but he can never escape his wife. L3 provided the communication system for this extraordinary phone call.

In the case of the German borehole, we have a different audio sample. Drilling at the German KTB borehole stopped because, as in the Russian case, the funding ran out. Before the project ended, Dutch Gen Y artist Lotte Geeven recorded sounds at the base of the borehole, which you can hear below.

Audio Source: Lotte Geeven via Gizmodo via Discover Magazine.

You can see more about the story as it was originally reported at Gizmodo, which includes riveting seismic sound samples from earthquakes:
These moans aren't all that unique from the sounds beneath the boreholes, but they feel different to our human ears. Geoff Manaugh describes them as a "melancholic howl," while [sound artist Mark] Bain ... says they are "a bell-like alarm denoting histories in the making." Either way, we have our own ideas about what these cracks and grumbles articulate about the secret world below our feet.
See a report on the geological discoveries made in relation to this experiment, here. Deep drilling continues in the international project, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program and its successor, the International Ocean Discovery Program.

See all my posts on Millennial Extremes.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Welcome the Winter Solstice

Image Source:  Bentobjects via Dark Roasted Blend.

Today (17:11 UTC) marks the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night, and the onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. You can see the gradual lengthening of days, second by second, here.  The winter solstice occurred this year in the Southern Hemisphere on June 21.

On this day, Stonehenge is a magnet for tourist groups, neo-pagans, Wiccans and neo-Druids. From Stonehenge Tours:
Stonehenge is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset (opposed to New Grange, which points to the winter solstice sunrise, and the Goseck circle, which is aligned to both the sunset and sunrise). It is thought that the Winter Solstice was actually more important to the people who constructed Stonehenge than the Summer Solstice. The Winter Solstice was a time when most cattle were slaughtered (so they would not have to be fed during the winter) and the majority of wine and beer was finally fermented.The exact time for the Winter Solstice is December 21st, 17.11pm (UK time).
See 2006 and 2009 videos of the great Neolithic and Bronze Age site below the jump. The earliest possible date for building at Stonehenge dates from around 3100 BCE. And to bring us back to the present, there's also a video for a 2008 Canadian winter tire ad.

Image Source: Mount Washington Observatory via Greetings May All Your Dreams Come True.

Image Source: Out of Ashes.

Lighthouse covered in ice in Cleveland, Ohio, on Lake Erie (16 December 2010). Image Source: National Geographic.

Image Source: Forum Garden
Snow in Athens (February 2008). Image Source: Kim Trathen / BBC.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Paleo Diet

"The idea that eating like our Stone Age ancestors is good for you is growing in popularity, and it has become the latest health fad from Hollywood to Berlin. Shown, a museum diorama of hunter gatherers." Image Source: Der Spiegel.

The fashionable interest in prehistoric humans includes replicating their presumed Paleolithic Diet:
The paleolithic diet (abbreviated paleo diet or paleodiet), also popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years which ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and grain-based diets.  ... Centered on commonly available modern foods, the contemporary "Paleolithic diet" consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.
The Paleo Diet does not actually date to 2.5 million years ago, but rather originated in 1975, when gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin published The Stone Age Diet: Based on In-depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man. This diet has become increasingly popular through the 2000s, especially in light of anti-bread movements. Curiously, the last time there was a widespread popular rejection of bread (Amylophobia - fear of starch) was during another boom and subsequent economic downturn during the 1920s and Great Depression.

Image Source: GEICO ad via OpenTable.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

All Hallows' Eve Countdown: The Girl Who Survives

Image Source: Djano23 at deviantART via In the Mouth of Dorkness.

In Halloween II (1981), Donald Pleasence's psychiatrist character mumbles about the meaning of Hallowe'en. He says it really refers to the pagan Gaelic festival of Samhain, the start of the darker half of the year. This seasonal shift provides an elemental connection to the other world, to memory, death, and ancestors. The spiritual dimension is also an elaborate folkloric metaphor for access to the darker parts of ourselves. The screenplay combines Christian symbolism with these ideas:
Samhain, it means the loft of the dead. The end of summer. The festival of Satan. ... In order to please the gods, the druid priests held fire rituals. Prisoners of war, criminals, the insane, animals were burned alive. By observing the way they died the druids believed they could see elements of the future. 2000 years we've come no closer. Samhain is not spirits, it's not goblins, ghosts or witches. It's the unconscious mind. We're all afraid of the darkness inside ourselves.
Dr. Loomis says repeatedly that Michael Myers is not human; he is "pure evil." Michael is a violent supernatural force, an instinct to kill that never stops, which is why he can be shot repeatedly and not die. Of the first 1978 Halloween film, director John Carpenter said, "The movie's about the 'revenge of the repressed' and Jamie Lee has a connection with the killer because she's repressed too."

Horror films are morality plays. The horror stems from some transgression or violation through indulgence of the unspeakable. The story is about a collapse due to that degradation and the effort to correct the problem, to return to safety and security, to survive.

A collection of African horror stories on Wattpad offer typical examples. Swish, Swish! is a warning against laziness, vanity, selfishness, shortcuts around hard work, and hurting others to get ahead. Another, The Witch's Mist, is a grisly injunction against black magic and vampirism (here the literally cannibalistic form, not the soul-sucking variety). Cannibalism, the ultimate horror, is never far away, as the current lifestyle and tribal subculture of human-blood-drinking vampires show.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

All Hallows' Eve Countdown: Heroic Werewolves

Image Source: Symbolic Symmetry.

The further back you go, the more ambiguous the mythological treatment of werewolves or human-wolf chimeras. Quite clearly, there was a cultural conflict between the worshippers of prehistoric wolf deities and organizers of later established religions. The increasingly negative view of werewolves appears to mark points of transition from animism to institutionalized systems of human faith. This seems to have been as true for the Greeks and Romans as it was for later Christians: an archaic positive view of wolfmen was followed by newer gods inflicting lycanthropic curses.

From Symbolic Symmetry (via Ancient Worlds), here is a short description circulating online about the positive myths surrounding the Irish werewolf, or Faoladh (pronounced FuEH-luh or FWEE-luck or FWEE-luh depending on the Irish dialect):
The Irish werewolf is different from the Teutonic or European werewolf, as it is really not a "monster" at all. Unlike its continental cousins, this shapeshifter is the guardian and protector of children, wounded men and lost persons. According to some ancient sources, the Irish werewolves were even recruited by kings in time of war. Known in their native land as the faoladh or conroicht, their predatory behaviour is typical of the common wolf, not beneath the occasional nocturnal raid on local sheep or cattle herds. If attacked or surprised while in wolf form, they usually simply run off because this causes them to shift back into their more vulnerable human form. However, after changing back into a man or woman, evidence of their lupine adventure remains on their bodies. If wounded, the injury remains. If they kill a sheep or cow, the telltale bloodstains stay on their faces and hands.

The most famous of the mythical Irish werewolves are the people of Ossory (modern day Kilkenny) whose legends live on even today. Among other lingering tales, the Ossory folk were documented by none other than Giraldus Cambrensis who, in the year 1185 transcribed what was no doubt a much older, oral folktale. According to Giraldus, the Ossory werewolves worked in pairs, male and female. A chosen couple lived as wolves for seven years before returning to human form to be replaced by a matched set of two others. During their time as wolves, they fed from the herds but this was taken as their due for watching over wandering children, healing the wounded, and guiding lost strangers to safety.

Despite the fact that this is a pre-Christian folk belief, the Irish werewolves eventually gained a reputation for being under a curse from either St Natalia (St Nailè) or, naturally, St Patrick as punishment for some vague transgression committed long ago. If you read Giraldus' account of these creatures, it is easy to separate what may be the original tale from his preachy commentary at the end.
Faoladh. Image Source: Ancient Worlds.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cells That Reverse the Arrow of Evolutionary Time

Fission yeast aka Schizosaccharomyces pombe. Image Source: University of Tübingen.
Catastrophic failure or progressive decline? These are alternatives in cellular degeneration. For example, some cells, such as cancer cells, do not age. One commenter at Naked Science Forum notes: "some mutations which cause cancer are not actually causing excessive cell division but a mutation upon the gene which controls programmed cell death... so they don't die when they should and you thus end up with accumulation."

Similarly, researchers have found a type of yeast that does not age (that is, it does not show cellular damage and wear as cells divide over time), but rather, it gets younger as its cells divide. These particular yeast cells do die, but as a result of sudden, catastrophic failure at any given moment, rather than through a progressive decline.
Under favorable conditions, the microbe, a species of yeast called S. pombe, does not age the way other microbes do, the researchers said.

Typically, when single-celled organisms divide in half, one half acquires the majority of older, often damaged cell material, while the other half acquires mostly new cell material.

But in the new study, researchers found that under favorable, nonstressful growing conditions, S. pombe (a single-celled organism) divided in such a way that both halves acquired about equal parts of old cell material. "As both cells get only half of the damaged material, they are both younger than before," study researcher Iva Tolic-Nørrelykke, of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Germany, said in a statement.

What's more, previous research has shown that when cells divide and continuously pass on old cell material, the cells that get the old material start to divide more slowly — a sign of aging. This has been seen in microorganisms such E. coli and the yeast S. cerevisiae.

But in the new study, S. pombe cells showed no increase in the time it took for them to divide, the researchers said.

That's not to say that S. pombe cells don't die. Some cells did die in the study, but the deaths occurred suddenly, as a result of a catastrophic failure of a cellular process, rather than aging, the researchers said.

The researchers said they are not arguing that any given component of S. pombe cells are immortal. If a particular component of a cell is followed for a long enough time, the researchers believe the cell that harbors this component will eventually die. But "the probability of this death will be constant rather than increasing over time," the researchers wrote in the Sept. 12 issue of the journal Current Biology.

During unfavorable, stressful conditions, S. pombe cells distribute old cell material unevenly, and the cells that inherited the old material eventually died, the study found. Also, during stressful conditions, S. pombe showed an increase in division time.

Although there's no way to know for sure why the researchers did not detect aging in S. pombe under favorable conditions, one likely explanation is that the cellular damage is being repaired at the same rate that it's being formed, said Eric Stewart, a microbiologist at Northeastern University in Boston, who was not involved in the study.

But just because the study researchers did not detect aging in favorable conditions doesn't meant that it's not occurring. "They're trying to show the absence of something," in this case, aging, Stewart said. "Showing the absence of something is a nearly impossible challenge," he said.

S. pombe growth under favorable conditions could potentially serve as a model of nonaging cell types, such as cancer cells, the researchers said.
On the logic of non-ageing cancer cells, I have seen reports that cancer cells are resistant to radiation. Researchers ask: did this condition arise in reaction to radioactive treatments? Or does cancer's radioresistance precede radiation treatments? The conventional wisdom is that cancer involves a genetic predisposition that is triggered by an external factor. Is cancer a body's misguided reaction against radiation, other pollutants in the environment, or viruses? I have seen reports that cancer cells burn sugar, unlike normal cells, which burn oxygen - which is an argument to stop eating sugar if I ever saw one. Is the way cancer works - or the way other non-ageing cells work - the grim key to immortality?

Researcher Paul Davies - author of The Goldilocks Enigma - wrote a 2012 report for The Guardian to ask if cancer is actually a way that a multi-cellular organism can regress to the single-celled organism model, where cells do not seem to age. Thus, he postulates, cancer essentially reverses the normal course of evolution from single cell to multicellular organism, even as the disease reverses the clock on cell death processes. But the question remains: why does cancer do this? What purpose is an evolutionary reversal trying to serve? Davies and an Australian physicist, Charles Lineweaver, maintain that cancer de-evolves a sufferer of the disease at the cellular level. The disease serves to activate increasingly archaic genes in a body as it spreads. Lineweaver claims that cancer is a "default cellular safe mode." From The Guardian report:
In the frantic search for an elusive "cure", few researchers stand back and ask a very basic question: why does cancer exist? What is its place in the grand story of life? Astonishingly, in spite of decades of research, there is no agreed theory of cancer, no explanation for why, inside almost all healthy cells, there lurks a highly efficient cancer subroutine that can be activated by a variety of agents – radiation, chemicals, inflammation and infection.
Cancer, it seems, is embedded in the basic machinery of life, a type of default state that can be triggered by some kind of insult. That suggests it is not a modern aberration but has deep evolutionary roots, a suspicion confirmed by the fact that it is not confined to humans but is widespread among mammals, fish, reptiles and even plants. Scientists have identified genes implicated in cancer that are thought to be hundreds of millions of years old. Clearly, we will fully understand cancer only in the context of biological history.
Two relevant evolutionary transitions stand out. The first occurred over 2 billion years ago, when large, complex cells emerged containing mitochondria – tiny factories that supply energy to the cell. Biologists think mitochondria are the remnants of ancient bacteria. Tellingly, they undergo systematic changes as cancer develops, profoundly altering their chemical and physical properties.
For most of Earth's history, life was confined to single-celled organisms. Over time, however, a new possibility arose. Earth's atmosphere became polluted by a highly toxic and reactive chemical – oxygen – created as a waste product of photosynthesis. Cells evolved ingenious strategies to either avoid the accumulating oxygen or to combat oxidative damage in their innards. But some organisms turned a vice into a virtue and found a way to exploit oxygen as a potent new source of energy. In modern organisms, it is mitochondria that harness this dangerous substance to power the cell.
With the appearance of energised oxygen-guzzling cells, the way lay open for the second major transition relevant to cancer – the emergence of multicellular organisms. This required a drastic change in the basic logic of life. Single cells have one imperative – to go on replicating. In that sense, they are immortal. But in multicelled organisms, ordinary cells have outsourced their immortality to specialised germ cells – sperm and eggs – whose job is to carry genes into future generations. The price that the ordinary cells pay for this contract is death; most replicate for a while, but all are programmed to commit suicide when their use-by date is up, a process known as apoptosis. And apoptosis is also managed by mitochondria.
Cancer involves a breakdown of the covenant between germ cells and the rest. Malignant cells disable apoptosis and make a bid for their own immortality, forming tumours as they start to overpopulate their niches. In this sense, cancer has long been recognised as a throwback to a "selfish cell" era. But recent advances in research permit us to embellish this picture. For example, cancer cells thrive in low-oxygen (even zero-oxygen) conditions, reverting to an earlier, albeit less efficient, form of metabolism known as fermentation.
Biologists are familiar with the fact that organisms may harbour ancient traits that reflect their ancestral past, such as the atavistic tails or supernumerary nipples some people are born with. Evolution necessarily builds on earlier genomes. Sometimes older genetic pathways are not discarded, just silenced. Atavisms result when something disrupts the silencing mechanism.
Charles Lineweaver, of the Australian National University, and I have proposed a theory of cancer based on its ancient evolutionary roots. We think that as cancer progresses in the body it reverses, in a speeded-up manner, the arrow of evolutionary time. Increasing deregulation prompts cancer cells to revert to ever earlier genetic pathways that recapitulate successively earlier ancestral life styles. We predict that the various hallmarks of cancer progression will systematically correlate with the activation of progressively older ancestral genes. The most advanced and malignant cancers recreate aspects of life on Earth before a billion years ago.
Ancient genes remain functional only if they continue to fulfill a biological purpose. In early-stage embryo development, when the basic body plan is laid down (also in low-oxygen conditions, incidentally) ancestral genes help guide developmental processes before being switched off. Every human, for example, possesses tails and gills for a time in the womb. Significantly, researchers have recently identified examples of early-stage embryonic genes being reawakened in cancer.
The deep links between evolutionary biology, developmental biology and cancer have huge implications for therapy, and also provide an unexpected reason to study cancer. By unravelling the details of cancer initiation and progression, scientists can open a window on the past through which we can gain tantalising glimpses of life in a bygone age.
You can see a further article for online from Lineweaver in Physics World at http://www.physicsworld.com/cws/download/jul2013. This is a special issue made free to the public, which deals with the physics of cancer.