With Julia spending the summer and most of the fall in The Republic of Georgia, I’ve been thinking about various political and historical aspects of that country, and one of the things that is claimed to be true is that wine was first invented there.
Recently, someone asked me (always ask the archaeologist esoteric stuff like this) where wine was first invented. And, recently, we scored some Concord Grapes, which are native to North America (presumably thanks to some bird a long time ago) as opposed to most grapes, and which provide the roots for most (nearly all?) wine grape stock. And, a paper on the genetics of wine came out recently and has been staring at me for a few weeks now. All these things together made me want to update my current knowledge of the origin of wine.
Continue reading The Origin of Wine
It has been said that our most distant primate ancestors, the mammal that gave rise to early primates but itself wasn’t quite a primate, was most like the Asian tree shrew, which is neither a shrew nor does it live in trees. This is, of course, untrue. When the average American sees a shrew native to the new world scurrying past, he or she usually thinks of it as a form of mouse. Which it isn’t. (In fact, there are no “mice” native to the new world, but even if we give our hypothetical observer the concept of “rodent” as in “eeek, a rodent” the shrew is not that either.) If you spend any time hanging out with the Efe Pygmies of the Ituri Forest, eventually there will be a sudden movement on the forest floor, a quick snap of a machete or other similar implement, and … elephant shrew will be on the menu. And, most interesting, all three of the aforementioned shrews do not belong comfortably together in a single taxonomic group. The closest non-shrew relative to the most common North American shrew are moles, the closest non-shrew relative to the Asian tree shrew are flying lemurs, bunnies, primates, and rodents; and the closest non-shrew relative to the African elephant shrew could be, astonishingly, an actual elephant! (Or hyraxes, goldem moles, sea cows or the Aardvark.)
Continue reading Why shrews are interesting
MN 350 is planning an event for September 24th, and would like you to help get it off the ground, or at least, show up!
This September, people all around the world are joining together for Moving Planet–a worldwide rally to demand solutions to the climate crisis. In Minnesota we’ll gather on the State Capitol lawn to send the message: It’s time to move beyond fossil fuels.
We’ll come on bikes. We’ll march with our faith communities. We’ll rally with our neighbors. And we’ll send a strong message that we stand for climate justice.
Two things have been known for some time now: Human brains get bigger as you go north, and the volume of the primate eye and the primate brain are correlated.
This COULD mean, and this may not be true, that as you go north in human populations you’ll get larger brains (for thermoregulatory reasons) and you’ll therefore get larger eyes (because eyeball and brain size is somehow correlated). But a new paper suggests a different model: Large eyes evolve at high latitudes because there is more dark, and the larger eye demands a larger brain.
Maybe, but I doubt it. the largeness of high latitude brains is way higher in magnitude than could be explained by even a two digit increase in the volume of optical processing of data. But maybe. On the other and, the relationship between orbit size and brain size demonstrated some years ago by John Kappleman (but at first ignored for reasons that I’ve never understood) is cross species an may not apply within species (many such relationships don’t). So, it is all rather mysterious for the present.
In any event, the new research could be of interest.
Continue reading Eyes, Brains and Latitude