DAILY DOSE: New discovery overturns consensus on prehistoric Europeans; The future of human augmentation is around the corner.

It’s that time of the month again. You know, when a new discovery overturns the consensus about what we think we know about our ancestors. Per Science,

Thirty thousand years ago, Europe was a land of open steppes with herds of grazing mammoth and other megafauna—and a strikingly uniform human culture. Its inhabitants, whom archaeologists call the Gravettians, dwelled in caves or in shelters built of mammoth bones. They carved palm-size sculptures from mammoth tusk, depicting mammoths, cave lions, and stylized female figurines with elaborate headdresses and exaggerated breasts and buttocks, and left their distinctive art and artifacts from Spain to western Russia. “You can make a case for saying the Gravettian is the first pan-European culture,” says University of Tübingen archaeologist Nicholas Conard.

But despite appearances, the Gravettians were not a single people. New DNA evidence, published today in Nature, shows Gravettians in France and Spain were genetically distinct from groups living in what is now the Czech Republic and Italy. “What we thought was one homogenous thing in Europe 30,000 years ago is actually two distinct groups,” says Mateja Hajdinjak, a molecular biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology who was not part of the new study.

The Gravettian data are part of a larger trove of ancient European DNA that reveals striking genetic diversity within apparently unified prehistoric cultures. The sweeping study analyzed 116 newly sequenced genomes and hundreds of previously published ones, ranging from about 45,000 years ago, when the first modern humans reached the continent, to about 6000 B.C.E., and from the Iberian Peninsula to the western steppes of modern-day Russia. It “fill[s] gaps in space and time,” says the study’s lead author, Cosimo Posth, a geneticist at Tübingen.

Cynicism aside, learning about prehistoric man never gets old. https://bit.ly/3mhSww9

There’s an interesting thing going on in Columbia that is straight out of a movie. Pablo Escobar’s hippos have been allowed to reproduce in the wild for so long that they are now on the verge of becoming a massive invasive species. Per Nature,

Colombian environment minister Susana Muhamad has triggered fear among researchers that she will protect, rather than reduce, a growing population of invasive hippos that threaten the country’s natural ecosystems and biodiversity. Although she did not directly mention the hippos — a contentious issue in Colombia — Muhamad said during a speech in late January that her ministry would create policies that prioritize animal well-being, including the creation of a new division of animal protection.

The hippos escaped from drug-cartel leader Pablo Escobar’s estate after he died in 1993. Left alone, the male and three females that Escobar had illegally imported from a US zoo established themselves in Colombia’s Magdalena River and some small lakes nearby — part of the country’s main watershed. After years of breeding, the ‘cocaine hippos’ have multiplied to about 150 individuals, scientists estimate.

Given that the hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) — considered the largest invasive animal in the world — have no natural predators in Colombia and have been mating at a steady rate, their population could reach 1,500 in 16 years, according to a modelling study published in 20211. “I do not understand what the government is waiting for to act,” says Nataly Castelblanco Martínez, a Colombian conservation biologist at the Autonomous University of Quintana Roo in Chetumal, Mexico, and co-author of the study. “If we don’t do anything, 20 years from now the problem will have no solution.”

Researchers have called for a strict management plan that would eventually reduce the wild population to zero, through a combination of culling some animals and capturing others, then relocating them to facilities such as zoos. But the subject of what to do with the hippos has polarized the country, with some enamoured by the animals’ charisma and value as a tourist attraction and others concerned about the threat they pose to the environment and local fishing communities.

It’s really hard to understand why the government is hesitating so much. Tourism is a really poor excuse. https://bit.ly/3JbOw9F

The future of prosthetics appears to be just around the corner. It’s so good that we can call it augmentation as opposed to simply replacing missing or bum limbs. According to The Guardian,

Whether it is managing childcare, operating on a patient or cooking a Sunday dinner, there are many occasions when an extra pair of arms would come in, well, handy.

Now researchers say such human augmentation could be on the horizon, suggesting additional robotic body parts could be designed to boost our capabilities.

Tamar Makin, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the MRC cognition and brain unit at Cambridge University, said the approach could increase productivity.

“If you want an extra arm while you’re cooking in the kitchen so you can stir the soup while chopping the vegetables, you might have the option to wear and independently control an extra robotic arm,” she said.

Transhumanism, here we come! http://bit.ly/3J7vXTU

If you think the road connecting the brain and the heart is a one way, downward street, think again. Per Nature,

Emotions such as fear and anxiety can make the heart beat faster. Now a study in mice has found that the reverse is also true — artificially increasing the heart rate can raise anxiety levels1.

Links between emotions and physical sensations are familiar to everyone: hairs rising on the backs of your arms when you hear an eerie sound, or the sinking feeling in your gut when you receive bad news. But the question of whether emotions drive bodily functions or vice versa has long vexed researchers, because it is hard to control either factor independently.

“It was a chicken-and-egg question that has been the subject of debate for a century,” says Karl Deisseroth, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in California. He learned about this conundrum — first proposed by the psychologist William James in the 1880s — while at medical school and says the question has haunted him ever since.

Fear and anxiety aren’t the only emotions running back and forth. Some people say they’ve found love on a two-way street as well. https://bit.ly/41FySKP

It’s amazing that the Egyptian pyramids are still yielding amazing and tantalizing new discoveries, but here we are. Per the AP,

Egypt’s antiquities authorities on Thursday unveiled a newly discovered, sealed-off chamber inside one of the Great Pyramids at Giza, just outside of Cairo, that dates back some 4,500 years ago.

The corridor — on the northern side of the Pyramid of Khufu — was discovered using modern scanning technology. It measures 9 meters (nearly 30 feet) in length and is 2 meters (over 6 feet) wide, perched above the main entrance of the pyramid.

Archaeologists do not know what the function was of the chamber, which is not accessible from the outside. In 2017, scientists announced the discovery of another sealed-off corridor, a 30-meter chamber — or about 98 feet — also inside the Pyramid of Khufu.

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass and the country’s Minister for Tourism Ahmed Eissa, announced the discovery Thursday at an unveiling ceremony outside the pyramid. The Scan Pyramids project, an international program that uses scans to look at unexplored sections of the ancient structure, was credited for the find.

Technology is an amazing thing. It really changes everything. http://bit.ly/3ZAcwbQ

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE CREDIT: José-Manuel Benito Álvarez.

ON SALE! Charles Darwin Signature T-shirt – “I think.” Two words that changed science and the world, scribbled tantalizingly in Darwin’s Transmutation Notebooks.

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