When did People Arrive in Ancient America?

Did people come to Ancient America thousands of years earlier than previously thought? The evidence is intriguing. It’s still too skimpy to convince the mainstream but at least it’s starting to get a fair hearing. Here’s more on the origin of Ancient America from Guy Gugliotta at Smithsonian Magazine:

For years adventurous divers had hunted fossils and artifacts in the sinkholes of the Aucilla about an hour east of Tallahassee. They found stone arrowheads and the bones of extinct mammals such as mammoth, mastodon and the American ice age horse.

Then, in the 1980s, archaeologists from the Florida Museum of Natural History opened a formal excavation in one particular sink. Below a layer of undisturbed sediment they found nine stone flakes that a person must have chipped from a larger stone, most likely to make tools and projectile points. They also found a mastodon tusk, scarred by circular cut marks from a knife. The tusk was 14,500 years old.

The age was surprising, even shocking, for it suddenly made the Aucilla sinkhole one of the earliest places in the Americas to betray the presence of human beings. Curiously, though, scholars largely ignored the discoveries of the Aucilla River Prehistory Project, instead clinging to the conviction that America’s earliest settlers arrived more recently, some 13,500 years ago. But now the sinkhole is getting a fresh look, along with several other provocative archaeological sites that show evidence of an earlier human presence in the Americas, perhaps much earlier…

(See the rest at Smithsonian Magazine)


More Dinosaurs with Feathers?

The popular image of dinosaurs – gray, dull, and scaly – has remained unchanged for decades. But new evidence over the last few years suggests a completely different picture. Did dinosaur feathers really exist?

Dinosaur Feathers – Did they Exist?

Well, yes, it appears at least some dinosaurs were covered with colorful feathers. First, there was the Dilong paradoxus. Then there were those 11 dinosaurs feathers found in western Canada. Now, scholars claim that Yutyrannus huali, a distant predecessor to Tyrannosaurus Rex, sported a full set of feathers as well. Here’s more on dinosaur feathers from Wired:

It’s not your father’s tyrannosaur: Yutyrannus huali, a newly discovered ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex, was covered from head to tail in downy feathers. At 30 feet long and weighing 3,000 pounds, Y. huali wasn’t so large as T. rex, which came 60 million years later, but it’s the largest feathered tyrannosaur yet found…

The discovery provides “direct evidence for the presence of extensively feathered gigantic dinosaurs,” wrote paleontologists led by Xing Xu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in their description of the new dinosaur, published April 5 in Nature. ‘Instead of giant lizards, they were basically weird birds.’

(See Wired for more on dinosaur feathers)

Where was the Sun Born?

So, where exactly did that giant yellow orb in the sky we know as the sun originate?

Was the Sun Born in Messier 67? Or Somewhere Else?

Until recently, scientists suspected the sun came from Messier 67, a gigantic star cluster roughly 2.6 to 2.9 light years away from Earth. But new 3-D simulations appear to have thrown that theory into the dustbin of history, leaving the sun’s origin a mystery once more. Here’s more on the sun’s origin from National Geographic:

New 3-D computer simulations have delivered a crushing blow to the strongest contender for our sun‘s birthplace, astronomers say, returning the quest for the solar system‘s origins to square one.

Stars like the sun typically form in clusters with other stars. Many clusters are spread out so that the stars drift apart, but others are denser, and gravity keeps their stars close together.

The sun now stands alone, so astronomers think our star—and its newborn solar system—was either ejected from its birth cluster or drifted away from its siblings about 4.5 billion years ago…

(See the rest on the sun’s mysterious origin at National Geographic)

When did People Settle the Americas?

According to the “Clovis First” theory, the Clovis people were the first ones to settle the Americas. Supposedly, they crossed a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska during the last Ice Age, about 13,000 years ago. But recent discoveries are threatening to upend that theory. Was someone else in the Americas prior to the Clovis people?

The Clovis First Theory?

The “Clovis First” theory has been around for a long time. And over the years, researchers have slowly chipped away at it. For example, in March 2011, a team of archaeologists led by Professor Michael Waters reported that they’d discovered a pre-Clovis excavation site in Texas.

At this site, dubbed the “Buttermilk Creek site,” the team unearthed more than 50 full artifacts as well as hundreds of fragmented pieces in soil sediments. These artifacts may date as long as 15,500 years ago. However, doubts have persisted as to their exact age.

Now, Waters’ team has joined forces with a second team led by Professor Eske Willerslev to examine evidence that might just prove their “Pre-Clovis” theory of America’s settlement. The evidence in question is an ancient mastadon rib discovered over 30 years ago near Seattle, Washington. A manmade spear tip, constructed from a separate mastadon bone, was found embedded within the rib.

Using atomic accelerators, they conducted radio carbon tests and determined that the mastadon rib was about 13,800 years old, which would make it 800 years older than the earliest known appearance of the Clovis civilization. They also used computed tomography to create a 3D image of the spear tip. Apparently, it shows signs of having been deliberately sharpened by an unknown individual.

Did another civilization beat the Clovis Culture to the Americas?

This evidence has yet to be fully accepted by the scientific community. The fact that the “spear tip” was made from mastadon bone has raised questions about whether it’s being identified correctly.

“It’s not definitely proven that it is a projectile point. Elephants today push each other all the time and break each other’s ribs so it could be a bone splinter that the animal just rolled on.” ~ Professor Gary Haynes, University of Nevada, Reno

Professor Waters refuses to back down and points out that a bone pathologist said there no no way it could have come from an internal injury. However, old beliefs require substantial evidence to change and it might take some time before skeptics are willing to agree that mankind has been in North America for much longer than originally thought.

“You know, the Clovis-first model has been dying for some time. But there’s nothing harder to change than a paradigm, than long-standing thinking. When Clovis-First was first proposed, it was a very elegant model but it’s time to move on, and most of the archaeological community is doing just that.” ~ Professor Waters

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, this argument remains unsettled. But it’s looking increasingly likely that humans have been around the Americas for far longer than once believed. And if that’s the case, it raises the interesting question of how they arrived in the Americas prior to the appearance of the land bridge. Another land bridge in a different Ice Age? Ancient sea voyages? Something else? One thing’s for sure…the history of human settlement in the Americas has many pages left to be written.

Dinosaurs…with Feathers?

In popular media, dinosaurs are often portrayed as large, lumbering creatures with leathery, drab, gray skin. But a shocking new find suggests that this might be incorrect. Were dinosaurs really covered in…fluffy, colorful feathers?

Did Dinosaurs have Feathers?

It’s a story seemingly ripped from the pages of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. While working in western Canada, a team of scientists led by Ryan McKellar discovered strange remnants encased in amber. Out of some 4,000 samples, he pulled eleven dinosaur feathers which range from 70 to 90 million years old and “include simple filament structures similar to the earliest feathers of non-flying dinosaurs — a form unknown in modern birds — and more complicated bird feathers ‘displaying pigmentation and adaptations for flight and diving.'”

“Now, instead of scaly animals portrayed as usually drab creatures, we have solid evidence for a fluffy colored past.” ~ Dr. Mark A. Norell, American Museum of Natural History, New York

Good lord. So, what kind of colors are we talking about here? Red? Blue? Dare I say pink? No, nothing like that. It turns out the feathers contain certain trace metals, which suggest that they were once colored black, brown, and a reddish-brown.

As for which dinosaurs sported these feathers, well, we don’t know for certain and there’s a good chance that they came from an as-yet-to-be-identified species. However, we do know that they lived toward the end of the Cretaceous Period. At that particular moment in time, “the forerunners of birds were well on their way to taking wing.” But that doesn’t mean these recently discovered feathers were used for flight. Most likely, they were used for thermal regulation instead.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

As with all new discoveries, it’s important to take these findings with a grain of salt. Eleven feathers, after all, can only tell us so much. Still, the discovery indicates that creatures with primitive feather structures may have been living in the same era as creatures with more advanced structures. If true, this would change the way scientists currently view feather evolution.

Also, over the past few years scientists have gathered an increasingly large body of evidence indicating that feathers were “a fundamental and widespread characteristic” among certain types of dinosaurs. Although fossil feather research is still in its infancy, future advancements may allow us to determine the exact pigments of these feathers. When that happens, the dull gray dinosaurs of our imagination might just give way to a brand new world of magnificently colored beasts.

Inorganic Life?

Life as we know it derives from organic compounds. Or does it? Can inorganic life exist?

Inorganic Life?

Carbon is the basis for all organic compounds and thus, all life on earth. Compounds that lack carbon are considered inorganic and thus, inanimate. However, for many years scientists have speculated on the possibility of unknown lifeforms, some of which might not be organic in nature.

Recently, a team led by Professor Lee Cronin at Glasgow University demonstrated a new methodology designed to “create life from inorganic chemicals.” In other words, metal-based life.

“What we are trying do is create self-replicating, evolving, inorganic cells that would essentially be alive. You could call it inorganic biology.” ~ Professor Lee Cronin

How do you Create Inorganic Life?

The process, as reported by New Scientist, revolves around developing a self-assembling cell-like sphere.

“Cronin and his team begin by creating salts from negatively charged ions of the large metal oxides bound to a small positively charged ion such as hydrogen or sodium. A solution of this salt is squirted into another salt solution made of large, positively charged organic ions bound to small negative ones.”

“When the two salts meet, they swap parts and the large metal oxides end up partnered with the large organic ions. The new salt is insoluble in water: it precipitates as a shell around the injected solution.”

These shells are called iCHELLs. Cronin has managed to create internal membranes within the iCHELLs, allowing materials and energy to flow through them in ways that are similar to those used by organic cells. But he doesn’t intend to stop there.

“I am 100 per cent positive that we can get evolution to work outside organic biology.” ~ Professor Lee Cronin

Cronin wants to create “fully inorganic self-replicating entities.” In other words, inorganic life. This is no easy task and many scientists are skeptical, pointing out that the iCHELLs will never be “alive” without DNA or something similar which could enable self-replication and evolution.

Currently, he’s subjecting the iCHELLs to tubes filled with chemicals at different pH levels. The goal is to ascertain whether or not the cells can self-modify in order to adapt to different environments. While he hasn’t prepared a formal statement yet, early results appear promising.

“I think we have just shown the first droplets that can evolve.” ~ Professor Lee Cronin

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

If successful, Cronin’s work could eventually be used “in all sorts of applications in medicine, as sensors or to confine chemical reactions.” Also, it would help us to search for new types of life on this planet…and elsewhere.

“There is every possibility that there are life forms out there which aren’t based on carbon. On Mercury, the materials are all different. There might be a creature made of inorganic elements.” ~ Tadashi Sugawara, University of Tokyo, Japan

The Velikovsky Affair and Consensus Science?

In 1950, Immanuel Velikovsky published a book entitled, Worlds in Collision. This work, which involved decades of research, subsequently became a best-seller. However, it also inspired unprecedented backlash from the scientific community, which became known as the Velikovsky Affair. Who was Velikovsky and why were his ideas derided by established scientists?

Who was Immanuel Velikovsky?

Immanuel Velikovsky was an independent, multidisciplinary scholar who researched in fields such as astronomy, physics, ancient history, and comparative mythology. He was also a proponent of catastrophism, which is the theory that Earth has been greatly impacted in the past by sudden, violent events such as comet collisions and volcanic eruptions.

In 1950, Velikovsky released Worlds in Collision. It proposed that “many myths and traditions of ancient peoples and cultures are based on actual events.” His work noted that Venus, which is the second brightest object in the sky, was not observed by ancient astronomers. Based on historical texts and his reading of the physical evidence, he suggested that Venus was a relative newcomer to the solar system, having been ejected from Jupiter around the 15th century BCE. Furthermore, he thought that Venus originally had an irregular orbit. This caused numerous catastrophes on Earth which were subsequently recorded in ancient texts.

The Velikovsky Affair?

Velikovsky was a polymath and thus, not easily dismissed as a kook or a fraud. So, the scientific establishment went after him in a different fashion, in what would become known as the “Velikovsky Affair.”

According to David Stowe’s essay, The Velikovsky Story: The Scientific Mafia, Velikovsky “became the target of nearly universal abuse and derision.” During the Velikovsky Affair, he was shunned and essentially blackballed from college campuses. He was also “rigorously excluded from access to learned journals for his replies.” The Senior Editor at Macmillan who helped publish his book was fired as was the director of the Hayden Planetarium who “proposed to take Velikovsky seriously enough to mount a display about the theory.” In regards to the Velikovsky Affair, the Italian probabilist Bruno de Finetti reportedly described the scientific establishment as a “despotic and irresponsible mafia.”

Analyzing the Velikovsky Affair

The Velikovsky Affair deserves to be scrutinized in two ways. First, the merits of his ideas must be considered. While criticizing some of Velikovsky’s work, no less an expert than Mike Baillie (see: Did a Comet Cause the Black Death?) is generally supportive of some of his basic ideas.

“Velikovsky was almost certainly correct in his assertion that ancient texts hold clues to catastrophic events in the relatively recent past, within the span of human civilization, which involve the effects of comets, meteorites and cometary dust…But fundamentally, Velikovsky did not understand anything about comets…He did not know about the hazard posed by relatively small objects…This failure to recognize the power of comets and asteroids means that it is reasonable to go back to Velikovsky and delete all the physically impossible text about Venus and Mars passing close to the earth…In other words, we can get down to his main thesis, which is that the Earth experienced dramatic events from heavenly bodies particularly in the second millennium BC.” Mike Baillie, Exodus to Arthur: Catastrophic Encounters with Comets

We must also scrutinize the response of the general scientific community. As a recent study observed, creative ideas are often rejected in favor of the “tried and true.” This is just as accurate in science as it is in business or any other field. Unfortunately, some scientists are so eager to discredit things they view as pseudoscience that they end up blocking progress. In the case of Velikovsky, he disagreed with the so-called “consensus science” of the time and found himself blackballed as a result.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Science is hardly the apolitical field it is portrayed to be in the popular media. Original thinkers are often either forced to conform or face professional destruction at the hands of the consensus. Hence, the shameful Velikovsky Affair. However, progress dictates that we must always remain skeptical of “consensus science,” no matter how difficult it is to do so.

“Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.” ~ Michael Crichton, Speech: Aliens Cause Global Warming

What killed the Dinosaurs?

Sixty-five and a half million years ago, dinosaurs vanished from the earth. The fate of these magnificent beasts remains a mystery to this day. However, new evidence has recently emerged that might help solve this mystery once and for all. So, what killed the dinosaurs?

Dinosaurs & the Mysterious K-Pg Boundary?

Dinosaurs roamed the earth for about 160 million years, encompassing large parts of the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. While the size, shape, and features of dinosaurs varied extensively, they all share one thing in common. Sixty-five and a half million years ago, all non-avian dinosaurs perished in the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, or the K-Pg extinction event. The K-Pg boundary is a layer of sediment in the earth’s crust that marks the switch from the Cretaceous Period (K) to the Paleogene Period (Pg). Non-avian dinosaur bones are never found above this layer, which indicates that dinosaurs became extinct at or before the same time it was created.

Did an Asteroid or Comet Kill off the Dinosaurs?

In 1980, the father/son team of Luis and Walter Alvarez discovered that the K-Pg boundary contained iridium, an element not usually found in the earth’s crust. After eliminating other possible sources, they concluded that the iridium most likely arrived via comet or asteroid. Although hotly contested at first, this theory later found broad acceptance due to the announced discovery of the Chicxulub Crater. The crater, located under Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, measures over 110 miles in diameter. Most scientists today believe that an asteroid or comet, measuring over six miles in diameter, impacted the earth sixty-five and a half million years ago. In the process, it created the crater and drove the dinosaurs to extinction.

The Problematic “Fossil Gap”?

However, not everyone believes the official story. These individuals point to the fact that dinosaur bones become less frequent as they approach the K-Pg boundary. Also, there is a “fossil gap” since no bones have ever been found within the boundary itself. Taken together, these things indicate that the extinction predated the impact at Chicxulub. If this is the case, then dinosaurs were probably killed off more gradually, by things such as a volcanic winter, the Deccan traps, falling sea levels, and/or climate change.

That brings us to the present. While working in Montana, a team of Yale scholars recently discovered a dinosaur bone just thirteen centimeters below the K-Pg boundary. This marks the closest a bone has ever been found to the boundary, beating the old record by twenty-four centimeters. The discovery, made by Yale anthropologist Eric Sargis and graduate student Stephen Chester, indicates that dinosaurs were still alive a few thousand years before the impact event.

“Here we have a specimen that basically goes right up to the boundary, indicating that at least some dinosaurs were doing fine.” ~ Tyler Lyson, Paleontologist, Yale University

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The discovery is exciting and lends weight to the theory that dinosaurs were still alive at the time of the impact event. However, it hasn’t ended the debate as to what killed the dinosaurs. This particular bone could’ve easily belonged to one of the few remaining dinosaurs as they gradually became extinct. Unfortunately, without more bones there’s no way to be sure.

In March 2010, forty-one experts from across the globe reviewed evidence in the fields of paleontology, geochemistry, climate modeling, geophysics, and sedimentology. They concluded that a giant asteroid caused the Chicxulub crater, triggering mass extinctions of the dinosaurs. So, it would appear that there is a sort of scientific consensus in support of the impact theory.

But does that even matter? History is full of scientific consensuses that were later overturned. Heck, thirty years ago, no one believed that an asteroid caused dinosaurs to go extinct. Now, its the most popular opinion. Who knows what the next thirty years will bring?