Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 17th, 2022

Archaeology’s sexual revolution

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Emilie Steinmark writes in the Guardian:

In the early summer of 2009, a team of archaeologists arrived at a construction site in a residential neighbourhood of Modena, Italy. Digging had started for a new building and in the process workers unearthed a cemetery, dating back 1,500 years. There were 11 graves, but it quickly became clear that one of them was not like the others. Instead of a single skeleton, Tomb 16 contained two and they were holding hands.

“Here’s the demonstration of how love between a man and a woman can really be eternal,” wrote Gazzetta di Modena of the pair, instantly dubbed “the Lovers”. However, according to the original anthropological report, the sex of the Lovers was not obvious from the bones alone. At some point, someone tried to analyse their DNA, but “the data were so bad”, says Federico Lugli at the University of Bologna, that it looked like “just random noise”.

For a decade, the assumption about the Lovers’ sex remained unchallenged. Then, in 2019, Lugli and his colleagues decided to try a newly available technique for determining the sex of human remains using proteins in tooth enamel. To their surprise, the Lovers were both male. The pair sudde

The story of the Lovers is part of an ongoing sexual revolution in archaeology. For decades, archaeologists have had to rely on grave goods and the shape of bones to tell them whether a skeleton belonged to a man or a woman, but over the past five years, the use of new, sophisticated methods has resulted in a string of skeletons having their presumed sex overturned. The ensuing challenges to our ideas about sex, gender and love in past societies have not been without controversy.

The wider debate on sex in archaeology took off in earnest with the now-famous 2017 paper about a Viking warrior, found in a grave full of weapons in Birka, Sweden. The grave had been known since the late 19th century and had been presumed to contain a man, but it wasn’t until Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson from Uppsala University, Sweden and her team tested a DNA sample that anyone could be sure.

Traditionally with DNA analysis, you look for a gene linked to a sex chromosome, such as the AMELX gene on the X chromosome and its counterpart AMELY on the Y chromosome. As females usually have XX chromosomes and males usually XY, the logic goes that if there is significant AMELY present in the sample, it belongs to a male. Nowadays, the analysis takes into consideration much more of the genome, but the principle largely remains the same. And the DNA from the Birka Viking was clearly female.

But the notion of a female warrior did not fit with the existing ideas about the Vikings. According to convention, weaponry, in particular, swords, belonged with men and jewellery belonged with women. If this skeleton was a woman, some argued, the weapons and the warrior status should be re-evaluated. Hedenstierna-Jonson found this baffling, because everyone was fine with the warrior interpretation when the skeleton was thought to be a man, she says. “That cannot change just because we find out it’s a woman.”

Leszek Gardeła, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark and author of the book Women and Weapons in the Viking World, does not want to take a stance either way. “I think she could have been a warrior,” he says, but underlines that 90% of graves with weapons contain biologically male individuals. Weaponry in women’s graves is also no guarantee that they were warriors; an axe, for example, could be used for many things, including various Norse magic rituals often associated with women. “There was space in the mental universe of the Vikings for women warriors,” he says, “[but] I don’t think it was the norm.”

In any case, most agree that old ideas about “male” and “female” grave goods produce interpretations that are at best conventional and at worst biased. This is especially apparent when both feature in the same grave, such as the Viking grave discovered in 1867 at Santon Downham in Norfolk. “Most of the literature says it’s a double grave,” says Gareth Williams, a curator at the British Museum, “but there is no evidence to actually support that.” Only one skeleton, since lost, was originally reported. Rather than a double grave, the more obvious explanation could be a single grave of a person who did not strictly conform to gender norms. Williams thinks the grave probably contained a sword-wielding woman because “there were strict taboos against wearing anything that could be seen as effeminate” for Viking men.

Without the missing skeleton, the truth will stay unknown, but others are tackling similar cases with the new methods. Last August, Ulla Moilanen from the University of Turku, Finland, led the reassessment of a proposed “double” burial from early medieval Finland, which contained a single skeleton in female dress with swords. DNA analysis revealed that the grave belonged to a person with XXY chromosomes, or Klinefelter syndrome, who probably looked no different from an XY male. That is what makes this grave so interesting, argues Moilanen, “because a male-looking individual was dressed in clothes and equipped with jewellery usually associated with females”.

The obvious question to ask is: which long-standing analysis will be next to fall? After the Lovers of Modena paper, Lugli says, the team thought about testing other “lovers” buried across Italy. Contenders included the  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Daily life, History, Science

You Don’t Think In Any Language

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David J. Lobina writes in 3 Quarks Daily Part 2 in a series of essays on thought and language. (Part 1 in the series is here.) Lobina writes:

A provocative title, perhaps, and perhaps also counterintuitive. One thinks in the language one speaks, everybody knows that. Why would anyone ask bilingual speakers which language they think in (or dream in) otherwise?

I suspect that what people usually have in mind when they ask such questions is related to the phenomenon of inner speech, the experience of internally speaking to ourselves, which may well be ubiquitous in adults (but probably not in children), though not entirely universal. I certainly think that inner speech plays a role in thinking, but not as central a role as most people seem to think (I will come back to this on a later post, probably in Part 4 of this series, where I will also discuss how writers of fiction use the narrative technique of “interior monologue” to outline some of the mental processes of a given character (thinking, feeling, etc.) – but mostly to argue that authors generally go about it the wrong way!).

The point I want to make in this post is that no-one thinks in any natural language; not in English, or Italian, or whatever, but in a language of thought, an abstract, unconscious and moreover inaccessible, conceptual representational system of the mind. Or at least I intend to provide some of the evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, that suggests that this is indeed the state of affairs.

The idea of a language of thought is in fact a rather old one. It effectively refers to the old doctrine that we think in a mental language that is not a spoken language. Traceable back to Aristotle, Boethius, and William of Ockham (among others), the doctrine is to a large extent premised on the general observation that speakers of different languages can refer to the very same “things”, though they may employ different words to talk about them. As the French philosopher Claude Panaccio has aptly put it in a recent historical overview of the mental language, the French can talk about un homme whereas the English would say a man and the ancient Romans homo, but they all would have had the same “idea” in mind – the same concept, as cognitive scientists call such things, and as I myself mentioned last time around. Crucially, the same logic applies to the sentences in which the mentioned words can appear: homo curritun homme court and a man is running simply describe the same event – the same thought – in different languages.

This, at the very least, suggests a . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 6:01 pm

An exchange of letters between Sultan Mehmed IV and the Zaporozhian Cossacks

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 5:49 pm

Evolution of Our Alphabet

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Other alphabets (Arabic, Korean, Cherokee, et al.) had different evolutions, of course. The image above is from an interesting article in Visual Capitalist, which begins:

Over the course of 2021, the Greek alphabet was a major part of the news cycle.

COVID-19 variants, which are labeled with Greek letters when becoming a variant of concern, normalized their usage. From the Alpha variant in the UK, to the Delta variant that spread from India to become the dominant global strain, the Greek alphabet was everywhere. Seemingly overnight, the Omicron variant discovered in South Africa has now taken the mantle as the most discussed variant.

But the Greek alphabet is used in other parts of our lives as well. For example, Greek letters are commonly used in mathematics and science, like Sigma (Σ) denoting a sum or Lambda (λ) used to represent the half-life of radioactive material.

And the study of linguistics shows us why using Greek letters in English isn’t completely farfetched. This visualization from Matt Baker at UsefulCharts.com demonstrates how the modern Latin script used in English evolved from Greek, and other, alphabets.

It’s All Proto-Sinaitic to Me

Before there was English, or Latin, or even Greek, there was Proto-Sinaitic.

Considered the first alphabet ever used, the Proto-Sinaitic script was derived in Canaan, around the biblical Land of Israel. It was repurposed from . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 2:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, History, Writing

Fighting the Ten Hallmarks of Cancer with Food

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Some very interesting findings quoted in this brief video.

In his note on the video on NutritionFacts.org, Dr. Greger adds:

Once I’ve finished researching and writing How Not to Age, my next book will be on cancer survival, so there will be a lot more coming on this critically important topic. Until then, I have dozens of videos on cancer prevention and treatment, including:

How Not to Die from Cancer   
Starving Cancer with Methionine Restriction   
Saving Lives by Treating Acne with Diet   
Prostate Cancer and Organic Milk vs. Almond Milk   
Strawberries vs. Esophageal Cancer   
Should We All Get Colonoscopies Starting at Age 50?   
Breast Cancer Survival Vegetable    
Prostate Cancer Survival: The A/V Ratio   
Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting off the Tumor Supply Line   
Why Might Vegetarians Have Less HPV?    
Zeranol Use in Meat and Breast Cancer    
Animal Protein Compared to Cigarette Smoking    
Is Organic Meat Less Carcinogenic?    
The Best Diet for Colon Cancer Prevention   
What Causes Cancer to Metastasize?    
How to Help Control Cancer Metastasis with Diet    
The Food That Can Downregulate a Metastatic Cancer Gene

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 1:56 pm

Gray Hair Can Return to Its Original Color—and Stress Is Involved, of Course

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After reading Dawne Kwon’s article on zinc (see previous post), I was interested to see what else she’s written, and I found this article in the Scientific American. It begins:

Few harbingers of old age are clearer than the sight of gray hair. As we grow older, black, brown, blonde or red strands lose their youthful hue. Although this may seem like a permanent change, new research reveals that the graying process can be undone—at least temporarily.

Hints that gray hairs could spontaneously regain color have existed as isolated case studies within the scientific literature for decades. In one 1972 paper, the late dermatologist Stanley Comaish reported an encounter with a 38-year-old man who had what he described as a “most unusual feature.” Although the vast majority of the individual’s hairs were either all black or all white, three strands were light near the ends but dark near the roots. This signaled a reversal in the normal graying process, which begins at the root.

In a study published today in eLife, a group of researchers provide the most robust evidence of this phenomenon to date in hair from around a dozen people of various ages, ethnicities and sexes. It also aligns patterns of graying and reversal to periods of stress, which implies that this aging-related process is closely associated with our psychological well-being.

These findings suggest “that there is a window of opportunity during which graying is probably much more reversible than had been thought for a long time,” says study co-author Ralf Paus, a dermatologist at the University of Miami.

Around four years ago Martin Picard, a mitochondrial psychobiologist at Columbia University, was pondering the way our cells grow old in a multistep manner in which some of them begin to show signs of aging at much earlier time points than others. This patchwork process, he realized, was clearly visible on our head, where our hairs do not all turn gray at the same time. “It seemed like the hair, in a way, recapitulated what we know happens at the cellular level,” Picard says. “Maybe there’s something to learn there. Maybe the hairs that turn white first are the more vulnerable or least resilient.”

While discussing these ideas with his partner, Picard mentioned something in passing: if one could find a hair that was only partially gray—and then calculate how fast that hair was growing—it might be possible to pinpoint the period in which the hair began aging and thus ask the question of what happened in the individual’s life to trigger this change. “I was thinking about this almost as a fictive idea,” Picard recalls. Unexpectedly, however, his partner turned to him and said she had seen such two-colored hairs on her head. “She went to the bathroom and actually plucked a couple—that’s when this project started,” he says.

Picard and his team began searching for others with two-colored hairs through local ads, on social media and by word of mouth. Eventually, they were able to find 14 people—men and women ranging from nine to 65 years old with various ethnic backgrounds (although the majority were white). Those individuals provided both single- and two-colored hair strands from different parts of the body, including the scalp, face and pubic area.

The researchers then developed a technique to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

How Killer Rice Crippled Tokyo and the Japanese Navy

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Problems due to nutrition (whether from a deficit or an excess of some micronutrient) are sneaky: even when the health impact is evident, the cause may remain obscure. Anne Ewbank writes in Gastro Obscura:

IN 1877, JAPAN’S MEIJI EMPEROR watched his aunt, the princess Kazu, die of a common malady: kakke. If her condition was typical, her legs would have swollen, and her speech slowed. Numbness and paralysis might have come next, along with twitching and vomiting. Death often resulted from heart failure.

The emperor had suffered from this same ailment, on-and-off, his whole life. In response, he poured money into research on the illness. It was a matter of survival: for the emperor, his family, and Japan’s ruling class. While most diseases ravage the poor and vulnerable, kakke afflicted the wealthy and powerful, especially city dwellers. This curious fact gave kakke its other name: Edo wazurai, the affliction of Edo (Edo being the old name for Tokyo). But for centuries, the culprit of kakke went unnoticed: fine, polished, white rice.

Gleaming white rice was a status symbol—it was expensive and laborious to husk, hull, polish, and wash. In Japan, the poor ate brown rice, or other carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or barley. The rich ate polished white rice, often to the exclusion of other foods.

This was a problem. Removing the outer layers of a grain of rice also removes one vital nutrient: thiamine, or vitamin B-1. Without thiamine, animals and humans develop kakkenow known in English as beriberi. But for too long, the cause of the condition remained unknown. [See also this article by the Harvard School of Public Health. From the article: “The bran is the fiber-rich outer layer that supplies B vitaminsiron, copper, zincmagnesiumantioxidants, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are natural chemical compounds in plants that have been researched for their role in disease prevention.” That’s in part why I cook intact whole grain for my meals. – LG]

In his book Beriberi in Modern Japan: The Making of a National Disease, Alexander R. Bay describes the efforts of Edo-era doctors to figure out the disease. A common suspect was dampness and damp ground. One doctor administered herbal medicines and a fasting regimen to a samurai, who died within months. Other doctors burned dried mugwort on patients’ bodies to stimulate qi and blood flow.

Some remedies did work—even if they didn’t come from a true understanding of the disease. Katsuki Gyuzan, an early, 18th-century doctor, believed Edo itself was the issue. Samurai, he wrote, would come to Edo and get kakke from the water and soil. Only samurai who went back to their provincial homes—going over the Hakone Pass—would be cured. Those who were seriously ill had to move quickly, “for the worst cases always result in death,” Katsuki cautioned. Since heavily processed white rice was less available outside Edo and in the countryside, this likely was a cure. Similarly, a number of physicians prescribed barley and red beans, which both contain thiamine.

By 1877, Japan’s beriberi problem was getting really serious. When the princess Kazu died of kakke at 31, it was only a decade after her former husband, Japan’s shogun, had died, almost certainly from the mysterious disease. Machine-milling made polished rice available to the masses, and as the government invested in an army and navy, it fed soldiers with white rice. (White rice, as it happened, was less bulky and lasted longer than brown rice, which could go rancid in warm weather.) Inevitably, soldiers and sailors got beriberi.

No longer was this just a problem for the upper class, or even Japan. In his article British India and the “Beriberi Problem,” 1798–1942, David Arnold writes that by the time the emperor was funding research, beriberi was ravaging South and East Asia, especially “soldiers, sailors, plantation labourers, prisoners, and asylum inmates.”

Into this mess stepped a precocious doctor: Takaki Kanehiro. Almost immediately after joining the navy in 1872, he noticed the high numbers of sailors suffering from beriberi. But it wasn’t until he returned from medical school in London and took up the role of director of the Tokyo Naval Hospital that he could do anything about it. After surveying suffering sailors, he found that “the rate [of disease] was highest among prisoners, lower among sailors and petty officers, and lowest among officers.”

Since they differed mainly by diet, Takaki believed a lack of protein among lower-status sailors caused the disease. (This contradicted the most common theory at the time: that beriberi was an infectious disease caused by bacteria.) Takaki even wrangled a meeting with the emperor to discuss his theory. “If the cause of this condition is discovered by someone outside of Japan, it would be dishonorable,” he told the emperor. Change couldn’t come soon enough. In 1883, 120 Japanese sailors out of 1,000 had the disease.

Takaki also noticed that Western navies didn’t suffer from beriberi. But instituting a Western-style diet was expensive, and sailors were resistant to eating bread. An unfortunate incident, though, allowed Takaki to make his point emphatically. In late 1883, a training ship full of cadets returned from a journey to New Zealand, South America, and Hawaii. Out of the 370 cadets and crewmen, 169 had gotten beriberi, and 25 had died.

Takaki proposed an experiment. Another training ship, the Tsukuba, would set out on the exact same route. Takaki leveraged every connection he had to arrange for the Tsukuba to carry bread and meat instead of just white rice. So while the Tsukuba made its way around the world, the doctor spent sleepless nights fretting about the result: If crew members died from beriberi, he would look like a fool. Later, he told a student that he would have killed himself if his experiment failed.

Instead, the Tsukuba returned to Japan in triumph. Only 14 crew members had gotten beriberi, and those men had not eaten the ordered diet. Takaki wasn’t exactly right: He believed the issue was protein rather than thiamine. But since meat was expensive, Takaki proposed giving sailors protein-filled barley, which is actually rich in thiamine. In the face of this evidence, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 9:56 am

Goat & Horsehair with Pink Grapefruit & Eucalyptus

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My Baili goat- and horse-hair brush did a fine job with Meißner Tremonia’s Pink Grapefruit shaving paste, though the third-pass lather from this brush is still a little sparse. It may need a bit more use to be fully broken in. 

The inimitable iKon #102 did a totally wonderful job, as it always does, and three passes left my face totally smooth, an especially nice contrast to the two-day stubble I sported at the start.

A splash of Royal Copenhagen with a couple of squirts of Hydrating Gell added finished the job and started the week on a pleasurable note.

Written by Leisureguy

17 January 2022 at 9:30 am

Posted in Shaving

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