Daily Archives: 03/15/2006

Eat Drink Be Merry

I just read an interesting piece in the Harvard Magazine from a couple years ago; The Way We Eat Now. It addresses the problems of obesity and diet in our civilization and it is well worth reading.

One of the ideas mentioned in the Harvard article is how humanity is, for want of a better term, cookivores. We like our food, whether it be meat, vegetable, cereal or fruit, cooked. Indeed it was cooking food that allowed our species to ascend to dominance, because cooking renders food digestible, allowing people to spend less time chewing food to ingest more calories.

In a funny synchronicity, I came across a flurry of stories over the weekend about the Magdalenian Girl. Turns out the 15,000 year old female is actually older than anthropologists suspected. For decades she was called the Magdalenian Girl and estimated to be about 18 at the time of her death. A series of x-rays revealed her secret though; impacted wisdom teeth. And since wisdom teeth generally erupt on ce people are in their twenties, the Magdalenian Girl is not as young as originally thought. She was probably somewhere between 25 and 35 years old when she died.

What’s this got to do with the Harvard article? Well, cooked food is softer and requires less energy to chew. The reduced need for muscle mass and chewing strength led to smaller jawbones in our forebears, making mouths too small for all those teeth. The Magdalenian Girl’s impacted wisdom teeth show that cooked foods were prevalent 15,000 years ago among humans, much earlier in the Paleolithic than previously thought.

The Magdalenian Girl is on exhibit at the Field Museum in a new permanent exhibit on evolution, an exhibit that unabashedly excludes any kowtowing to creationists.

Impact Events

Came across two stories this week on asteroid impacts; one a do it yourself guide to finding impact craters with Google Earth, and the other about a recently identified crater in Iraq that is of historical interest.

The first story talks about how a curious amateur managed to locate a couple impact craters in Libya and Chad with nothing more than a casual scanning of the globe in Google Earth. Talk about serendipitous discoveries.

The second story about asteroids concerns an impact crater in Iraq that was discovered several years ago. The crater was submerged beneath a lake until Saddam’s genocide against the Marsh Arabs drained their homeland, revealing the 2 mile wide crater. This is interesting because the crater is about 4,000 years old, placing it within recorded human history. Several civilizations across the Near East collapse around this time; the Old Kingdom in Egypt, the Akkadian Empire in Iraq and numerous settlements in Israel and Lebanon. Perhaps this impact played a part in the regional collapse of civilizations. The area was covered by a shallow sea at the time of impact, and probably generated immense tsunami throughout the Persian Gulf. Could this event be the inspiration for the legends of the Sumerian and Biblical floods? At the very least, the impact would have changed the climate with ash fall and cooling temperatures, leading to crop failures and widespread collapse of cities. I dunno, the whole story seems rather sketchy to me.

Taking a cue from that first story I plugged the coordinates provided into Google Earth, and I don’t see anything but sand and salt. More importantly, linking the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt (around 2100 BC) with the rumored fall of Akkad (around 1800 BC) to climatological ice core data indicating cooler temperatures (around 1600 BC) makes me suspect other forces were involved. The Old Kingdom managed to collapse five centuries before the plummeting temperatures in 1600 BC. This makes me suspect other, more terrestrial forces were involved. War, famine, disease. The researchers are caught up in that inherent human desire for apocalypses. I think we are quite capable of destroying ourselves without any help from heaven or hell.

PS – As cool as Google Earth is, Google Mars is much, much cooler.