May 14, 2013 9:43 am
In Belize, they needed to build a road. Roads require rocks, there happened to be a really convenient, large pile of rocks for the construction team to use nearby. It also happened to be one of the largest Mayan pyramids in the country. Now that pyramid is gone, destroyed by bulldozers and backhoes.
The construction company building the road appears to have extracted crushed rocks from the pyramid to use as road fill. The pyramid, called the Nohmul complex, is at least 2,300 years old and sits on the border of Belize and Mexico. It’s over 100 feet tall, the largest pyramid in Belize left over from the Mayans.
Jaime Awe, the head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology said that the news was “like being punched in the stomach.” The pyramid was, he said, very clearly an ancient structure, so there’s no chance the team didn’t realize what they were doing. “These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It’s just bloody laziness,” Awe told CBS News. He also said:
“Just to realize that the ancient Maya acquired all this building material to erect these buildings, using nothing more than stone tools and quarried the stone, and carried this material on their heads, using tump lines. To think that today we have modern equipment, that you can go and excavate in a quarry anywhere, but that this company would completely disregard that and completely destroyed this building. Why can’t these people just go and quarry somewhere that has no cultural significance? It’s mind-boggling.”
And it turns out that this is an ongoing problem in Belize. The country is littered with ruins (although none as large as Nohmul), and construction companies are constantly bulldozing them for road fill. An archaeologist at Boston University said that several other sites have already been destroyed by construction to use the rocks for building infrastructure. There isn’t much in the way of protection or management of these sites in Belize, so many people who live in the country either aren’t aware of their significance, or aren’t taught to care.
The Huffington Post has photographs from the scene, showing backhoes and bulldozers chipping away at the stone structure. HuffPo ends this story on a lighter note, pointing out that due to the destruction, archaeologists can now see the inner workings of the pyramid and the ways they were built.
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April 22, 2013 11:10 am
If there are things in this world we can all agree are bad, hangnails, world hunger and oil spills might be a few of them. But invasive species are up there, too. Now consider the lionfish—the beautiful, poisonous and ravenous fish that is making its invasive way across the Atlantic ocean like a slow-crawling, devastating oil spill.
The comparison is apt in a few ways, says NPR:
They reproduce every few days and eat anything that fits into their mouths. And nothing eats them because they’re covered with venomous spines.
Since it was first sighted in 1985, the lionfish has expanded its turf from Florida, all the way up to New York City and down to Venezuela, some 10,000 miles away from its native habitat in the South Pacific Ocean.
There are tons of myths about how the lionfish “spill” started. Some say that Hurricane Andrew destroyed a collector’s tanks, releasing the spiny demons into the ocean. Others claim that they were released maliciously. More likely, they came in ballast water on ships, or escaped from an aquarium shipment. But in reality, nobody knows.
Researchers who study lionfish genetics say that the current invaders are all very similar, genetically, which indicate that the current population came from just a few rogue individuals. One study puts the number at about eight original females. Others say it only requires three. Smithsonian reported on the invasion in 2009:
But soon those lionfish began to breed a dynasty. They laid hundreds of gelatinous eggs that released microscopic lionfish larvae. The larvae drifted on the current. They grew into adults, capable of reproducing every 55 days and during all seasons of the year. The fish, unknown in the Americas 30 years ago, settled on reefs, wrecks and ledges. And that’s when scientists, divers and fishermen began to notice.
Everywhere the lionfish arrives, it begins to slowly nibble away at the local flora and fauna. And since nothing eats it, it creeps along, much like an oil spill, until some sort of external force comes in to clean up. For oil spills, we have all sorts of ways to scoop and sponge and remove the offending sticky substance. But for lionfish, there’s really just one option: kill them. Kill them in large numbers, preferably. To encourage people to do so, several places have come up with recipes for cooking and eating the colorful, poisonous critters.
“The flesh is actually very light and delicate,” REEF’s Lad Adkins told NPR. “It’s not strong flavored. So you can season it many different ways. It’s a great eating fish.”
So, like oil spills, lionfish are creep into an area, kill everything and stick around until we humans decide to do something about it. The only difference is you can’t make tasty tacos out of oil spills.
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March 29, 2013 9:30 am
This week, the Supreme Court of the United States has been hearing arguments for and against the legalization of gay marriage, and the hearings have rekindled the debate among American people, outside the courthouse, in the news, on Facebook. But the U.S. isn’t the only nation struggling with the gay marriage issue. Here are where the debate stands in other countries around the world:
There are a few places where gay marriage is legal. Denmark began allowing couples to marry last year. Argentina did three years ago. It’s also legal in Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Spain legalized gay marriage eight years ago and ever since has been hearing counterarguments in court. It wasn’t until November of last year that the highest court in Spain rejected an appeal presented by conservatives, perhaps closing the case for good.
Other places are debating the issue much like we are. France in many ways seems like a mirror to the United States. The senate there will make a final vote on a bill that would legalize marriage and adoption for gay couples in April. Riot police were called to an anti-gay marriage protest on Sunday, where most estimate there were about 300,000 protestors (although conservatives who organized it claim there were 1.4 million). France’s president, much like our own, supports the bill.
Colombia is debating the issue now, and Uruguay will vote in April. Taiwan started hearing arguments on gay marriage this year, and if they legalize it they’d become the first nation in Asia to do so. India decriminalized homosexuality in 2009 but has yet to broach the marriage subject.
In China, the gay marriage question is a little different. The Los Angeles Times explains:
Women who unwittingly married gay men, dubbed “gay wives,” have pleaded to be able to annull their unions and then be labeled as “single” rather than “divorced,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported in January. Gay rights advocates countered the real solution was to allow same-sex marriage.
Sixty percent of U.N. countries have abolished laws that ban same-sex couples, but two-thirds of African countries still have laws banning homosexuality. Five countries still punish homosexuality with death: Sudan, Mauritiania, Nigeria, Somaliland and Afghanistan. In Russia, a huge proportion of the citizens are opposed to gay marriage—85 percent according to one poll. Five percent of the people polled said that gays should be “eradicated.”
The tides are turning elsewhere. In Uganda, an anti-homosexuality bill has been in the works since 2009, but protests against it have kept it from becoming law. Malawi no longer enforces its anti-gay laws. And even in Russia, things might be changing. The country’s first lesbian-only magazine was just published earlier this month.
So the U.S. isn’t alone in tackling the gay marriage question, and they’re certainly not the only citizenry up in arms on either side.
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March 25, 2013 9:05 am
On Friday, Costa Rica lost to the United States 1-0 in one of the final games of World Cup qualifying. They’re not just unhappy that they lost – they’re unhappy that the game was finished at all. It was snowing so hard that they had to use a bright yellow ball to even see what was going on. Officials had to shovel along the lines periodically. And now, Costa Rica is filing an official protest against FIFA, claiming the game should never have been continued.
It’s hard to explain just how snowy the game was. So here are some pictures that Deadspin pulled from the television coverage of the game:
Here are some screen shots from International Football News:
Players say the game was nearly impossible to play. Costa Rican midfielder told Reuters that “honestly, it was robbery, a disgrace, I’ve never played a game in these conditions. You couldn’t see the ball … if we had played without snow, we would have won, I am sure.” Another midfielder, Michael Barrantes, said “You couldn’t see the lines. You couldn’t see the ball. You couldn’t play.”
Jorge Luis Pinto, the coach for Costa Rica, asked the officials to stop the game ten minutes into the second half. Apparently, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann argued against it, and the game resumed. Afterwards, Pinto had this to say:
“I asked them to stop. They should suspend the ref,” Pinto said. “It was an embarrassment. It was an insult to Costa Rica and people coming in here.”
But the U.S. Soccer Federation doesn’t see it that way. Their president, Sunil Gulati, told reporters:
“Frankly, (stopping) would not have been to the advantage of either of the two teams, since they both play on Tuesday. Obviously you worry about the safety of players and being able to see the ball. The referee and the match commissioner made the decision that the game could continue and I think it was the right decision.”
At Deadspin, Greg Howard says that there should be no rematch:
But, here’s the thing. In spite of all the horror, Costa Rica finished the game. They finished the game.
The conditions they’re decrying were equally bad for both teams. Not as bad as this, but still bad. On another day, Costa Rica could’ve drawn or even bested an undermanned USMNT side that was missing eight players to injury, and whose locker room was in a state of chaos. Would Pinto have complained then?
The U.S. claims it had no ill intention inviting the Central American team up to Denver for a game. The U.S. plays in Mexico City next and wanted to get a game in at altitude before then. Costa Rican fans aren’t so sure. The coaches for Costa Rica had 24 hours after the game to file an official protest, but the soonest FIFA will decide on anything regarding the game is some time this week.
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March 20, 2013 1:35 pm
Shrunken heads are a key part of the “scary tribal people” setup. And some cultures did, in fact, create miniature heads for religious and spiritual purposes. But how does one take a regular sized human skull and miniaturize it?
The process is gruesome, according to Today I Found Out. First, the skin and hair had to be separated from the skull to allow them to shrink at different rates. Then, the eyelids were sewn shut and the mouth was stuck closed with a peg. And for the actual shrinking, the heads were put in a big pot and boiled for a very specific amount of time. Then, Staci Lehman writes:
Once removed from the pot, the head would be about 1/3 its original size and the skin dark and rubbery. The skin would then be turned inside out and any leftover flesh scraped off with a knife. The scraped skin was then turned with the proper side out again and the slit in the rear sewn together. The process wasn’t done yet. The head was shrunk even further by inserting hot stones and sand to make it contract from the inside. This also “tanned” the inside, like tanning an animal hide, in order to preserve it.
Once the head reached the desired size and was full of small stones and sand, more hot stones would be applied to the outside of the face to seal and shape the features. The skin was rubbed with charcoal ash to darken it, and as tribesmen believed, to keep the avenging soul from seeping out. The finished product was hung over a fire to harden and blacken, then the wooden pegs in the lips pulled out and replaced with string to lash them together.
When Westerners and Europeans started traveling and discovering cultures that practiced head shrinking, they were both terrified and fascinated. Many of them brought back shrunken heads and souvenirs. In the 1930s, a shrunken head sold for $25—$330 in today’s dollars. In fact, they were popular and lucrative enough that unscrupulous head-peddlers started trading in fake shrunken heads, made from the heads of sloths and other animals. And telling the difference between a real and fake shrunken head can be hard. In fact, one researcher claims that most shrunken heads on display at museums (including the American Museum of Natural History) are fake. Forensic researchers write about some of the ways to tell:
Tsantsas, or shrunken head, are an ancient traditional technique of the Jivaro Indians from Northern Peru and Southern Ecuador. Tsantsas were made from enemies’ heads cut on the battlefield. Then, during spiritual ceremonies, enemies’ heads were carefully reduced through boiling and heating, in the attempt to lock the enemy’s spirit and protect the killers from spiritual revenge. However, forgers have made fake tsantsas out of sloth heads, selling them as curios to international travelers. Morphologic criteria can help in the distinction of forged and authentic tsantsas. Presence of sealed eyelids, pierced lips with strings sealing the mouth, shiny black skin, a posterior sewn incision, long glossy black hair, and lateral head compression are characteristic of authentic tsantsas. On the other hand, fake tsantsas usually present few or none of those criteria. To establish authenticity of the shrunken head, we used all of the above-mentioned morphologic criteria along with microscopic hair examination and DNA analysis.
If you don’t have a DNA sequencer handy to identify your human head, William Jamieson Tribal Art says to look at the ears:
Imitation tsantsa are classified under two categories, being either non-human or human but prepared by someone other than the Jivaro tribesmen. As the most common non-human fakes are often made out of goat or monkey skin, one must pay particular attention to distinguishing between authentic and replicas. Indications of counterfeit tsantsa are characterized by looking for nasal hairs which is a notable distinction between identifying authentic heads and non-human replicas. In addition to this, it is also quite difficult to duplicate a shrunken human ear. The ear should remain in its original form only smaller. Fakes generally cannot match the intricate details of the human ear.
As for many topics of cultural anthropology in which the culture in question still exists and its members would like to be treated as people, head shrinking is a bit contentious. In the Shuar culture, shrunken heads (or ”tsantsas”) are extremely important religious symbols. One anthropologist writes:
That Shuar have killed people to make powerful objects, whereas we have made powerful objects to kill people, does not sustain any meaningful distinction between the savage and the civilized.
Is is hard for many people to not see shrinking of heads as a gruesome act. (Shrunken heads were found in the German concentration camp at Buchenwald, but never identified.) And many say that no new shrunken heads have been made for twenty years. In South America, many countries outlawed selling human heads in the 1930s. Whether or not heads have been shrunk since is still up for debate, but at least now you know how it happens.
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