From: Kathleen M. Wong, California Academy of Sciences
Published December 9, 2004 12:00 AM

First Alcoholic Drinks Found In China and Other Stories

First Alcoholic Drinks Found In China


Stone Age farmers in China livened their days with alcoholic beverages more than 9,000 years ago. The dregs of this drink, discovered at an ancient village site in northern China, are the oldest evidence of alcoholic brewing yet found. Scientists had previously believed brewing originated in Iran, where 7,400 year-old wine and barley beer jugs were discovered. An international team of researchers excavating the late Stone Age site of Jiahu found the residues inside broken pottery. Chemical analysis of the drink found evidence of honey, rice, and tartaric acid, a substance concentrated in grape seeds. But winegrapes didn't reach China for several thousand more years, so the researchers conclude that hawthorne fruit, found in abundance at the site, was likely the third ingredient. The fact that alcoholic beverages appear at almost the same time in Asia and the Middle East suggests people were exchanging technologies across Central Asia as far back as Neolithic times. The research was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Aussie Snakes Evolve Cane Toad Defense


Cane toads (Bufo marinus) are formidable invaders. Toxic flesh and a prodigious reproductive rate has helped them overrun much of Queensland, Australia. Native predators, accustomed to palatable local amphibians, are succumbing to cases of cane toad poisoning. But according to Ben Phillips and Richard Shine of the University of Australia, at least some Aussie meat eaters are adapting to the scourge. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that a red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus) and the green tree snake (Dendrelaphis punctulatus) are both growing smaller heads relative to their bodies. With smaller mouths, the snakes can no longer eat giant cane toads --and can thereby escape food poisoning. Cane toads were introduced to Australia in 1935, so the snakes evolved this counter-strategy quite rapidly: in just 70 years.


Teotihuacan's Bloody Foundations


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A tomb filled with human and animal sacrifices has been found within the "Pyramid of the Moon," an enormous temple in the ancient city of Teotihuacan, Mexico. Ten decapitated human bodies had been tossed carelessly inside, accompanied by the bound bodies of mountain lions, wolves, and eagles. Two more human sacrifices were also found, each decorated with beads and wearing necklaces made of mock human jawbones. Weapons bearing religious insignia were also interred with the bodies. The discovery shatters theories that the city's inhabitants were a peaceful and purely agricultural people. Built approximately 2,000-years ago, Teotihuacan was the first major metropolis built in the Americas. The origins of its founders has been a longstanding mystery. To enlarge their temples, Teotihuacanos constructed the new buildings right on top of the existing structures. The bodies were found below the fifth incarnation of the seven temples that make up the Pyramid of the Moon. The structure was dedicated amid a massive building effort in the city. The warlike tomb artifacts, say researchers Saburo Sugiyama of the University of Japan and Ruben Cabrero of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, imply that the city was flexing its military might at the time.


"Peter Pan" Galaxy Avoided Growing Up


A galaxy still in its infant stages has been spotted in our cosmic neighborhood. Research suggests this oddity may be as little as 500 million years old, meaning its first stars ignited after life began on Earth. Astronomers Trinh Thuan of the University of Virginia and Yuri Izotov of the Kiev Observatory, Ukraine, used Hubble Space Telescope images to estimate the age of stars within the galaxy. They realized the galaxy must have lain dormant as a cold gas cloud for all but about a billion years of the 14-billion-year-old universe. Most galaxies got busy making stars much earlier. The fact that the galaxy's component gases are almost pure hydrogen and helium, produced during the Big Bang, bolsters notions of its youth. The reasons for this case of arrested development are unclear. The work was published in the Astrophysical Journal.


Brazilian Dinosaur Had European Roots


An early dinosaur unearthed from southern Brazil appears to be most closely related to European dinosaurs. The discovery of the the 225-million-year-old fossil demonstrates that dinosaurs migrated freely across the ancient supercontinent that is now South America and Europe. The dinosaur was relatively small, weighing about as much as an adult human and stretching about 8.2 feet from nose to tail. It had a long neck and tail, and walked on two feet. It stood about 30 inches high, and was probably a vegetarian. According to Alexander Kellner of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro Federal University, the fossil is a kind of prosauropod that is very similar to specimens of Plateosaurus known from Germany. Scientists named the fossil Unayasaurus tolentinoi after the name of region it was found in and its discoverer.


Sun Could Be A Planet Thief


A chance encounter with another star may have made our sun a thief. New research suggests that solar gravity may have wrenched orbiting planetoids away from another star. The story began last year, when astronomers spotted the most distant object known to orbit our sun--the micro-planet Sedna. Not only is Sedna located much farther out than Pluto, but it follows a wacky elliptical orbit inclined about 20 degrees from the orbits of the major planets. Researchers Scott Kenyon of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Benjamin Bromley of the University of Utah ran computer simulations to identify Sedna's likely origins. According to one scenario, the solar collision resembled two circular sawblades touching at an angle. The outermost objects in both systems would have been jolted out of place, kicking Sedna into its strange current path. Such a crash also would have sheared the outskirts of the debris-rich area beyond Neptune called the Kuiper Belt, explaining its sharp edge. Alternatively, the systems may have even swapped outer satellites, making Sedna an extrasolar planet located right here in our own solar system. The theory was proposed in the journal Nature.


Related Links:


First Alcoholic Drinks Found In China: San Francisco Chronicle / New York Times / Scientific American
Aussie Snakes Evolve Cane Toad Defense: BBC
Teotihuacan's Bloody Foundations: New Scientist / CNN (Reuters)
"Peter Pan" Galaxy Avoided Growing Up: BBC / Discovery.com / New Scientist
Brazilian Dinosaur Had European Roots: Yahoo Daily News (Reuters) / Discovery.com / BBC
Sun Could Be A Planet Thief: Scientific American / New York Times


Source: California Academy of Sciences


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