Saturday, July 30, 2011

Memories of Machu Picchu

This summer marks our tenth anniversary -- not of when we were married, but of our second honeymoon which we celebrated in Peru. Summer (winter in the southern hemisphere) is a quieter time with fewer tourists and an opportunity to take your time and truly enjoy all that the country has to offer.  While more of our memories will have to wait for another posting, something happened in the news which brought us back to Machu Picchu.

The Lost City of the Inca was discovered, or shall we describe it better as rediscovered, by the American explorer Hiram Bingham who climbed the steep jungle slopes exactly one century ago this month. Bingham -- credited as the inspiration behind the creation of the character for Indiana Jones -- wrote about seeing a large and well-preserved city 8,000 feet in the clouds. That city, tucked between the peaks of Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu and rising above the cayman in the Urumbamba River is just as awe-inspiring to this day.

His finding of the lost city paved the way for its restoration and preservation, but not until some treasures had already been looted, like the one just recently discovered. This treasure, a stone statue, possibly of the Inca emperor Pachacuti, once stood in Machu Picchu where it is believed he was buried.

J and L finds it inspiring that all is not lost to history and that our memories of Machu Picchu will continue to grow.

The site at Machu Picchu where archaelogists believe a state of an Inca emperor once stood.
Paolo Greer

The too-quiet American - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

The too-quiet American - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

What does Al Jazeera have to say about our economy, our very internationally public debt debate and our president, and why does it matter?  This blog is not about things political, but as Americans, it is important to know how we are viewed in the court of world opinion. It can be enlightening, whether you agree or not.

Welcome Back to Oz!

The long-awaited, much anticipated animated film, Dorothy of Oz is finally now less than a year away from release.  So mark your calendars for Summer 2012.  The cast includes a stunning repertoire of your favorites (and definitely ours) including:  Lea Michelle from Glee as the voice of Dorothy Gale, Martin Short, Oliver Platt (ah, the mighty Porthos indeed), Dan Aykroyd (could anyone else play the Scarecrow?) , Kelsey Grammer (a more sophisticated Tin-Man you've never heard), Jim Belushi, the not-so-cowardly Lion, and, saving the best for last, of course, Patrick Stewart boldly going to the Land of Oz.  

To call it a must-see is an understatement.  Just read on....

Written by Frank L. Baum's great-grandson, Roger S. Baum, in "Dorothy of Oz," Dorothy discovers shortly after returning to Kansas, that Oz is in trouble and the people there need her help. Glinda magically transports Dorothy and Toto back to Oz where she discovers her old friends -- the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion -- have disappeared and Oz is in a state of decay.  As Dorothy journeys to find her friends, she encounters a number of new companions and problems including a man made of marshmallows who can't think for himself, a china doll princess whose bossiness is a cover for her fragility, and a tugboat with as many personalities as he has pieces.  Dorothy must help this odd group band together against a new villain -- a wicked Jester who thinks all of Oz should be under his control.

And let us not forget this magic is set to the music of Bryan Adams.

We grew up with Dorothy and friends, and waited over 70 years to find out what happened next -- it won't be much longer now!

We'll be there -- will you?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Did Humans Crowd out Neanderthals?

Published July 29, 2011 but updated August 24th, 2011
| Associated Press (with J and L commentary)
Were the Neanderthals simply crowded out by ancestors of modern humans?

That is the theory of a pair of British researchers, who say early modern humans outnumbered Neanderthals by 10-to-1 in a region of southwestern France they studied.

Scientists long have debated the circumstances in which modern people replaced Neanderthals across Europe about 40,000 years ago. Leading researchers in the field challenged the research methods in the new study and added that the idea of a larger population prevailing is not new.

Other theories have focused on climate change, differences in Neanderthals' ability to think and other possibilities.

In the report, in Friday's edition of the journal Science, Paul Mellars and Jennifer C. French of England's Cambridge University contend that "numerical supremacy alone may have been a critical factor" in human dominance.

They conducted a statistical analysis of archaeological finds in France's Perigord region, and concluded that stone tools and animal food remains showing evidence of modern humans indicate a much larger population than of Neanderthals in the region. That, they said, would have undermined the ability of the Neanderthals to compete for food and other necessities.

Paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, commented that he had argued two years ago that evidence that early humans used more resources and engaged in more intensive labor probably indicated a larger population density.

In addition, Trinkaus challenged the data in the new report, commenting that the idea of using the number of human gathering sites and their size, tool counts, and other pieces of evidence "pooled together over millennia to estimate relative population sizes was long ago rejected by archaeologists."

Trinkaus said the number of human sites has little, if anything, to do with how many people were around. "For example, a highly mobile group of hunter-gatherers will leave vastly fewer, if any, recognizable sites than one that stayed put for major periods of the year and accumulated trash in one place," he said.

Several experts agreed the conclusion of the paper was not new.
Christopher Ramsey of the School of Archaeology at England's University of Oxford said it provided "more quantitative evidence for what many already thought to be the case: that is that modern humans simply replaced Neanderthals by gaining higher population densities."
And Joao Zilhao, a research professor at the University of Barcelona, argued that the methods used to estimate the population were outdated. He said modern humans did not simply replace Neanderthals anyway, "as the overwhelming genetic and paleontological evidence shows what happened was assimilation, not replacement."
It is the considered and well-researched opinions of J and L Research and Exploration that Neanderthals did indeed assimilate. At one point, researchers considered that modern humans had managed through disease, or superior weaponry, to bring the species to the brink of extinction, yet, closer examination of current archaeological evidence would point to a reality where we cohabitated and perhaps interbred.

Update - 8/24/2011

Upon a request from "Kate," one of our followers, we did a little further research on her comments reference how did the Neanderthals become extinct and came up with three possible explanations.
1. Could Neanderthals and modern humans breed thus ending the distinctive appearance of the Neanderthals? DNA samples do not show that homo sapiens contain any DNA in our biological make-up that would suggest this as an alternative though it must be remembered only five to seven bone fragments from Neanderthals have been found containing enough material to do a DNA match. A very tiny sample for this sort of research since Neanderthals roamed over a period of 200,000 years. Perhaps in the near future there will be enough evidence for serious research into this concept of breeding. Of course, another theory is both species interbred but much like horses and donkeys their offspring would not be fertile and thus not able to reproduce.
2. Much like when Europeans first came to the  new world they carried certain diseases the natives had no immunity to and thus wiped out entire villages. Modern humans who actually did co-exist with Neanderthals for roughly 50,000 years may have inadvertently exposed these more primitive (though the Neanderthals lasted longer than present humans have so far) people to a biological nightmare thus wiping out the already dwindling number of Neanderthals.
3. A change of climate may have produce the catalyst needed to allow the Neanderthals to go extinct. A new ice age was taking over Europe and because of the shorter legs and broader chests compared to the more wiry modern humans the Neanderthals could not adapt to the changing weather patterns. With more snow covering their 'hunting' forests the Neanderthals could not compete and possibly their hunting grounds would no longer support them.

Any of the three above concepts could be true and a shame for one of our closest ancestors but one thing we, at J and L, have not found is that modern humans intentionally hunted the Neanderthals to extinction.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Definition of Irony

July 20, 1969 - July 21, 2011
"The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space." JFK 9-12-62

Americans landed on the moon, despite rumors to the contrary, 42 years, nearly to the day prior to the untimely death of America's manned space program.  

As an avid Star Trek fan, one can appreciate that we currently support an International Space Station and that all future missions will be in the spirit of international cooperation.  Yet the spirit which launched NASA, from the days of John F. Kennedy, "We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people...Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war."

"The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds."

"Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation."
"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
"Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, 'Because it is there.'
Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked."

What has changed? Are we no longer the nation we once were? No longer with the drive to be first among nations. Are these words spoken by President Kennedy simply to be relegated to history?  I cannot help but be struck by how ironic his words sound today.

Let us hope that NASA remains to fulfill it's mission:  To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.