24 October 2014

Early contact among South Americans and Easter Islanders

There are now two separate pieces of evidence (appearing in two separate studies) that suggest that the Polynesians of Easter Island mixed with the natives of South America. One study reports two Polynesian skulls that were found in Brazil among the indigenous Botocudo tribe. (Yes, you read that correctly, Brazil!) The other study, shows that the Rapa Nui (Easter Islanders) have 10% South American ancestry, which has been traced back 19-23 generations. I wonder if this explains how the sweet potato made it to south-east Asia. In a related paper by Goncalves et al., we find the following:

New evidence from human and nonhuman material has become available since then. For example, there were archeological findings of Polynesian chicken bones in the Arauco Peninsula, in Chile and evidence has been found in Easter Island of pre-Columbian presence of sweet potato and bottle gourd, both typical of South America. Independent of the plausibility or implausibility of the pre-Columbian arrival of Polynesians to the South American Pacific coast, there still would remain the need to explain how these migrants crossed the Andes and ended up in Minas Gerais, Brazil. We feel that such a scenario is too unlikely to be seriously entertained.

So the sweet potato may have made it to Easter Island at least. The Goncalves et al. paper, which discusses possible explanations for the two skulls, also considers the possibility that they're from Madagascar slaves. (Madagascar was originally settled by Polynesians.)

21 October 2014

11 October 2014

A dame

6 October 2014

Seattle: The new paragon of cool

Seattle has definitely become the coolest place in the U.S. as can be seen in their recent decision to dump Columbus Day for a day celebrating indigenous peoples. The move has been too long coming. (In fact, I wrote a long screed about this way back in 2006). This is from an account of the period following Columbus's "discovery" of the Americas:

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, "there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines". 

To put this in some perspective, if the numbers are accurate, we're talking about a death-toll roughly half that of the Holocaust. (And all this without modern weapons and bureaucracies!) Columbus Day is the equivalent of a Celebrate Hitler Day.

3 October 2014

Is God a good theory?

I enjoyed listening to this talk by Sean Carroll on why God isn't a good theory. Carroll's a physicist, so he dwells mostly on physics. The final part of the talk where he talks about how our world isn't what we'd expect if God (the way he's typically imagined and described) existed could be expanded into another talk.

30 September 2014

Who benefits when the U.S. economy grows?

These graphs (and their accompanying analysis) should be grounds for deep apprehension about the direction of the U.S. economy and all its imitators.

In this chart (from Pavlina Tcherneva's homepage), similar data are plotted slightly differently. The symmetry of the decline of the majority and rise of the poor is startling.

It doesn't get any better if we focus on the 1%.

Opposing the "Property Party" in HK

Some interesting photos of the HK protest posted on Shi Tao TV (an internet TV station?)

     The Chinese on the sign doesn't just say "no," it explicitly says, "Overthrow the Communist Part." The Chinese word for "Communist Party" has three characters, the first meaning mutual, together, and so on, the second meaning property, and that last a party of faction. Notice that the mutual/together character has been crossed out, leaving only "the property party."

This photo, taken around Sept. 29, shows the scale of the protest.

Air-pollution: A real-time map

I came across this map that compares air quality across the world. The air quality in China is amazingly bad.