PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet, 29 October 1999
------------------------

     QUOTE OF THE DAY

     "What [Professor Hillman] found was evidence for a terrible
     drought: "It was very sharp and would certainly have been felt
     within a human lifetime, perhaps even in the space of 10 or so
     years." Geologist call this period the Younger Dryas, a
     1000-year spell of cold and dry weather witch interrupted the
     planet's gradual warming from the last ice age. Professor
     Hillman's team suggest that as the wild grasses and seeds that
     the people relied on for food died out, they were forced to
     start cultivating the most easily-grown of them in order to
     survive. Professor David Harris, also at UCL, said: 'There came
     a point when this community had no option - they were stuck with
     agriculture.'
         -- BBC News Online, 28 October 1999



(1) BIZARRE FIREBALL LIGHTS UP SKY, EMERGENCY LINES
    The Halifax Herald Limited. 28 October 1999

(2) CATASTROPHISM, AGRICULTURE & THE NEOLITHIC REVOLUTION
    Benny J Peiser <b.j.peiser@livjm.ac.uk>

(3) THE CATASTROPHIC EMERGENCE OF AGRICULTURE
    BBC Online News, 28 October 1999

(4) VREDEFORT "DISCOVERY" & THE PROBLEMS OF ONLINE SCIENCE  
    COMMUNICATION
    Kelly Beatty <kbeatty@skypub.com>

(5) FLOODS, DISASTERS & FUNDAMENTALISM
    Michael Martin-Smith <martin@miff.demon.co.uk>


==========
(1) BIZARRE FIREBALL LIGHTS UP SKY, EMERGENCY LINES

From The Halifax Herald Limited. 28 October 1999
http://www.herald.ns.ca/cgi-bin/home/altloadmain?1999/10/28+261.raw

By Barry Dorey / Staff Reporter

A spectacular fireball passed over the Maritimes on Wednesday,
rattling windows, lighting up the night sky and sparking a deluge
of phone calls to emergency crews.

There were unconfirmed reports that pieces of meteorite struck the
Oyster Pond area of the Eastern Shore, and northern New Brunswick,
where a fire was reported near St-Quentin.

Fire crews could not be reached, but nobody in the New Brunswick
town's all-night gas station had heard or seen anything.

The light show, described as comet-like and accompanied by sonic
booms, had police and Rescue Co-ordination Centre officials
scrambling after calls starting flooding in at about 9:30 p.m.

Callers feared an airplane was on fire or a satellite might be
disintegrating over the area, but those concerns were quickly
discounted.

Air traffic controllers in Moncton reported that two planes in the
area saw "a fireball of some sort lasting about 12 seconds," said
military spokesman Lt.-Cmdr. Glenn Chamberlain.

But no aircraft had reported trouble and the North American Air
Defence Command had not tracked any falling man-made debris such
as satellites, he said.

The first report was a 911 call from Liverpool shortly before 9:30
p.m. and calls were soon coming from Yarmouth to Cape Breton and
as far west as Quebec.

Maureen Elm of Stewiacke said the fireball appeared to pass
immediately overhead and her daughter heard a boom to the west a
few seconds later.

"It sounded like it hit and it rattled our windows here at home,"
she said. Dave Dawe, duty manager at Halifax International
Airport, said he saw the flash and thought it was a flare.

"It was bizarre, everything lit up."  Parrsboro resident Donald
Lake saw a "bright yellow ball and a long tail" streak across the
sky. "I've seen shooting stars before, but this thing was in our
atmosphere."

Astronomer David Lane, a professor at Saint Mary's University,
said witnesses probably felt the shock wave of explosions when the
meteor began fragmenting, rather than the rattle of impact.

But he said a similar show over Montreal two years ago littered
small fragments east of the city.

Wednesday's display was not part of a scheduled or expected meteor
shower, he said.

Copyright 1999 The Halifax Herald Limited

==================
(2) CATASTROPHISM, AGRICULTURE & THE NEOLITHIC REVOLUTION

From Benny J Peiser <b.j.peiser@livjm.ac.uk>

Archaeologists and cultural anthropologists generally agree that the
origin of agriculture during the early Neolithic period (~ 12,000 BP)
is one of the most significant turning points in the history of
humankind. In the words of Gordon Childe, this event marked "an
economic revolution -- the greatest in human history after the
mastery of fire." Early agriculture set the stage for the subsequent
grand threshold of societal evolution - the emergence of civilisation
some 5000 years later.

The emergence of domesticated plants and animals at the start of the
Neolithic period completely transformed human and societal evolution.
After Homo sapiens had been a gatherer (and an occasional hunter) for
some two hundred thousand of years, all of a sudden some people
decided to start farming. But why? Surely not to ultimately get upset
about mad cows and French farming methods! What really made them take
up farming? What were the reasons that caused this simultaneous rise
of agriculture in six isolated areas of the world? Why did humans
begin to experiment with crops given that farmed food was not only
less nutritious than gathered and hunted food but also much more
laborious to produce?

Gordon Childe, who developed the idea of the "Neolithic Revolution"
in the 1950s, argued that agriculture arose as a consequence of
abrupt climate change after the end of the last major glaciation
(i.e. the end of the Pleistocene). In his view, this environmental
alteration led to progressive desiccation which forced the withdrawal
of humans, animals, and plants to the banks of rivers and oases. The
close contact that now prevailed between humans, plants, and animals
thus lead to the first attempts of domestication. As a result, the
Neolithic Revolution caused rapid population growth and the
establishment of permanent settlements, i.e. the  emergence of a new
type of social organisation.

For half a century, neo-Darwinists have been objecting to Childe’s
'catastrophic' explanation of the origin of agriculture. If we
believe popular Malthusian-Darwinian dogma, agriculture can only be
understood as the direct result of "population pressure". According
to this paradigm, hunter-gatherers around the globe decided some
12,000 years ago to produce significantly more off-spring than
they could possibly feed. While population levels of hunter-gatherers
are generally maintained at a "carrying capacity", some Stone Age
populations, so the just-so-story goes, suddenly decided to offset
this balance by having more babies than they were able to feed.

This mysterious decision led to an inevitable increase in population
size and density. While neo-Darwinists fail to elucidate why
this sudden increase in the birth rate should have occurred in the
first place, they claim that the price of this pre-Neolithic baby
boom was the inevitable limitation of resources. This, consequently,
forced the baby-boomers into the farmer's life of hardship and toil.
In short, enigmatic human population dynamics forced Stone Age people
to rapidly embrace food production that was a much more laborious and
time-consuming subsistence strategy than hunting and gathering.

However, the latest research by British archaeologists, reported by
the BBC yesterday, seems to indicate a resurgence in neo-catastrophic
theorising and a return to Childe's environmental focus. The new
findings indicate that the start of agriculture in the Near East
coincided with a catastrophic drought that was most likely triggered
as a result of the Younger Dryas. "Professor Hillman's team suggest
that as the wild grasses and seeds that the people relied on for food
died out, they were forced to start cultivating the most easily-grown
of them in order to survive. [...] There came a point when this
community had no option - they were stuck with agriculture."

Whether or not this neo-catastrophist theory of agriculture will be
verified in future, it is evident that the dramatic punctuations and
changes that took place at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary deserve
more scientific scrutiny and investigation.

Benny J Peiser

============
(3) THE CATASTROPHIC EMERGENCE OF AGRICULTURE

From the BBC Online News, 28 October 1999
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_489000/489449.stm

FIRST FARMERS DISCOVERED

The first farmers grew wheat and rye 13,000 years ago in Syria and were
forced into cultivating crops by a terrible drought, according to UK
archaeologists.

Professor Gordon Hillman, at University College London, has spent over
20 years investigating the remains of ancient food plants at a unique
site at Abu Hureyra, in the middle Euphrates.

"Nowhere else has an unbroken sequence of archaeological evidence
stretching from hunter-gatherer times to full-blown farming," he told
BBC News Online.

Hunter-gatherers

The evidence for cultivated crops comes from seeds carefully sifted
from the material excavated at Abu Hureyra. These had survived because
they had been accidentally charred in domestic fires before eventually
becoming buried.

Many years of ecological field work assessing present day vegetation
was also necessary to provide a basis for interpreting the material
found.

"What we expected to find from the hunter-gatherer levels at the site
was lots of wild cereals. These are characteristically very skinny
and we found plenty of them," explains Professor Hillman.

"But then, at higher and later levels, we found things that did not
belong there. There were these whacking, great fat seeds,
characteristic of cultivation."

The cultivated seeds found at Abu Hureyra are the oldest yet found.

A dry death

Professor Hillman and his team found that, as they looked through the
archaeological record, the wild seed varieties gathered as food
gradually vanished, before the cultivated varieties appeared. Those
wild seeds most dependent on water were the first to die out, followed
one by one by the more hardy ones.

This was a clue to why the hunter-gatherer people turned to cultivating
some of the foods they had previously collected from the wild, and
prompted Professor Hillman to look at independent climate records for
the period.

What he found was evidence for a terrible drought: "It was very sharp
and would certainly have been felt within a human lifetime, perhaps
even in the space of 10 or so years."

Geologist call this period the Younger Dryas, a 1000-year spell of cold
and dry weather with interrupted the planet's gradual warming from the
last ice age.

Professor Hillman's team suggest that as the wild grasses and seeds
that the people relied on for food died out, they were forced to start
cultivating the most easily-grown of them in order to survive.

Professor David Harris, also at UCL, said: "There came a point when
this community had no option - they were stuck with agriculture."

The archaeologists found no evidence that the irrigation was used to
grow the first crops as the drought set it. Professor Hillman explains:
"What they did was to take seed of the wild cereals from higher areas
to the West, and sowed it close to Abu Hureyra in areas such as breaks
in slope, where soil moisture was greatly enhanced naturally."

"Wild stands of these cereals could not have continued to grow unaided
in such locations because they would have been out-competed by dryland
scrub. Therefore, these first cultivators had to clear the competing
vegetation."

The team's work is featured as part of the Horizon programme 'Atlantis
Uncovered', Thursday 28 October at 2130 BST on BBC2.

Copyright 1999, BBC

============
(4) VREDEFORT "DISCOVERY" & THE PROBLEMS OF ONLINE SCIENCE  
      COMMUNICATION

From Kelly Beatty <kbeatty@skypub.com>

Benny...

I've been traveling for a bit, so I didn't get to catch up on your
postings until today. I almost wrote you after the initial Vredefort
posting, but your recent response to Andrew Glikson stirred me to
(re)action.

At 12:07 PM 10/11/99 -0400, you wrote:
>While it is true
>that the unreviewed nature of most Internet science networks often lead
>to inaccurate information being circulated, the openness of the WWW
>also allows for quick and effective self-regulatory messures so that
>false or misleading information can be immediately corrected.

The process of self-regulation in online communication might work in
the realm of professional researchers, but for more general users
your assessment is, IMHO, naive. Bogus news postings do harm in two
important ways: (1) they are *not* self-correcting, because
news-media organizations by nature are loathe to print
corrections/retractions unless it involves a juicy debate among the
researchers themselves. So, for example, if some ill-founded "10th
planet" story makes a splash then proves incorrect, the public at
large will not hear/read about the latter development; (2) they
dilute the public's interest in real news. Continuing with my
example, I've lost count of the number of "10th planet" stories that
have been carried in my 25-year career as a science writer. Sometimes
the "planet" label has even been affixed to KBO discoveries (and by
the same reporters who eagerly question Pluto's status as same). So
will the public be interested should a 10th planet *really* be
discovered? My prediction: Yawn, ho-hum, so what? And, sadly, so will
it be should we truly discover life on Mars or make some other major
space-science breakthrough.

Kelly Beatty
SKY & TELESCOPE


MODERATOR'S NOTE: Whilst I agree with Kelly that the Internet
Revolution is producing entirely new challenges regarding online
science communication, it should be pointed out that the latest
research hypotheses about a possible 10th planet in our solar system
was published in two of the world's leading astronomy journals. It
would thus seem unreasonable to blame the WWW for reporting
about the publication of these peer reviewed papers. I remain optimistic
that the openess of the Internet is providing us with a healthy and
self-corrective medium for the dissemination and discussion of scientific
findings which are, after all, often tentative rather than definite.

Benny J Peiser

==================
(5) FLOODS, DISASTERS & FUNDAMENTALISM

From Michael Martin-Smith <martin@miff.demon.co.uk>

Dear Benny,

The fact , mentioned in Trevor Palmer's Paper, "Catastrophes: the
Diluvial Evidence" that many such disasters were attributed by the
survivors to divine wrath at human wickedness before the event, has
an ominous bearing on our assessment of the possible results of
future asteroid or cometary impacts.

"In most ancient traditions, catastrophes were associated with divine
displeasure. In Genesis, as we have seen, God caused Noah's Flood
because of the increasingly wicked behaviour of humankind. Similarly,
in Greek mythology, Zeus regularly killed people with thunderbolts, as
in the Phaeton myth, whilst Poseidon was inclined to cause great storms
or floods when annoyed [2,5]."- Trevor Palmer.

Not only do we have the potential for billions of dead, and trillions
of dollars' assets lost but there is the real probability that
shocked survivors will either reject Science and Reason for having
failed to prevent such a disaster or, worse yet, they may well blame
human Pride as exemplified by science and technology for having led
God to visit such a disaster upon us.

Thus our slender chance of recovering as a civilization could well be
blighted by an outbreak of quasi-religious fundamentalism and
obscurantism - similar to that described in " A Canticle for
Leibowitz."

A pre-existing daughter civilization established, in good time, off
the Earth with a healthy science based culture of cosmic expansionism
would be the best insurance possible against what could well turn out
to be at best a very very long Dark Age of the Mind here on Earth!

This will take several generations to accomplish, and since we do not
know when such an event might take place, and since we cannot
maintain indefinitely an establishment capable of expanding into
Space without actaul space programmes in being, we should actively
work for the growth of human science industry and habitation of space
while we still have the skills base necessary.

"There is a tide in the Affairs of Men which, taken at the Flood,
leads to fortune.." as Shakespeare wrote

The oft repeated position that we must solve all our earthly problems
before considering such matters is, in the light of the above, well-
intentioned, understandable, but a recipe for suicide.

Dr Michael Martin-Smith

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