Doing Science + Culture

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At one, the French cave of Roc de Marsal, he says that what seemed to be a deliberately excavated grave is actually a natural pit. At another, La Ferrassie, he sees evidence that sediments swept into the cave by water — not grieving kin — could have buried Neanderthal remains. As for the ochre crayons, Dibble is dismissive. Ask Dibble, Hublin and other sceptics what would persuade them that Neanderthals had minds like ours, and their answer is simple: a pattern of art or other sophisticated symbolic expression from a time when no modern humans could possibly have been around.

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One contains a trace of red pigment, and a fourth shell is stained with a mixture of colours, as if it had been used as a paint container. And at roughly 50, years old, he says, the Spanish shells date from a time well before modern humans reached the region. Critics are not satisfied. The paintings in El Castillo could help to establish a pattern.

The research group was conservative with the ages it reported last June 1 , which put the earliest calcite at nearly 41, years old. Nervous about damaging the pigment, the team left several millimetres of the veneer intact at each sampled spot. Deeper, older layers might push back the paintings' minimum ages by several thousand years.


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That prospect brought the team back to El Castillo last October. Grinding and scraping through a long day, the researchers concentrate on the red disks and hand stencils that had yielded the earliest dates last time around. Yet an early date may not settle the long-running dispute. Hublin sets the bar high. Any younger, and modern human influence would remain a possibility, he says, noting recent hints that our ancestors had advanced into Turkey or even central Europe by 50, years ago.

Yet signs of a middle ground are emerging. He wouldn't say so now. How could such a sparse, beleaguered people develop and sustain a sophisticated culture? But he is open to the idea that aspects of modern human culture preceded their wholesale arrival in Europe. But there is a final stretch of ground that neither side will concede. Were the Neanderthals truly the same as us, cognitively? No, says Stringer. The Neanderthal genome, decoded 9 in , differs from that of modern humans in some regions linked to brain function, he notes. That might have left them with less capacity for social awareness and interaction.

Emerging from the cave into a rainy evening, he muses that if he pushes back the age of the El Castillo paintings, his critics may argue that he has simply proved an earlier presence of modern humans in Europe. Neanderthals were modern humans too. Pike, A. Science , — Paris , — Hublin, J. Nature , — Higham, T.

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Our award-winning show features highlights from the week's edition of Nature , interviews with the people behind the science, and in-depth commentary and analysis from journalists around the world. You may need a more recent browser or to install the latest version of the Adobe Flash Plugin. I like curating.. My self-talk has been brutal lately. I am almost convinced anyone else could take it and land a job quickly.

Separable from my resume. My resume can get a job. Have I honed a craft?

The art of Twitter? Is that even a thing? Do I need to certify myself in coding and better formalize my scientific training somehow? Go back to school? Then let me get to work. I can do that. I just hope growing a full time job or a combination of jobs that add up to a full time job materializes out of my experiences. Sarah Peck is inviting writers to reflect on the theme of discernment in the month of January. Discernment is going to be important for me in as I make at least one big transition: to a new career , one in writing or editing, or perhaps it will be something else.

I need to create better and new content this year, for my blog. I am learning to edit better, to know what reads well, at least online. Relying on science as a scientist makes sense and the knowledge science has provided us, that gives us our modern world as well as the complexity and deepness of nature. Making decisions every day requires discernment absent the time to carefully consider a lot of the time. Emotions come into play. Why do I feel attracted to someone? Will going to that conference benefit my career? There may be a hit to taking a decision after deliberation in that it will be less satisfying once made.

However, there is something to be said for having an initial feeling one way or another and then spending some time challenging that initial feeling to ask where it might be wrong, or to ask friends where our own discernment might be off. Discerning is hard for me. Making decisions often not easy, even the small ones.

I like to say I have a high activation energy to reach a discerning point. These internal ways of knowing for me are fraught. Last, I am trying more and more to discern things from a standpoint of abundance, not scarcity.

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The Scarcity mindset even if there are real reasons to have it is limiting. Basically making decisions for you. I am in a relatively privileged position that I can, really, make decisions from abundance, though in my life as a PhD student and postdoc has felt like one of scarcity. Discerning is a combination of the rational built up over time, feeling, and just what influences obvious and invisible affect our growth and environment. I attended the AAAS meeting and met a lot of people into science communication.

A few weeks later, I attended Sci Comm Camp in Malibu and met even more great science communicators and writers that I still need to do a better job of keeping in touch with. But I did get a byline with the Royal Society of Biology blog this month. And of course, continued to write on The Quiet Branches. Will write it after this nap. Take care of myself more because to do all the above, it has taken a toll on taking care of myself. Am I conning myself?

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I went to the AAAS meeting and wrote about my experiences there. Of course, a lot of the science communicators I know are really good at what they do. I think I need to get better at writing and at least get better at one other medium to tell stories besides writing. My favorite thing to do so far is dig into history and tell stories of scientists past and even people who were impacted by science.

I analogized actually making a career transition recently to getting through the Berlin Wall — before it came down in , to be clear. Despite starting later than most would down this path. Perhaps that is what feels hard. Which is hard. Loss aversion, where humans take losses a lot harder than gains, means we tend to avoid losses as much as possible. Or I can dismiss the skills I do have as not valuable to the world. This may be the cost of doing basic research and being an academic scientist or a symptom of seeing the world through social media. The first takes a long time to pay off, the second reveals a world where lots of people show all sorts of things they are doing that really matter.

I caught up with old friends, most of whom are moving into new things in their lives, at least relatively speaking.