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    Nightmare Fuel review: The psychology that underpins horror films

    Scary movies really get under our skin, but why is this the case and how do film-makers know what will scare us? A new book has some interesting answers

    Humans

    3 August 2022

    By Elle Hunt
    Tuan Tran/getty images
    Nightmare Fuel
    Nina Nesseth
    Tor Nightfire
    I HAVE friends who are so afraid of sharks that they won’t swim in the sea – no matter how enclosed the harbour, or full the beach. When I went cage diving with great whites last year, they were appalled. Yet at the same time, I noticed, they couldn’t wait to see the footage.
    This illustrates the idiosyncratic and inexplicable nature of fear. While our desires tend to run along consistent lines – love, happiness, health and wealth – what frightens us is often intensely personal and even perverse.
    So how do film-makers petrify their audiences? And … More

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    Don't Miss: Nope, a chilling new sci-fi thriller from Jordan Peele

    Universal Pictures
    Watch
    Nope is Jordan Peele’s latest chiller featuring Daniel Kaluuya (above) who starred in his earlier film Get Out. Ranch owners spot something in the Californian sky. They will wish it was the cloud it resembles. UK cinemas from 12 August.
    Read
    Methuselah’s Zoo is by animal longevity specialist Steven Austad, who asks what we can learn from long-living animals such as centuries-old sharks and tube worms. It is best to study them in the wild, says Austad. On sale 16 August.

    Visit
    Neofossils are plastics made from biomass that could sequester a … More

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    Explorer review: The amazing story of adventurer Ranulph Fiennes

    An intriguing documentary about the life and adventures of Ranulph Fiennes, one of the last hero-explorers of our time, packs an altogether different punch at the end, discovers Simon Ings

    Humans

    3 August 2022

    By Simon Ings

    Ranulph Fiennes: his expeditions were the last of their kindRoyal Geographical Society/Alamy
    Explorer
    Matthew Dyas
    On release now

    EXPLORER is a documentary about Ranulph Fiennes, who led the first expedition to circumnavigate Earth from pole to pole without recourse to flight.
    Its subject emerges slowly from snatches of past documentaries, interviews, home movies and headlines. The film touts Fiennes’s unknowability: a risky strategy for those new to the man and his achievements, though in time it pays off handsomely for director Matthew Dyas.
    Fiennes isn’t motivated by mysterious and delicate internal forces; this … More

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    How the secrets of ancient cuneiform texts are being revealed by AI

    Much of the world’s first writing, carved into clay tablets, remains undeciphered. Now AI is helping us piece together this ancient Mesopotamian script, revealing the incredible stories of men, women and children at the dawn of history

    Humans

    3 August 2022

    By Alison George
    Chris Malbon
    BEHIND a locked door in the British Museum, London, there is a beautiful library with high, arched ceilings. Inside this secret room, Irving Finkel opens a drawer and pulls out a clay tablet. Cracked and burnt, it is imprinted with the tiny characters of the world’s oldest written language. It is a list of omens. Another drawer reveals another tablet. “This is a prayer to the god Marduk,” says Finkel, who is assistant keeper of ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures at the museum, and one of only a handful of people in the world who can read this long-dead script, known as cuneiform, fluently.
    Behind us, a photographer is meticulously capturing images of this writing, with lights positioned to highlight the indented etchings. This work is part of a revolution, one that is using today’s computing power to bring this 5000-year-old record back to life and unlock new secrets of the world’s first civilisation.
    Although this system of writing was deciphered 165 years ago (See “Reading the signs“), the majority of texts that use it have never been translated into modern languages – a fiendishly complicated task that relies on experts such as Finkel. Now, thanks to developments in artificial intelligence, computers are being trained to read and translate cuneiform, to put fragmented tablets back together to recreate ancient libraries and even predict bits of missing text. These tools are enabling the earliest works of literature to be read in full for the first time since antiquity, giving insights into stories that later appeared in the Bible and shedding light on civilisations at the dawn of history.
    The story of … More

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    Shape of human brain has barely changed in past 160,000 years

    An analysis of fossils suggests changes in the shape of the braincase during human evolution were linked to alterations in the face, rather than changes in the brain itself

    Humans

    1 August 2022

    By Luke Taylor
    Digital restoration of child and adult crania from 160,000 years agoM. Ponce de León and Ch. Zollikofer/Univ. of Zurich
    The physical transformation of the human cranium over the past 160,000 years was probably driven by alterations in the face resulting from diet and lifestyle changes, not from the evolution of the brain itself as previously thought, a study has found.
    The cranium, or braincase, of early modern humans dating back 200,000 years isn’t much different in size from those today, but has a significantly different shape, suggesting that the brain has become rounder over time.
    The leading hypothesis is that changes in behaviour, such as the development of tools and art, caused the shape of the Homo sapiens brain to change and, in turn, the skull that protects it.Advertisement
    But fossil evidence is scarce and there are many interacting forces at play. It is simple for a skull with a large face to house a large brain, for example, but a small face complicates matters.
    To investigate the causes behind the transformation of the braincase, Christoph Zollikofer at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and his colleagues digitally restored the skulls of 50 hominins recovered in Ethiopia and Israel, including H. sapiens as well as Homo erectus and Neanderthal specimens for comparison. The 3D models of the fossils were then compared with 125 modern human specimens.
    Comparing the braincases of early modern human children with adults for the first time allowed the researchers to isolate the brain’s role in the evolution of the skull.
    The team was surprised to find that while the size and proportions of the skulls of H. sapiens children from 160,000 years ago were largely comparable to infants today, the adults looked remarkably different to those of modern adults, with much longer faces and more pronounced features.

    Human faces continue to grow until the age of around 20, but the brain reaches around 95 per cent of its adult size by age 6.
    If the fossil children – with near fully developed brains – resemble living ones, but fossil adults had very different skulls, we can rule out that brains have changed significantly in shape, says Zollikofer. “And if it’s not the brain driving this change, we must look for something else, like breathing, eating or moving.”
    The researchers cautiously hypothesise that changes in diet or a reduced need for oxygen could have been responsible.
    Faces in modern humans are far smaller, with subtler indentation, than those of their ancestors. Studies show that this change accelerated when hunter-gatherers became agriculturalists around 12,000 years ago and ate softer foods, probably due to less loading on the skull from chewing.
    The authors are right to remain cautious in their hypotheses, says Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum in London.
    There is little evidence of major dietary changes between the Middle and Late Stone Age when these changes occurred, he says. Of the many possible causes, a reduction in oxygen intake could be more likely as humans have developed smaller ribcages and have less lung capacity.
    Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2123553119
    Sign up to Our Human Story, a free monthly newsletter on the revolution in archaeology and human evolution

    More on these topics: More

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    The pornography-detection cap that reads your mind

    Feedback raises an eyebrow at the cap which reads brainwaves to help China detect pornography, while also investigating secret cannabis facilities in Australia – and grave-robbing badgers

    Humans

    27 July 2022

    Josie Ford
    Thought police
    Maintaining China’s 73-year ban on pornography is a job of work, but a natty new piece of headgear may help. The government’s “porn appraisers” have now merely to cast their eyes over suspect material at speed, and their caps – a sort of wire-covered shower cap developed by researchers at Beijing Jiaotong University – will read their brainwaves and detect when something catches their salacious interest. PC Gamer wonders why the system is so far only 80 per cent accurate, suspecting it is because the training material comes pre-censored. But what if the erroneous results were false positives? Feedback … More

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    My quest for an eco-friendly green lawn

    Artificial turf has grown in popularity, but it has major drawbacks, says Beronda L. Montgomery, who is looking for a sustainable alternative

    Humans

    | Columnist

    27 July 2022

    By Beronda L. Montgomery
    Olga Prava/Shutterstock
    I RECENTLY stood surveying my new front lawn with a landscaper. The grass is a fine-bladed fescue variety that grows slowly, partly because it is a shade-tolerant species situated beneath the cover of my front yard’s large oak trees. These grasses are efficient at photosynthesis and can produce enough sugars to grow in limited light.
    It is important to know whether your lawn is populated by sun-loving or shade-tolerant plants because they have different nutrient requirements. All plants have relatively high nitrogen needs because chlorophyll, which is central to photosynthesis, contains nitrogen. Shade-tolerant varieties, however, generally have lower nitrogen … More

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    Life As Told By a Sapiens to a Neanderthal review: Joyful curiosity

    This evolution bestseller is full of ironic humour, sharp insights and affectionate acknowledgement of human flaws – and ends up as a celebration of curiosity

    Humans

    27 July 2022

    By Rebecca Wragg Sykes
    Excavations at Atapuerca, near Burgos, Spain, shed new light on the first humans in Europeagefotostock/Alamy
    Life As Told By a Sapiens to a Neanderthal
    Juan José Millás and Juan Luis Arsuaga (translated by Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn)
    Scribe
    IN THE Spanish city of Burgos, a towering 13th-century Gothic cathedral stands opposite the Museum of Human Evolution. Built 800 years apart, these buildings are both dedicated to finding meaning and exploring human origins, but the bones in the museum are 1000 times older than the cathedral, and its “high priest” … More