Category Archives: Evolution

The drift of humankind

FOR a man who spent his career illuminating the vast, dim migrations of people in prehistory, Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s life was remarkably circular. He first became interested in his major field, genetics, in the house of the geneticist Adriano Buzzati at Belluno, in the hills north of Venice. There he helped to collect thousands of flies in search of mutant Y chromosomes; and though he subsequently travelled the world to study the makeup of its tribes and populations, it was in Belluno that he died…

This article first appeared in The Economist on 13 September 2018. To continue reading, click here.

Culture clash

I’M BRITISH. Soon after moving to Switzerland, where I lived for six years, I threw a house-warming party and was taken aback when all 30 guests arrived exactly on time. Years later, having moved to France, I turned up at the appointed hour for a dinner, only to find that no other guest had arrived and my hostess was still in her bathrobe…

 

Police, Singapore

 

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 10 April 2018. To continue reading, click here.

Did human sacrifice drive complex societies

IN 1598, a European miner working in the Bolivian highlands stumbled across a 10-year-old Andean girl who was still alive, despite having been walled up inside a funerary tower three days earlier. Several decades had passed since the Inca Empire—the most sophisticated in the world at that time—had fallen, but its practices lived on among the Incas’ descendants in the region, including human sacrifice. The practice held on a little longer after this incident. Around 20 years later, a boy, who had escaped from local chiefs attempting to bury him alive, took refuge in a Spanish community in the Peruvian Sierra. But the tradition was incompatible with the moral outlook of the new Catholic regime, and die it did, eventually…

Ritual human sacrifice portrayed in Codex Magliabechiano

This article first appeared in The Atlantic on 27 February 2018. To continue reading, click here.

Let’s build

AT POVERTY POINT, Louisiana, a remarkable monument overlooks a bend in the Mississippi river. Built around 3500 years ago, entirely from earth, it consists of six concentric, semicircular ridges radiating out from a central “plaza”, together with five mounds. Mound A, the largest, towers 22 metres – the equivalent of a seven-storey building – over the lush floodplain. North America wouldn’t see another monument on this scale for 2000 years…

Moai, Easter Island

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 10 January 2018. To continue reading, click here.

The AI composer

COMPUTER scientist Luc Steels uses artificial intelligence to explore the origins and evolution of language. He is best known for his 1999–2001 Talking Heads Experiment, in which robots had to construct a language from scratch to communicate with each other. Now Steels, who works at the Free University of Brussels (VUB), has composed an opera based on the legend of Faust, with a twenty-first-century twist. He talks about Mozart as a nascent computer programmer, how music maps onto language, and the blurred boundaries of a digitized world….

Luc Steels presents an extract of Fausto at the Gaîté Lyrique theatre in Paris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article first appeared in Nature on 14 September 2017. To continue reading, click here.