Researchers explore population size, density in rise of centralized power in antiquity

Researchers explore population size, density in rise of centralized power in antiquity
Ruins of the Temple of the Amphitheatre in the Late Preceramic Period archaeological site of Caral in Peru. Credit: Courtesy of Daniel Sandweiss

Early populations shifted from quasi-egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies to communities governed by a centralized authority in the middle to late Holocene, but how the transition occurred still puzzles anthropologists. A University of Maine-led group of researchers contend that population size and density served as crucial drivers.


Anthropology professor Paul “Jim” Roscoe led the development of Power Theory, a model emphasizing the role of demography in political centralization, and applied it to the shift in power dynamics in prehistoric northern coastal societies in Peru.

To test the theory, he, Daniel Sandweiss, professor of anthropology and Quaternary and climate studies, and Erick Robinson, a postdoctoral anthropology researcher at Utah State University, created a summed probability distribution (SPD) from 755 radiocarbon dates from 10,000-1,000 B.P., or before present.

The team found a correlation between the tenets of their Power Theory, or that population density and size influence political centralization, and the change in power dynamics in early Peruvian societies.

The team shared their findings in a report published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

“I’ve always been interested in how, in the space of just five to 10,000 years, humans went from biddy little hunter-gatherer groups in which nobody could really push anyone else around to vast industrial states governed by a few people with enormous power. From my fieldwork and other research in New Guinea, it became clear that leaders mainly emerged in large, high-density populations, and Power Theory explained why,” Roscoe says. “Unfortunately, it was difficult until recently for archaeologists to get a handle on the size and densities of populations in the past. SPD techniques are a major help in bringing these important variables into understanding how human social life underwent this dramatic transformation.”

Scientists have previously posited that population in northern coastal Peru rose during the Late Preceramic, Initial, Early Horizon and Early Intermediate periods, or between about 6,000-1,200 B.P. The SPD from Roscoe and his colleagues validates the notion.

The people who settled in the coastal plain first lived as mobile hunter-gatherers or incipient horticulturalists in low density groups, according to researchers. Millennia afterward in the Late Preceramic period, however, several developments brought increased interaction and shareable resources. People began farming, developed irrigation systems and became more settled as time passed. Eventually, some of the world’s first ‘pristine’ states formed in the plain.

The onset and growth of agriculture, irrigation and sedentism, propelled by upticks in population size and density, fostered the capacity of political agents to interact with and manipulate others. Political centralization and hierarchy formed as a result, according to researchers.

Roscoe and his colleagues demonstrated through their radio-carbon SPD that the rise in centralized authorities in early Peruvian communities that resulted from farming, irrigation and settlement coincided with an uptick in population size. The results of their work demonstrate “a broad, low-resolution congruence between the expectations of Power Theory and

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Moon pit diver: This tiny rover could explore the lunar underworld

Dotting the moon’s harsh landscape are steep-walled holes known as pits. These features, also called skylights, may connect with far-reaching, subsurface lava tubes that were shaped billions of years ago by a then geologically lively moon.

New technologies are being harnessed that could allow exploration of skylights, lava tubes and caverns on the moon — underground environments that human explorers may be able to exploit in the not-too-distant future.

“Caves, if accessible, could be havens from radiation, temperature extremes and micrometeorite hazards of the moon’s surface,” said William “Red” Whittaker, a research professor at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. 

Related: Home on the moon: How to build a lunar colony (infographic)

the pitranger

A skylight that opens on a huge lava tube in the Marius Hills region on the moon’s near side. (Image credit: NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera/Science Operations Center)

Windows to great unknowns

Whittaker, a pioneer in designing robots for off-Earth exploration, said that significant progress has been made in assembling a short-lived robot that’s long on capability to probe deep pits on the moon.

Whitaker provided an update on his work during a virtual meeting held in September by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program. NIAC has funded his team’s investigation into effective designs for mobile robots to explore subsurface environments on other worlds.

“Lunar skylights are windows to great unknowns both within and below the moon’s surface,” Whittaker said. “Micro-rover pit exploration is affordable and viable in the near term.” 

Moreover, the discovery of hundreds of lunar skylights over the last decade raises the possibility that some of them could provide long-dreamed-of access to caves.

the pitranger

The West Desert Sinkhole in Utah has served as a training ground for micro-rovers designed to explore lunar pits. (Image credit: William Whittaker/PitRanger team)

Sinkhole testing

Whittaker and his colleagues have been busily building a PitRanger, a terrestrial prototype of a 33-lb. (15 kilograms) lunar mini-robot. 

The researchers modeled and measured a pit on Earth to help flesh out the robot’s design and capabilities. A photogrammetric model of the pit was created from 10,000 rover-perspective images captured from 26 locations around the West Desert Sinkhole in Utah. That feature is nearly 330 feet (100 meters) deep and roughly 246 feet (75 m) wide.

The PitRanger rover is outfitted with a telephoto camera and a pan unit at the top of its solar panel. The little robot uses a panel tilt mechanism to aim the camera into the pit.

Rovers for moon pit exploration missions must necessarily be distinct from those that have come before, Whittaker said. They must be compatible with small landers and be able to negotiate steep pit aprons, provide powerful computing and obtain the required cross-pit images, he said.

Lunar shelter: Moon caves could protect astronauts

the pitranger

Getting down into a lunar pit could be risky, so micro-rovers will have to tread carefully. (Image credit: William Whittaker/PitRanger team)

Fast exploration

“The scenario is to rove to a pit with a micro-rover, peer into the pit, acquire

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New center at USF College of Marine Science will help explore ocean floors

The University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, based in St. Petersburg, has received a $9 million federal grant to launch a Center for Ocean Mapping and Innovation.

The center will create maps of the seafloor and develop more efficient technologies — including underwater robots and satellites, for ocean and coastal zone mapping — that can be used to model coastal storm events, sea level rise and safe navigation in ports. The center also will develop rapid response tools that can be used in coastal disasters, according to its new website.

The grant by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, known as NOAA, will be administered over five years.

The center will be home to eight marine science faculty and offer training modules, certificate programs, graduate courses and seminars for students and professionals. Steve Murawski, USF professor and Downtown Partnership-Peter Betzer Endowed Chair of Oceanography, will serve as director.

Tom Frazer, dean of the College of Marine Science, said at a St. Petersburg Campus Board meeting on Thursday that the partnership builds on existing relationships that tie the academic hub at the university with private and public sectors, including the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and United States Geological Survey.

“St. Pete is really a hub for all things marine sciences,” Frazer said.

In a release from the university, Frazer said most of the world’s oceans are yet to be adequately mapped.

“The mapping products generated from this collaborative effort will help us to better understand important ocean processes and sustainably manage the rich array of natural resources found in the gulf,” he said.

Rear Admiral Shepard M. Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, said in the release that work from the partnership will be used to inform decisions about resource conservation and national security.

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Amid Wisconsin coronavirus outbreak, researchers explore link between college cases, nursing home deaths

For most of 2020, La Crosse’s nursing homes had lost no one to covid-19. In recent weeks, the county has recorded 19 deaths, most of them in long-term care facilities. Everyone who died was over 60. Fifteen of the victims were 80 or older. The spike offers a vivid illustration of the perils of pushing a herd-immunity strategy, as infections among younger people can fuel broader community outbreaks that ultimately kill some of the most vulnerable residents.

“It was the very thing we worried about, and it has happened,” Kabat said.

Local efforts to contain the outbreak have been hamstrung by a statewide campaign to block public health measures, including mask requirements and limits on taverns, he added. “Your first responsibility as a local government is really to protect the health and safety and welfare of your residents,” he said. “When you feel like that’s not happening and you have few tools or resources available to change that, it’s more than frustrating.”

As the number of coronavirus infections continue to soar in the upper Midwest, few places embody the nation’s divisions over how to tackle the pandemic better than Wisconsin. Even as the state’s weekly caseload has quadrupled in the past six weeks, bar owners and Republicans have thwarted some restrictions on public indoor gatherings, leaving public health professionals scrambling to contain the virus.

Wisconsin ranks fourth among states in daily reported cases per capita, with 59 per 100,000 residents. According to The Washington Post’s analysis of state health data, in the past week new daily reported cases have gone up more than 20 percent, hospitalizations have increased more than 26 percent and daily reported deaths have risen 22 percent.

In recent briefings, Wisconsin health secretary designee Andrea Palm said the state is doing worse than it was in March and April and has pleaded with residents to avoid going to bars and to practice social distancing.

“Wisconsin is in crisis, and we need to take this seriously,” Palm said last week.

Last week a judge in Wisconsin’s Sawyer County temporarily blocked an order from Gov. Tony Evers (D) limiting crowds in bars, restaurants and other indoor spaces to 25 percent of capacity, though a judge in Barron County reinstated it Tuesday. The Tavern League of Wisconsin, which represents the state’s bars, argued it amounted to a “de facto closure.” In May, the state Supreme Court struck down Evers’s “Safer at Home” order after Republican lawmakers challenged it, and a conservative activist has just sued to block Wisconsin’s statewide mask mandate.

Elizabeth Cogbill, who specializes in geriatrics and internal medicine in the Gundersen Health System, has been working 14-hour days since the pandemic began, staying late to talk to families who can no longer visit their elderly relatives.

Since June, Cogbill has been working with the county, other medical professionals and nursing home officials to curb coronavirus infections. They had managed to stifle several flare-ups without a death, until September.

In an interview, the 41-year-old doctor said that as the

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