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December 23, 2011

So that Mayan-Ruins-of-Georgia story is hogwash

They aren't Mayan ruins. They are Moundbuilder ruins. No. Nobody found Mayan ruins in Georgia - Boing Boing
1. Nobody found Mayan ruins in the U.S. state of Georgia. An article posted on The Examiner claimed this was the case. That article is full of it. So full of it that even the scientist cited in the article is (in a more polite way) publicly calling out The Examiner for being full of it. Mark Williams of the University of Georgia does do research on North American archaeology. He has spent 20 years excavating sites in Georgia's Oconee River valley. But these sites are not Mayan. Instead, they're part of what are broadly known as "Mississippian cultures," a conglomeration of ancient North American peoples who built a lot of earth mound structures and whose cultures are distinct from those of the Mayans and other Central Americans. 2. Do not automatically trust anything you read on The Examiner website. The Examiner is a content farm that allows anybody to write whatever they want about anything with absolutely zero oversight or fact-checking. The guy who wrote the bogus story on Mayan artifacts in Georgia appears to have just made up the entire Mississippian/Mayan connection out of his own imagination. As archaeologist Mark Williams told ArtInfo, "No archaeologist would defend this flight of fancy." (Again, this is polite scientist speak for, "Oh, my god. That guy is full of it.") While you're at it, apply the same level of skepticism to anything that comes from Hubpages, which has a similar model to The Examiner and was the source of that bogus "There's a secret cure for cancer!" story earlier this year. In general, remember that just because it's formatted like a newspaper story, with a dateline at the beginning, does not mean it has been written according to any kind of standard of quality. Check the sources of the article. Check what you read against what Wikipedia and other people have written on the same subject.

1,100 year-old Mayan ruins discovered in Georgia

Massive 1,100 year old Maya site discovered in Georgia's mountains - National Architecture & Design | Examiner.com
During the late 20th century, the Georgia state government took an active role in preserving some of the stone ruins. Archaeologists surveyed a few sites. One of the better known ruins became Fort Mountain State Park. For the most part, however, the stone ruins remained outside the public consciousness. In 1999 archaeologist Mark Williams of the University of Georgia and Director of the LAMAR Institute, led an archaeological survey of the Kenimer Mound, which is on the southeast side of Brasstown Bald in the Nacoochee Valley. Residents in the nearby village of Sautee generally assume that the massive five-sided pyramidal mound is a large wooded hill. Williams found that the mound had been partially sculpted out of an existing hill then sculpted into a final form with clay. He estimated the construction date to be no later than 900 AD. Williams was unable to determine who built the mound. Williams is a highly respected specialist in Southeastern archaeology so there was a Maya connection that he did not know about. The earliest maps show the name Itsate, for both a native village at Sautee and another five miles away at the location of the popular resort of Helen, GA. Itsate is what the Itza Mayas called themselves. Also, among all indigenous peoples of the Americas, only the Itza Mayas and the ancestors of the Creek Indians in Georgia built five-side earthen pyramids as their principal mounds. It was commonplace for the Itza Maya to sculpt a hill into a pentagonal mound. There are dozens of such structures in Central America.

December 22, 2011

Why do women menstruate?

Very, very few mammals do. So why do humans? PZ Myers looks at new research and finds a very persuasive answer. But it's complicated to summarize so you'll have to click through and let PZ do his thing on your brain. Why do women menstruate? | Pharyngula
Menstruation is a peculiar phenomenon that women go through on a roughly monthly cycle, and it’s not immediately obvious from an evolutionary standpoint why they do it. It’s wasteful — they are throwing away a substantial amount of blood and tissue. It seems hazardous; ancestrally, in a world full of predators and disease, leaving a blood trail or filling a delicate orifice with dying tissue seems like a bad idea. And as many women can tell you, it’s uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes debilitating. So why, evolution, why? One assumption some people might make is that that is just the way mammalian reproduction works. This isn’t true! Most mammals do not menstruate — they do not cycle their uterine linings, but instead only build up a thickened endometrium if fertilization occurs, which looks much more efficient. Of the mammals, only most primates, a few bats, and elephant shrews are among the lucky animals that menstruate, and as you can see from the phylogeny, the scattered diversity of menstruating mammals implies that the trait was not present ancestrally — we primates acquired it relatively late. . . .