Death-Cap Mushrooms are Terrifying and Unstoppable: A Wild Animation

Mush­rooms are just­ly cel­e­brat­ed as vir­tu­ous mul­ti­taskers.

They’re food, teach­ers, movie stars, design inspi­ra­tion

…and some, as any­one who’s spent time play­ing or watch­ing The Last of Us can read­i­ly attest, are killers.

Hope­ful­ly we’ve got some time before civ­i­liza­tion is con­quered by zom­bie cordy­ceps.

For now, the ones to watch out for are amani­ta phal­loide, aka death cap mush­rooms.

The pow­er­ful ama­tox­in they har­bor is behind 90 per­cent of mush­room-relat­ed fatal­i­ties world­wide. It caus­es severe liv­er dam­age, lead­ing to bleed­ing dis­or­ders, brain swelling, and mul­ti-organ fail­ure in those who sur­vive. 

A death cap took the life of a three-year-old in British Colum­bia who mis­took one for a tasty straw mush­room on a for­ag­ing expe­di­tion with his fam­i­ly near their apart­ment com­plex. 

In Mel­bourne, a pot pie that test­ed pos­i­tive for death caps result­ed in the deaths of three adults, and sent a fourth to the hos­pi­tal in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

As the ani­ma­tors feast on mush­rooms’ lim­it­less visu­al appeal in the above episode of The Atlantic’s Life Up Close series, author Craig Childs deliv­ers some sober­ing news:

We did it to our­selves. Humans are the ones who’ve enabled death caps to spread so far beyond their native habi­tats in Scan­di­navia and parts of north­ern Europe, where the poi­so­nous fun­gi feed on the root tips of decid­u­ous trees, spring­ing up around their hosts in tidy fairy rings.

When oth­er coun­tries import these trees to beau­ti­fy their city streets, the death caps, whose frag­ile spores are inca­pable of trav­el­ing long dis­tances when left to their own devices, tag along.

They have sprout­ed in the Pacif­ic North­west near import­ed sweet chest­nuts, beech­es, horn­beams, lin­dens, red oaks, and Eng­lish oaks, and oth­er host species.

As bio­chemist Paul Kroeger, cofounder of the Van­cou­ver Myco­log­i­cal Soci­ety, explained in a 2019 arti­cle Childs penned for the Atlantic, the inva­sive death caps aren’t pop­ping up in deeply wood­ed areas. 

Rather, they are set­tling into urban neigh­bor­hoods, fre­quent­ly in the grass strips bor­der­ing side­walks. When Childs accom­pa­nied Krueger on his rounds, the first of two dozen death caps dis­cov­ered that day were found in front of a house fes­tooned with Hal­loween dec­o­ra­tions. 

Now that they have estab­lished them­selves, the death caps can­not be roust­ed. No longer mere tourists, they’ve been seen mak­ing the jump to native oaks in Cal­i­for­nia and West­ern Cana­da.

Childs also notes that death caps are no longer a North Amer­i­can prob­lem:

They have spread world­wide where for­eign trees have been intro­duced into land­scap­ing and forestry prac­tices: North and South Amer­i­ca, New Zealand, Aus­tralia, South and East Africa, and Mada­gas­car. In Can­ber­ra, Aus­tralia, in 2012, an expe­ri­enced Chi­nese-born chef and his assis­tant pre­pared a New Year’s Eve din­ner that includ­ed, unbe­knownst to them, local­ly gath­ered death caps. Both died with­in two days, wait­ing for liv­er trans­plants; a guest at the din­ner also fell ill, but sur­vived after a suc­cess­ful trans­plant.

For­agers should pro­ceed with extreme cau­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Atlas of Mush­rooms: Edi­ble, Sus­pect and Poi­so­nous (1827)

A Stun­ning, Hand-Illus­trat­ed Book of Mush­rooms Drawn by an Over­looked 19th Cen­tu­ry Female Sci­en­tist

Alger­ian Cave Paint­ings Sug­gest Humans Did Mag­ic Mush­rooms 9,000 Years Ago

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Young David Attenborough Encounter Animals in Their Natural Habitats: Video from the 1950s and 1960s

Expe­ri­ence long ago con­ferred the man­tle of author­i­ty on broad­cast­er, biol­o­gist, nat­ur­al his­to­ri­an and author David Atten­bor­ough, age 97.

In his late 20s, he land­ed at the BBC, pro­duc­ing live stu­dio broad­casts that ran the gamut from children’s shows, bal­let per­for­mances and arche­o­log­i­cal quizzes to pro­grams focused on cook­ing, reli­gion and pol­i­tics.

When an edu­ca­tion­al show star­ring ani­mals from the Lon­don Zoo became a hit with view­ers, the pow­ers that be built on its pop­u­lar­i­ty with a fresh take — a show that sent the intre­pid young Atten­bor­ough around the world, seek­ing ani­mals in their native habi­tats. He was accom­pa­nied by cam­era­man Charles Lagus and two zool­o­gists, whom he quick­ly sup­plant­ed as host.

It made for thrilling view­ing in an era when wildlife tourism was avail­able to a very few.

The New York Times notes that many of the crea­tures who cropped up onscreen in these ear­ly Zoo Quest episodes were shipped back to Lon­don Zoo:

It is not the kind of mis­sion we approve of nowa­days, but with­out it the West might nev­er have got­ten inter­est­ed in wildlife to begin with. We start­ed by shoot­ing exot­ic species for their skins and bones and trap­ping them for our zoos, and only recent­ly moved to wor­ry­ing about their sur­vival in the wild and the health of the plan­et in gen­er­al. This his­to­ry is sym­bol­ized by the trans­for­ma­tion of Atten­bor­ough him­self from a talk­ing and writ­ing croc­o­dile hunter to the great­est liv­ing advo­cate of the glob­al ecosys­tem.

In Bor­neo in 1956, in search for Komo­do drag­ons, he paused for an encounter with an orang­utan, above, and also a big whiff of duri­an, the spiky, odif­er­ous fruit whose aro­ma famous­ly got it banned from Singapore’s ele­gant Raf­fles Hotel, with taxis, planes, sub­ways, and fer­ries fol­low­ing suit.

Soon there­after, the six-episode hunt for the Komo­do drag­on finds Atten­bor­ough in Java, mask­ing his nerves as he uses a cut­lass, a will­ing­ness to climb trees, and a cloth sack to get the bet­ter of a ful­ly grown python.

(Once the ser­pent was set­tled at the Lon­don Zoo, he made the trek to the BBC for an in-stu­dio appear­ance.)

You’ll note that this episode is in col­or.

Although Zoo Quest filmed in col­or, it aired ten years before col­or broad­casts were avail­able to UK view­ers, so most of the folks watch­ing at home assumed it had been shot in black and white.

In 1960, Atten­bor­ough used the lat­est — now severe­ly out­mod­ed-look­ing– tech­nol­o­gy to cap­ture the first audio record­ing of the indri, Madagascar’s largest lemur for Attenborough’s Won­der of Song.

This audio vic­to­ry led him to won­der if he could be the first to film an indri.

Frus­trat­ed by the thick canopy over­head, Atten­bor­ough resort­ed to play­back, suc­cess­ful­ly tempt­ing the ani­mals to not only come clos­er, but do so while vocal­iz­ing.

Mat­ing calls?

No. Atten­bor­ough deduced that they were the indris’ “bat­tle songs”, issued as a warn­ing to the per­ceived threat of unfa­mil­iar indris.

In 2011, Atten­bor­ough returned to Mada­gas­car, lis­ten­ing respect­ful­ly to Joseph, a local hunter turned con­ser­va­tion­ist, who explains how the local pop­u­lace no longer think of indri as a food source, but rather a sym­bol of their com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing the nat­ur­al world around them. Joseph’s rela­tion­ship with the indri affords Sir David a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty, as the indri feed from his hand:

Fifty years ago, I spent days and days and days search­ing through the for­est, with these fir­ing their noise over­head but now this group is so accus­tomed to see­ing peo­ple around that I have been right close up to them, some­thing I nev­er believed could have be pos­si­ble. 

Read more about David Atten­bor­ough’s Zoo Quest expe­ri­ences in his mem­oir, Adven­tures of a Young Nat­u­ral­ist, and watch a playlist of doc­u­men­taries for the BBC here.

via TheKidsShould­SeeThis

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Net­flix Makes Doc­u­men­taries Free to Stream: Design, Pol­i­tics, Sports, Sir David Atten­bor­ough & More

David Atten­bor­ough Reads “What a Won­der­ful World” in a Mov­ing Video

Björk and Sir David Atten­bor­ough Team Up in a New Doc­u­men­tary About Music and Tech­nol­o­gy

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Cats Migrated to Europe 7,000 Years Earlier Than Once Thought

The ani­mals were imper­fect,


unfor­tu­nate in their heads.

Lit­tle by lit­tle they

put them­selves togeth­er,

mak­ing them­selves a land­scape,

acquir­ing spots, grace, flight.

The cat,

only the cat

appeared com­plete and proud:

he was born com­plete­ly fin­ished,

walk­ing alone and know­ing what he want­ed.

- Pablo Neru­da, excerpt from Ode to the Cat

We find our­selves in agree­ment with Nobel Prize-win­ning poet, and cat lover, Pablo Neru­da:

Those of us who pro­vide for felines choose to believe we are “the own­er, pro­pri­etor, uncle of a cat, com­pan­ion, col­league, dis­ci­ple or friend of (our) cat”, when in fact they are mys­te­ri­ous beasts, far more self-con­tained than the com­pan­ion­able, inquis­i­tive canine Neru­da immor­tal­ized in Ode to the Dog.

We can bestow names and social media accounts on cats of our acquain­tance, chan­nel them on the steps of the Met Gala, attach GPS track­ers to their col­lars, give them pride of place­ment in books for chil­dren and adults, and try our best to get inside their heads, but what do we know about them, real­ly?

We even got their his­to­ry wrong.

Com­mon knowl­edge once held that cats made their way to north­ern Europe from the Mediter­ranean aboard Roman — and even­tu­al­ly Viking — ships some­time between the 3rd to 7th cen­tu­ry CE, but it turns out we were off by mil­len­nia.

In 2016, a team of researchers col­lab­o­rat­ing on the Five Thou­sand Years of His­to­ry of Domes­tic Cats in Cen­tral Europe project con­firmed the pres­ence of domes­tic cats dur­ing the Roman peri­od in the area that is now north­ern Poland, using a com­bi­na­tion of zooar­chae­ol­o­gy, genet­ics and absolute dat­ing.

More recent­ly, the team turned their atten­tion to Felis bones found in south­ern Poland and Ser­bia, deter­min­ing the ones found in the Jas­na Strze­gows­ka Cave to be Pre-Neolith­ic (5990–5760 BC), while the Ser­bian kit­ties hail from the Mesolith­ic-Neolitic era (6220–5730 BC).

In addi­tion to clar­i­fy­ing our under­stand­ing of how our pet cats’ ances­tors arrived in Cen­tral Europe from Egypt and the Fer­tile Cres­cent, the project seeks to “iden­ti­fy phe­no­typ­ic fea­tures relat­ed to domes­ti­ca­tion, such as phys­i­cal appear­ance, includ­ing body size and coat col­or; behav­ior, for exam­ple, reduced aggres­sion; and pos­si­ble phys­i­o­log­i­cal adap­ta­tions to digest anthro­pogenic food.”

Regard­ing non-anthro­pogenic food, a spike in the Late Neolith­ic East­ern Euro­pean house mouse pop­u­la­tion exhibits some nifty over­lap with these ancient cat bones’ new­ly attached dates, though Dr. Dani­jela Popović, who super­vised the pro­jec­t’s pale­o­ge­neti­cians, reports that the cats’ arrival in Europe pre­ced­ed that of the first farm­ers:

These cats prob­a­bly were still wild ani­mals that nat­u­ral­ly col­o­nized Cen­tral Europe.

We’re will­ing to believe they estab­lished a bulk­head, then hung around, wait­ing until the humans showed up before imple­ment­ing the next phase of their plan — self-domes­ti­ca­tion.

Read the research team’s “his­to­ry of the domes­tic cat in Cen­tral Europe” here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Preda­tor to Sofa Side­kick

A 110-Year-Old Book Illus­trat­ed with Pho­tos of Kit­tens & Cats Taught Kids How to Read

Cats in Medieval Man­u­scripts & Paint­ings

via Big Think

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day, human ser­vant of two feline Mail­room Böyz, is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Parrots Taught to FaceTime Each Other Become Less Lonely, a New Study Shows

It’s telling that the avian par­tic­i­pants in a recent study where­in pet par­rots, assist­ed by their own­ers, learned to make video calls to oth­ers of their kind were recruit­ed from the online edu­ca­tion­al forum Par­rot Kinder­garten.

In the above footage, the humans’ hope­ful, high-pitched cajol­ing, as they encour­age their birds to inter­act with a new “friend”, car­ries a strong whiff of those Mom­my and Me class­es where a dozen or so adults sit cross­legged in a cir­cle, shak­ing tam­bourines and bright­ly war­bling “Twin­kle, Twin­kle, Lit­tle Star,” while an equal num­ber of tod­dlers wan­der around, marked­ly less invest­ed in the pro­ceed­ings.

Though, real­ly, who am I to judge? I don’t have a par­rot, and it’s been over two decades since my youngest child required parental inter­fer­ence to foment social inter­ac­tion…

Eigh­teen pet par­rots enrolled in the study, hang­ing out with one anoth­er dur­ing self-ini­ti­at­ed video chats, to see how and if such inter­ac­tions might improve their qual­i­ty of life.

No one was forced to make a call if they weren’t feel­ing it, or to remain on the line after their inter­est flagged.

I’m hunch­ing the aver­age parrot’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy clocks in far south of the aver­age Amer­i­can toddler’s, which may explain why they com­plet­ed a mere 147 calls over the course of two months (and 1000 hours of com­bined footage.)

That said, I can eas­i­ly imag­ine a sce­nario in which the aver­age human tod­dler, hav­ing suc­cess­ful­ly got­ten their beak, excuse me, hands on a touch­screen tablet, los­es all inter­est in Face­Tim­ing with a peer, pre­fer­ring the soli­tary plea­sures of Bal­loon Pop or Peek-a-Zoo.

Typ­i­cal­ly, human tod­dlers have more oppor­tu­ni­ties for “inter­species eth­i­cal enrich­ment” than crea­tures whose lives are pri­mar­i­ly spent in a cage. As the authors of the study note, “over 20 mil­lion par­rots are kept as pets in the US, often lack­ing appro­pri­ate stim­uli to meet their high social, cog­ni­tive, and emo­tion­al needs.”

The par­rot par­tic­i­pants may not have thrown them­selves into the pro­ceed­ings with the vig­or of Bye Bye Birdie’s teenaged tele­phone cho­rus, but all placed calls, the major­i­ty exhib­it­ed “high moti­va­tion and inten­tion­al­i­ty”, and their humans indi­cat­ed that they would glad­ly con­tin­ue to facil­i­tate this social exper­i­ment.

The human con­tri­bu­tion is not incon­sid­er­able here. It took vast amounts of time and patience to ori­ent the birds to the sys­tem, and care­ful mon­i­tor­ing to make sure calls didn’t run off the rails. Noth­ing like hav­ing your iPad screen smashed by a par­rot who’s got beef in an online forum…

Sev­er­al legit friend­ships formed over the course of the exper­i­ment — a Goffin’s cock­a­too and an African grey who made each other’s vir­tu­al acquain­tance dur­ing the pilot study were still chat­ting, a year after they met.

Data col­lect­ed in the field shows that the num­ber and dura­tion of out­go­ing calls were close­ly tied to the num­ber and dura­tion of incom­ing calls. The most pop­u­lar birdies did not take their con­nec­tions for grant­ed.

It’s a find­ing humans would do well to absorb if we are to com­bat feel­ings of iso­la­tion from with­in our own species.

Read Birds of a Feath­er Video-Flock Togeth­er: Design and Eval­u­a­tion of an Agency-Based Par­rot-to-Par­rot Video-Call­ing Sys­tem for Inter­species Eth­i­cal Enrich­ment here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What Kind of Bird Is That?: A Free App From Cor­nell Will Give You the Answer

Explore an Inter­ac­tive Ver­sion of The Wall of Birds, a 2,500 Square-Foot Mur­al That Doc­u­ments the Evo­lu­tion of Birds Over 375 Mil­lion Years

Cor­nell Launch­es Archive of 150,000 Bird Calls and Ani­mal Sounds, with Record­ings Going Back to 1929

Par­rot Sings AC/DCs “Whole Lot­ta Rosie”

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


Behold 900+ Magnificent Botanical Collages Created by a 72-Year-Old Widow, Starting in 1772

“I have invent­ed a new way of imi­tat­ing flow­ers,” Mary Delany, a 72-year-old wid­ow wrote to her niece in 1772 from the grand home where she was a fre­quent guest, hav­ing just cap­tured her host­ess’ gera­ni­um’s like­ness, by col­lag­ing cut paper in a near­ly iden­ti­cal shade.

Nov­el­ty rekin­dled the cre­ative fire her husband’s death had damp­ened.

For­mer pur­suits such as needle­work, sil­hou­ette cut outs, and shell dec­o­rat­ing went by the way­side as she ded­i­cat­ed her­self ful­ly to her botan­i­cal-themed “paper mosaicks.”

Over the next decade Mrs. Delany pro­duced 985 aston­ish­ing­ly flo­ral rep­re­sen­ta­tions from metic­u­lous­ly cut, hand col­ored tis­sue, which she glued to hand paint­ed black back­ings, and labeled with the spec­i­mens’ tax­o­nom­ic and com­mon names, as well as a col­lec­tion of num­bers, date and prove­nance.

In the begin­ning, she took inspi­ra­tion from a giant col­lec­tion of botan­i­cal spec­i­mens amassed by the cel­e­brat­ed botanist Sir Joseph Banks, with whom she became acquaint­ed while spend­ing sum­mers at Bul­strode, the Buck­ing­hamshire estate of her friend Mar­garet Bentinck, duchess of Port­land and a fel­low enthu­si­ast of the nat­ur­al world.

Bul­strode also pro­vid­ed her with abun­dant source mate­r­i­al. The estate boast­ed botan­ic, flower, kitchen, ancient and Amer­i­can gar­dens, as well a staff botanist, the Swedish nat­u­ral­ist Daniel Solan­der charged with cat­a­logu­ing their con­tents accord­ing to the Lin­naean sys­tem.

Sir Joseph Banks com­mend­ed Mrs. Delany’s pow­ers of obser­va­tion, declar­ing her assem­blages “the only imi­ta­tions of nature” from which he “could ven­ture to describe botan­i­cal­ly any plant with­out the least fear of com­mit­ting an error.”

They also suc­ceed as art.

Mol­ly Pea­cock, author of The Paper Gar­den: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, appears quite over­come by Mrs. Delany’s Pas­si­flo­ra lau­ri­fo­lia — more com­mon­ly known as water lemon, Jamaican hon­ey­suck­le or vine­gar pear:

The main flower head … is so intense­ly pub­lic that it’s as if you’ve come upon a nude stody. She splays out approx­i­mate­ly 230 shock­ing­ly vul­vu­lar pur­plish pink petals in the bloom, and inside the leaves she places the slen­der­est of ivory veins also cut sep­a­rate­ly from paper, with vine ten­drils fin­er that a girl’s hair. It is so fresh that it looks wet and full of desire, yet the Pas­si­flo­ra is dull and mat­te

Mrs. Delany’s exquis­ite­ly ren­dered paper flow­ers became high soci­ety sen­sa­tions, fetch­ing her no small amount of invi­ta­tions from titled hosts and host­esses, clam­or­ing for spec­i­mens from their gar­dens to be immor­tal­ized in her grow­ing Flo­ra Delan­i­ca.

She also received dona­tions of exot­ic plants at Bal­strode, where green­hous­es kept non-native plants alive, as she glee­ful­ly informed her niece in a 1777 let­ter, short­ly after com­plet­ing her work:

I am so plen­ti­ful­ly sup­plied with the hot­house here, and from the Queen’s gar­den at Kew, that nat­ur­al plants have been a good deal laid aside this year for for­eign­ers, but not less in favour. O! How I long to show you the progress I have made. 

Her work was in such demand, that she stream­lined her cre­ation process from neces­si­ty, col­or­ing paper in batch­es, and work­ing on sev­er­al pieces simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.

Her fail­ing eye­sight forced her to stop just shy of her goal of one thou­sand flow­ers.

She ded­i­cat­ed the ten vol­umes of Flo­ra Delan­i­ca to her friend, the duchess of Port­land, mis­tress of Bal­strode “(whose) appro­ba­tion was such a sanc­tion to my under­tak­ing, as made it appear of con­se­quence and gave me courage to go on with con­fi­dence.”

She also reflect­ed on the great under­tak­ing of her sev­enth decade in a poem:

        Hail to the hap­py hour! When fan­cy led

My pen­sive mind this flow’ry path to tread;

And gave me emu­la­tion to pre­sume

With timid art to trace fair Nature’s bloom.

Explore The British Museum’s inter­ac­tive archive of Mary Delany’s botan­i­cal paper col­lages here.

All images © The Trustees of the British Muse­um, repub­lished under a Cre­ative Com­mons license.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Two Mil­lion Won­drous Nature Illus­tra­tions Put Online by The Bio­di­ver­si­ty Her­itage Library

Dis­cov­er Emi­ly Dickinson’s Herbar­i­um: A Beau­ti­ful Dig­i­tal Edi­tion of the Poet’s Col­lec­tion of Pressed Plants & Flow­ers Is Now Online

The New Herbal: A Mas­ter­piece of Renais­sance Botan­i­cal Illus­tra­tions Gets Repub­lished in a Beau­ti­ful 900-Page Book by Taschen

His­toric Man­u­script Filled with Beau­ti­ful Illus­tra­tions of Cuban Flow­ers & Plants Is Now Online (1826)

A Beau­ti­ful 1897 Illus­trat­ed Book Shows How Flow­ers Become Art Nou­veau Designs

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Archaeologists May Have Discovered a Secret Language in Lascaux & Chauvet Cave Paintings, Perhaps Revealing a 20,000-Year-Old “Proto-Writing” System

Care to take a guess what your smart phone has in com­mon with Pale­olith­ic cave paint­ings of Las­caux, Chau­vet and Altami­ra?

Both can be used to track fer­til­i­ty.

Admit­ted­ly, you’re prob­a­bly not using your phone to stay atop the repro­duc­tive cycles of rein­deer, salmon, and birds, but such infor­ma­tion was of crit­i­cal inter­est to our hunter-gath­er­er ances­tors.

Know­ing how cru­cial an under­stand­ing of ani­mal behav­ior would have been to ear­ly humans led Lon­don-based fur­ni­ture con­ser­va­tor Ben Bacon to recon­sid­er what pur­pose might have been served by non-fig­u­ra­tive mark­ings — slash­es, dots, and Y‑shapes — on the cave walls’ 20,000-year-old images.

Their mean­ing had long elud­ed esteemed pro­fes­sion­als. The marks seemed like­ly to be numer­ic, but to what end?

Bacon put for­ward that they doc­u­ment­ed ani­mal lives, using a lunar cal­en­dar.

The ama­teur researcher assem­bled a team that includ­ed experts from the fields of math­e­mat­ics, arche­ol­o­gy, and psy­chol­o­gy, who ana­lyzed the data, com­pared it to the sea­son­al behav­iors of mod­ern ani­mals, and agreed that the num­bers rep­re­sent­ed by the dots and slash­es are not car­di­nal, but rather an ordi­nal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of months. 

As Bacon told All Things Con­sid­ered his fel­low self-taught anthro­po­log­i­cal researcher, sci­ence jour­nal­ist Alexan­der Mar­shack, came close to crack­ing the code in the 1970s:

… but he was­n’t actu­al­ly able to demon­strate the sys­tem because he thought that these indi­vid­ual lines were days. What we did is we said, actu­al­ly, they’re months because a hunter-gath­er­er does­n’t need to know what day a rein­deer migrates. They need to know what month the rein­deer migrates. And once you use these months units, this whole sys­tem responds very, very well to that.

As to the fre­quent­ly occur­ring sym­bol that resem­bles a Y, it indi­cates the months in which var­i­ous female ani­mal birthed their young. Bacon and his team the­o­rize in the Cam­bridge Arche­o­log­i­cal Jour­nal that this mark may even con­sti­tute “the first known exam­ple of an ‘action‘ word, i.e. a verb (‘to give birth’).

Tak­en togeth­er, the cave paint­ings and non-fig­u­ra­tive mark­ings tell an age-old cir­cu­lar tale of the migra­tion, birthing and mat­ing of aurochs, birds, bison, caprids, cervids, fish, hors­es, mam­moths, and rhi­nos … and like snakes and wolver­ines, too, though they were exclud­ed from the study on basis of “excep­tion­al­ly low num­bers.”

Ear­ly humans were able to log months by observ­ing the moon, but how could they tell when a new year had begun, essen­tial infor­ma­tion for any­one seek­ing to arrange their lives around their prey’s pre­vi­ous­ly doc­u­ment­ed activ­i­ties?

Bacon and his peers, like so many poets and farm­ers, look to the rites of spring:

The obvi­ous event is the so-called ‘bonne sai­son’, a French zooar­chae­o­log­i­cal term for the time at the end of win­ter when rivers unfreeze, the snow melts, and the land­scape begins to green.

Read the con­clu­sions of their study here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Alger­ian Cave Paint­ings Sug­gest Humans Did Mag­ic Mush­rooms 9,000 Years Ago

Was a 32,000-Year-Old Cave Paint­ing the Ear­li­est Form of Cin­e­ma?

40,000-Year-Old Sym­bols Found in Caves World­wide May Be the Ear­li­est Writ­ten Lan­guage

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


A Stunning, Hand-Illustrated Book of Mushrooms Drawn by an Overlooked 19th Century Female Scientist

Mush­rooms have qui­et­ly become super­stars of the glob­al stage.

Sure, not every­one likes them on piz­za, but who cares?

In the 21st-cen­tu­ry, they are hailed as role mod­els and poten­tial plan­et savers (not to men­tion a wild­ly pop­u­lar design motif…)

Time-lapse cin­e­matog­ra­phy pio­neer Louie Schwartzberg’s crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed doc­u­men­tary, Fan­tas­tic Fun­gi, has made experts of us all.

Go back a cen­tu­ry, and such knowl­edge was much hard­er won, requir­ing time, patience, and prox­im­i­ty to field or for­est.

Wit­ness Fun­gi col­lect­ed in Shrop­shire and oth­er neigh­bor­hoods, a hand­bound, hand-illus­trat­ed 3‑volume col­lec­tion by one Miss M. F. Lewis, of Lud­low, Eng­land.

Miss Lewis, a tal­ent­ed artist with an obvi­ous pas­sion for mycol­o­gy spent over 40 years painstak­ing­ly doc­u­ment­ing the spec­i­mens she ran across in England’s West Mid­lands region.

Each draw­ing or water­col­or is iden­ti­fied in Miss Lewis’ hand by its sub­jec­t’s sci­en­tif­ic name. The loca­tion in which it was found is duti­ful­ly not­ed, as is the date.

The hun­dreds of species she cap­tured with pen and brush between 1860 and 1902 def­i­nite­ly con­sti­tute a life’s work, and also an unpub­lished one.

Cor­nell University’s Mann Library, where the only copy of this pre­cious record is housed, has man­aged to truf­fle up but a sin­gle ref­er­ence to Miss Lewis’ sci­en­tif­ic myco­log­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion.

Eng­lish botanist William Phillips, writ­ing in an 1880 issue of the Trans­ac­tions of the Shrop­shire Archae­o­log­i­cal and Nat­ur­al His­to­ry Soci­ety, not­ed that he been “per­mit­ted to look over [a work] of very much excel­lence exe­cut­ed by Miss M. F. Lewis, of Lud­low”, adding that “sev­er­al rare species [of fun­gi] are very artis­ti­cal­ly rep­re­sent­ed.“

The his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of Miss Lewis’ work extends beyond the fun­gal realm.

As Sage writes in Miss­ing Miss­es in Mycol­o­gy, a post on the Mann Library’s Tum­blr cel­e­brat­ing Miss Lewis and her con­tem­po­rary, Eng­lish mycol­o­gist and illus­tra­tor, Sarah Price, women’s work was often omit­ted from the offi­cial sci­en­tif­ic record:

While we’re now see­ing con­sid­er­able effort to rec­ti­fy the record, the dis­cov­ery of untold sto­ries to fill in the blanks can be tricky busi­ness. It’s not that the sto­ries nev­er hap­pened — the field of botany, for one, is replete with some pret­ty spec­tac­u­lar evi­dence of women’s (often unac­knowl­edged) engage­ment with sci­en­tif­ic inquiry, embod­ied in the detailed illus­tra­tions that cap­tured the insights of obser­va­tions from the nat­ur­al world. But the pub­lished his­tor­i­cal record is often woe­ful­ly scant when it comes to clos­er detail on the lives and careers of the women who have helped car­ry mod­ern sci­ence for­ward.

We may nev­er learn any­thing more about the par­tic­u­lars of Miss Lewis’ train­ing or per­son­al cir­cum­stances, but the care she took to pre­serve her own work turned out to be a great gift for future gen­er­a­tions.

Leaf through all three vol­umes of Miss M.F. Lewis’ Fun­gi col­lect­ed in Shrop­shire and oth­er neigh­bor­hoods on the Inter­net Archive:

Vol­ume I

Vol­ume II

Vol­ume III

Via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed Con­tent 

John Cage Had a Sur­pris­ing Mush­room Obses­sion (Which Began with His Pover­ty in the Depres­sion)

How Mush­room Time-Laps­es Are Filmed: A Glimpse Into the Pio­neer­ing Time-Lapse Cin­e­matog­ra­phy Behind the Net­flix Doc­u­men­tary Fan­tas­tic Fun­gi

The Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Atlas of Mush­rooms: Edi­ble, Sus­pect and Poi­so­nous (1827)

Alger­ian Cave Paint­ings Sug­gest Humans Did Mag­ic Mush­rooms 9,000 Years Ago

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

How Plants Move in a 24-Hour Period

Neat to watch. Learn more about how plants move over on this Penn State web site.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.