strange behaviors

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  • Reviews for Richard Conniff’s Books


    Ending Epidemics: A History of Escape from Contagion: “Ending Epidemics is an important book, deeply and lovingly researched, written with precision and elegance, a sweeping story of centuries of human battle with infectious disease. Conniff is a brilliant historian with a jeweler’s eye for detail. I think the book is a masterpiece.” Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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20,000-Year-Old Cave Art from Borneo Depicts Humans Dancing

Posted by Richard Conniff on November 6, 2018

by Richard Conniff

A new study in the journal Nature dates this depiction of humans dancing to between 13,600 and 20,000 years ago. But I have to admit that the big news, for the researchers, is actually that another image from the same caves in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, is the oldest known figurative art of any kind, and it depicts an unidentified animal.

Let’s go to the press release (but stick around because my heart is in the dancing  and we are going to get back to that topic shortly):

The world’s earliest-known figurative painting is identified in a paper published online this week in Nature. The cave painting, from Borneo, depicts an indeterminate animal and dates back to at least 40,000 years ago.

The limestone caves of Borneo’s East Kalimantan province contain thousands of rock art images, grouped into three phases: red-orange paintings of animals (mainly wild cattle) and hand stencils; younger, mulberry-coloured hand stencils and intricate motifs, alongside depictions of humans; and a final phase of human figures, boats and geometric designs in black pigment. However, the exact timing of these works had been unclear.

Maxime Aubert and colleagues studied a large, red-orange coloured painting of an indeterminate animal in the Lubang Jeriji Saléh cave. Using a uranium-series analysis, the authors date the limestone crusts that have grown over the art. They determine a minimum age for the underlying painting of 40,000 years, making it the oldest-known figurative depiction.

Two other red-orange hand stencils from the same cave have minimum ages of 37,200 years, and a third had a maximum age of 51,800 years old. From these timings, the authors conclude that rock art locally developed in Borneo between around 52,000 and 40,000 years ago, at roughly the same time as the earliest known art from Europe attributed to modern humans. They additionally date several paintings from the mulberry-coloured art phase to between 21,000–20,000 years ago. This later phase is evidence for a cultural change from depicting large animals to consistently representing the human world.

But, even though I love animals, the dancing reminded me of an art exhibit I saw in Denver a few years ago, about dancing, and it gives me a chance to post some of those images here today.

Let’s say it’s to celebrate voting and the persistence of the democratic spirit.  Here we go:

“Dance of the Haymakers” by William Sidney Mount

“Capri Girl on a Rooftop” by John Singer Sargent

Bull Dance, Mandan O-kee-pa Ceremony, by George Carlin

“Cowboy Dance” by Jenne Magafan

“The Egyptian Dancers” by Anne Estelle Rice

“Girls Dancing” by Abastenia St. Leger Eberle


That’s it for now. Wear your “I voted” sticker proudly and may your heart be light and your dancing graceful.

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