As we have seen at the beginning of the week with the Gibeon meteorites, thousands of years ago, massive meteorites crashed on land in Namibia. Up until recent times, the local people were using the iron from these rocks to build tools and weapons.
In many cases around the world, the colonialists/foreigners/invaders have taken the meteorites, or large parts of them, from the native people who had used them for centuries. The one case where this has not happened is in the case of the Hoba meteorite, also located in Namibia like the Gibeon meteorites. Estimated to weigh a bit over 60 tons, the Hoba meteorite has remained too heavy to move since its fall on earth 80,000 years ago. It was buried until its discovery in 1920 by a farmer who was plowing his land. Since it has been found, its size has dwindled to about 60 tons today from 66 tons at the time of its uncovering, due to pieces getting chipped for scientific research, vandalism, and weathering.
All experts agree that the Hoba meteorite is the biggest intact meteorite ever found on earth to date. It is located about 20 km west of the city of Grootfontein, in the Otjozondjupa Region of Namibia. It is estimated that it fell on earth about 80,000 years ago. The meteorite has an overall area of 2.70 x 2.20 m at a height of about 1 m, and is estimated to be between 200 to 400 million years old. Like the Gibeon meteorites, it consists mostly of iron (82.4 %) and nickel (16.4 %) with traces of cobalt and some other elements. It was named Hobaafter the Hoba Farm located in the Otavi Mountains. The word Hobaitself comes from a Khoekhoegowabword which means ‘gift‘; at 60 tons, it is indeed quite a gift! In the early 1950s, an American research laboratory tried to have it moved, but it would not budge! Maybe the ancestors were against their gift to the Namibian people being moved away?… who knows?
It was declared a National Monument in 1955. Wouldn’t it be nice to stand on top of the Hoba meteorite and contemplate its extraterrestrial origin, and its age, imagining life 200 to 400 million years ago.
Several thousand years ago, a massive meteorite crashed on land in Namibia. A large portion of space rocks were found not too far from the village of Gibeon in Namibia, thus the name Gibeon meteorites. The local Nama people, and their ancestors before them, used to make metal iron tools and weapons from these rocks. In more recent times, in 1838, Captain J.E. Alexander stumbled upon them during his travels and sent specimens to the world famous astronomer John Herschel in England, who also named the 7moons of Saturn and the 4moons of Uranus; Herschel identified the Gibeon meteorites as extraterrestrial.
Since then, over 150 meteorites have been tracked and recovered, although some of the more valuable specimens have been stolen or smuggled out of the country or donated to various research institutions around the world. In 1950, 30 of these prehistoric extraterrestrial wonders were declared National Monument. Today, they are exposed on the Post Street Mall in the capital Windhoek. Additionally, all meteorites found in Namibia are automatically protected and classified as National Monuments, and must not be removed from where they have been found or damaged in any way.
The Gibeon meteorites are rich in iron, nickel, and small amounts of cobalt. More nickel has been found in them compared to some other meteorites found elsewhere. The rock is crystalline when polished and etched. The strewnfield for Gibeon meteorites is perhaps the largest in the world.
If you ever visit Windhoek, please do not forget to stroll down Post Street Mall, and enjoy these prehistoric extraterrestrial wonders, and remember that some of our ancestors’ tools came from these.
A while back, I told you aboutthe Mpemba effect, a physics effect demonstrated by a Tanzanian high school student in 1963, Erasto Mpemba, whereby hot water freezes faster than cold water. This is a ‘modern’ (after the 1960s) physics law made in Africa, by an African high schooler, and named after an African (history is full of cases of ‘intellectual’ misnaming i.e. naming the work of an African or others after a European).
More recently, scientists John Bechhoefer at Simon Fraser University in Canada, and colleagues, have experimentally demonstrated the Mpemba effect in reverse, also calledinverse Mpemba effect, where they observed that under specific conditions a cold particle will heat up faster than a warmer counterpart. The team used optical tweezers to create a tilted double-well potential that confined a colloidal particle, and then measured the particle’s response as a function of its initial temperature. The new measurements indicate the inverse Mpemba effect is much weaker than the conventional, forward effect. The work also experimentally corroborates some of the predicted mechanisms behind both the forward and the inverse effects. The findings were published in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesin January.Excerpts below are fromPhysics Today; check out the full article which also goes into detail about Erasto Mpemba, and explains the effect in depth.Enjoy!
In 1963, a 13-year-old Tanzanian student named Erasto Mpemba and his secondary school classmates were tasked with making ice cream. There was limited room in the freezers, and he found himself falling behind other students. His classmates were boiling milk for the treat, then letting the mixture cool before placing it in the freezer. To stay on track, Mpemba put his hot concoction straight into the freezer. Checking on the dessert some time later, he found it perfectly frozen, while his classmates’ remained liquid.
The idea of water freezing faster when it starts at a higher temperature was christened the Mpemba effect after he published the finding in 1969 with physicist Denis Osborne. …
… a decade ago, computational chemists simulated water molecules and observed the Mpemba effect despite the absence of the supposedly necessary mechanisms. Recently, researchers have also observed the effect in other liquids and magnetic alloys, which indicates that causes specific to water, like hydrogen bonds, cannot fully explain the effect. Further complicating the investigation of the Mpemba effect is that many water-based experiments involve a phase transition between liquid and ice, which is dependent on conditions like the container and environment; that makes measurements hard to obtain and extremely difficult to reproduce.
… Bechhoefer and his team used a simple and unambiguous definition to measure the inverse Mpemba effect: the time it takes a system that starts at one equilibrium temperature to reach another, higher temperature. By using a single colloidal particle, they avoided the unnecessary complications of phase transitions in water and other systems.
In their experiment, optical tweezers create a force and thus a potential in which the particle moves. The potential is a tilted double well, … . The particle can settle into two different local minima, the left or the right valley. The potential qualitatively mimics the states of supercooled water: One local minimum has a slightly higher free energy, representing liquid (left), and the other, representing solid ice (right), has a lower free energy because that state is favored.
… To get the same quality of results observed for the forward Mpemba effect, the team had to perform five times the number of trials—5000 rather than 1000—and they believe they know why. In the forward effect, particles fall quickly into one of the two potential wells. The fraction in the left and the fraction in the right, in general, differ from the fractions that should probabilistically be in each well in equilibrium, after the system has settled to its final temperature. That difference leads to a second, slower step, in which particles hop the barrier into the other well until the correct fractions are attained. If the barrier is tall, the process can be slow and create a sharp separation in time between the initial drop into the well and the hopping. When the Mpemba effect is working at its strongest, the hopping is minimal and the relaxation time to the final equilibrium temperature is short.
The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of upheavals around the world. Apparently, it was not all bad, as it has allowed for some gems to be uncovered and some local economies to focus on internal development vs being turned out to the outside. AfricaNews recently reported that the demand for African software developers has increased as a result of the pandemic. Below are excerpts from theAfricaNewsarticle. Will this trend keep up and help to counter the African Brain drain?
The demand for African computer software developers skyrocketed in 2021 due to the global economic crisis, and of course, Covid 19 also played a role, a new Google report reveals.
In the Africa Developer Ecosystem report, data was gathered from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
In an interview with 1,600 software developers, Google discovered that 38% of African developers work for at least one company based outside of the continent.
“Across the continent, the pool of professional developers increased by 3.8% year on year. The total number of developers in Africa is now 716,000,” the survey discloses.
In what may seem like a confirmation to the findings by google, recent research, highlighting the dynamic and growing market for the continent’s technical talent over the last two years also showed that Four out of every ten African software developers now work for at least one company based outside of the continent, while five work for local start-ups.
A 22% rise in the use of the internet by small and medium-sized businesses in Africa, a record fundraising streak by local startups in 2021 and demand for remote tech workers in more mature markets are all factors attributed to the rising awareness of Africa’s software development talent.
“Increased global demand for remote tech talent, which was enhanced by the pandemic, created more remote employment opportunities for African developers,” said Google.
Is there a child on this planet who has gone to high school and not been taught the Pythagorean Theorem in some shape or form? I am not sure that many African children know that the so-called Pythagorean Theorem was written by their ancestors over 1000 years before Pythagoras was born, and on African soil. You heard me right: Pythagorean Theorem was written on the Berlin Papyrus or Berlin Papyrus 6619, a papyrus from ancient Egypt from the Middle Kingdom. This papyrus dates back from the second half of the 12th (c. 1990–1800 BC) or 13th Dynasty (c. 1800 BC – 1649 BC).
The papyrus is one of the primary sources of ancient Egyptian mathematical and medical knowledge, including the first known documentation concerning pregnancy test procedures. See our ancestors were already trying to test pregnancy! Amazing!
The first problem found on the Berlin Papyrus states, “You are told the area of a square of 100 square cubits is equal to that of two smaller squares. The side of one is ½ + ¼ the side of the other. What are the sides of the two unknown squares.” In modern terms, we would express this as x2 + y2 = 100 and x = (3/4)y, yielding to y = 8, and x = 6. Although the papyrus shows a solution using Egyptian multiplication and a somewhat different way of solving it today, it is understood that they most likely had a good knowledge of the Pythagorean Theorem. It is written in Hieratic script.
Next time you visit the Egyptian Museum Berlin, don’t just look at the bust of Queen Nefertiti which is next to the Berlin Papyrus and dwarfs it, but check it out also.
As we continue to learn more about Lucy, and the origin of mankind, I thought of sharing the video below. It is a short interview of Donald Johanson who found Lucy in 1974 in the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia. It is “In Conversation with Donald Johanson, a film by Pierangelo Pirak” on the BBC Earth. It is just a snippets, but it helps to perceive the change that occurred with the discovery of Lucy in our understanding of the human evolution and origin. There are definitely other documentaries, much longer that will give more information, but this is to wet your appetite. Since the discovery of Lucy, more Australopithecus afarensis have been found, and even older remains like those of the Kenyantropus platyops (3.5 million years) or the Ardipithecus (dated 4.4 million years). Enjoy!
Now, you might ask, why is she called Lucy? Well, because the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky withDiamonds” was playing on the radio when the archaeologists found her remains. Thus the name Lucy. Lucy belongs to the species of Australopithecus afarensis; afarensisfor the Afar region of Ethiopia where she was found. She is one of the most important fossils ever discovered. Her discovery helped solidify the idea that Africa was the cradle of humanity, and a crucial hub for human evolution. Before Lucy, the skeleton of the Taung child dated to about 2.8 million years old had been found in South Africa in 1924, but European archaeologists and scientists refused to admit (as always) that Africa could be important in the study of human evolution. As always, they thought that Europe and Asia were the centers. Aren’t we tired of this Eurocentric view of the world which pretends to give meaning to everything it does not understand? Oh Mama Africa, your beauty and splendor is truly too much for these people that they have to keep denying your place and importance in the world!
Lucy was an upright walker, i.e. she walked standing up, thus dating the bipedalism observed in humans to at least 3.2 million years. She was only about 1 meter tall (3.5 feet). Lucy was a full-grown adult, because she had wisdom teeth and her bones had fused. Unlike modern humans, it would seem that she had grown to full size very quickly, and was about 12 years old when she died. From a 2006 study, the findings of a 3-year-oldAustralopithecus afarensis suggested that their brains reached their full size much earlier than modern human’s does. Lucy was ape-like in appearance and brain size, but could walk upright like more advanced hominins that lived later like the Taung child (2.8 million years) or the Australopitecus sediba (2.2 million years old). She had powerful arms and long curved toes that paleontologists think allowed her to climb trees as well as walk upright.
Lucy’s finding marked a turning point in our understanding of humanity, and the human lineage. She is a treasure, and although older skeletons have since then been found like the Kenyantropus platyops (3.5 million years) or the Ardipithecus (dated 4.4 million years), she remains a treasure. No wonder, Ethiopians call her Dinkineshor “you are marvelous” or “marvelous one“, for Lucy truly is marvelous as she has allowed to place Africa back at the center as the cradle of humanity (Africa was always at the center, but some Eurocentric views would not let her shine). If you are ever in Addis Ababa, please do not forget to visit her (her cast) at the National Museum of Ethiopia . Enjoy!
As I read the account of Dr. Robert W. Felkin of a successful C-section in the Bunyoro kingdom, I could not help but realize that in Africa, and particularly in this instance in the Bunyoro kingdomthere was superior anesthetics, antiseptics, and advanced medicine which allowed them, at a time when in Europe this was considered a desperate measure performed only on dying mothers, to successfully deliver both mother and child.
One important oddity in Felkin’s account is the illustration of the native doctor and his assistants and the pregnant mother. Note that in his written account, Felkin said of the woman that, “she was perfectly naked. A band of mbugu or bark cloth fastened her thorax to the bed, another band of cloth fastened down her thighs…” The oddity is in the drawing: why would Felkin draw the native doctor and the assistants all naked, when he stated that the woman was naked? If the native doctor and assistants were all naked, wouldn’t he have stated that also? If he stated that she was naked, that means that, that was already something that stood out, i.e. that in normal days, the woman would be dressed, and for this operation only was she naked. This also implies that the native doctor and assistants were clothed, and only the patient was naked! Lastly, this may mean that either it was not Felkin who drew the image, or that Felikin was so astonished by the superiority of the Bunyoro doctor and assistant, and Bunyoro superior medicine, that he felt the need to present them in some ways as inferior people, savage men. What better way than by drawing them as primitive people all naked?
Did you know that long ago, when Cesarean sections (C-sections) were deemed dangerous in Europe, Africans were safely performing them on the continent? Did you know that there was an extremely high success rate? Both mother and child lived!And no fancy “modern” equipment was used!
Historically, in Europe, when a c-section was performed upon a living woman, it usually resulted in the death of the mother. It was considered an extreme measure, performed only when the mother was already dead or considered to be beyond help. It was a last resort.
Well, imagine Robert W. Felkin’s surprise when he found out that in the great kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara in modern-day Uganda, C-sections were considered routine! Imagine his surprise when the “backwards” people he met successfully delivered both mother and child, and had a very sophisticated surgical technique dating back a long time.
In 1879, the British medical student R W. Felkin who had embarked on a mission led by the Church Missionary Society to Central Africa (probably hoping to rescue the souls of the savage natives) witnessed a C-section in the kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. He found out that in the Bunyoro kingdom, this was a routine procedure with extremely high success rates. There, the native healer used banana wine to cleanse his hands and the woman’s abdomen before the surgery. The healer used a midline incision and applied cautery to minimize hemorrhaging. He then massaged the uterus to make it contract, but did not suture it; the abdominal wound was pinned with iron needles (remember that Africans have been masters at iron smelting for centuries) and dressed with a paste prepared from roots. The woman was fully awake during the entire procedure, and recovered well. Felkin recognized that the degree of perfection and precision of the technique implied that it had been in use for a very long time.
His account was received in Europe with shock and skepticism, because after all, if they, Europeans couldn’t do it, how could the ‘backwards’ Africans do it? The account can be found in “The Development of Scientific Medicine in the African Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara” by J.N.P. Davies, Med. Hist. 1959, Jan 3 (1) 45 – 47. Felkin gave a lecture to the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society on January 9th 1884 entitled “Notes on Labour in Central Africa” (Felkin, R.W., Edin. Med. J., 1884, XXIX, 922); it is from this lecture that the following account on c-section delivery in Bunyoro kingdom is taken:
“The patient was a fine healthy-looking young woman of about twenty years of age… The woman lay upon an inclined bed, … She was liberally supplied with banana wine, and was in a state of semi-intoxication. She was perfectly naked. A band of mbugu or bark cloth fastened her thorax to the bed, another band of cloth fastened down her thighs, and a man held her ankles. Another man, standing on her right side, steadied her abdomen.
The operator stood, as I entered the hut, on her left side, holding his knife aloft with his right hand, and muttering an incantation. This being done, he washed his hands and the patient’s abdomen, first with banana wine and then with water.
Then, having uttered a shrill cry, which was taken up by a small crowd assembled outside the hut, he proceeded to make a rapid cut in the middle line, commencing a little above the pubes, and ending just below the umbilicus. The whole abdominal wall and part of the uterine wall were severed by this incision, and the liquor amnii escaped; a few bleeding-points in the abdominal wall were touched with a red-hot iron by an assistant. The operator next rapidly finished the incision in the uterine wall; his assistant held the abdominal walls apart with both hands, and as soon as the uterine wall was divided he hooked it up also with two fingers.
The child was next rapidly removed, and given to another assistant after the cord had been cut, and then the operator, dropping his knife, seized the contracting uterus with both hands and gave it a squeeze or two. He next put his right hand into the uterine cavity through the incision, and with two or three fingers dilated the cervix uteri from within outwards. He then cleared the uterus of clots and the placenta, which had by this time become detached, removing it through the abdominal wound. His assistant endeavoured, but not very successfully, to prevent the escape of the intestines through the wound. The red-hot iron was next used to check some further hemorrhage from the abdominal wound, but I noticed that it was very sparingly applied. All this time the chief “surgeon” was keeping up firm pressure on the uterus, which he continued to do till it was firmly contracted. No sutures were put into the uterine wall.
The assistant who had held the abdominal walls now slipped his hands to each extremity of the wound, and a porous grass mat was placed over the wound and secured there. The bands which fastened the woman down were cut, and she was gently turned to the edge of the bed, and then over into the arms of assistants, so that the fluid in the abdominal cavity could drain away on to the floor. She was then replaced in her former position, and the mat having been removed, the edges of the wound, i.e. the peritoneum, were brought into close apposition, seven thin iron spikes, well-polished, like acupressure needles, being used for the purpose, and fastened by string made from bark cloth. A paste prepared by chewing two different roots and spitting the pulp into a bowl was then thickly plastered over the wound, a banana leaf warmed over the fire being placed on the top of that, and, finally, a firm bandage of mbugu cloth completed the operation.
Until the pins were placed in position the patient had uttered no cry, and an hour after the operation she appeared to be quite comfortable. … The child was placed to the breast two hours after the operation, … The wound was dressed on the third morning, and one pin was then removed. Three more were removed on the fifth day, and the rest on the sixth. At each dressing fresh pulp was applied, and a little pus which had formed was removed by a sponge formed of pulp. A firm bandage was applied after each dressing. Eleven days after the operation the wound was entirely healed, and the woman seemed quite comfortable. …”
So as you think again of medicine in Africa, think of successful c-sections performed in the Bunyorokingdom in the 1800s (and probably long before then), and the long traditions and advanced medical training that allowed for such degree of sophistication and precision. This marked the turning point for modern (European) medicine in c-section, and led to the increased success rates we see today. It is however conveniently left out of history books!
Archaeologists have uncovered the oldest human burial in Africa. It is the body of a 3-year-old boy who was buried 80,000 years ago. As always, it is good to note that even though Africa is the cradle of the human species, very little research has been conducted on the continent showing a real bias in research, but also highlighting the need for Africans to do their own studies: there is so much to find! There is so much wealth (in every field)! Excerpts below is from an article on the Guardian. Please check out the original article in Nature, and also the press release on the New York Times website.
‘Quite spectacular’ discovery shows three-year-old child was carefully laid to rest nearly 80,000 years ago
Archaeologists have identified the oldest known human burial in Africa during field work that uncovered the remains of a child laid carefully to rest in a grave nearly 80,000 years ago.
The arrangement of the bones shows the three-year-old – named Mtoto after the Swahili word for child – was placed with legs tucked to chest, and perhaps wrapped in a shroud with their head on a pillow, before being gently covered in soil.
Researchers discovered the delicate and degraded bones while excavating the floor beneath a sheltered overhang at the mouth of the Panga ya Saidi cave in the tropical uplands of Kenya’s coastal plain about 10 miles from the shore.
“This is quite spectacular,” said Michael Petraglia, a professor of human evolution and prehistory at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. “It is the oldest human burial in Africa. It tells us something about our cognition, our sociality and our behaviours and they are all very familiar to us today.”
… The team unearthed the edge of the grave and the first pieces of bone in 2013, but the fragments were so fragile they turned to dust when the scientists tried to remove them. Over the next four years, the researchers excavated the grave from above, revealing yet more bone, but even after applying resins to the material, it was still too weak to recover.
The researchers decided to dig around the circular pit, roughly 40 cm wide and 13 cm deep, and encase the whole grave in plaster so it could safely be lifted from the ground. The block was taken to the National Museum in Nairobi and on to a specialist lab in Spain where the material was excavated further and then imaged with 3D X-ray equipment.
Two small teeth found in the grave matched those of Homo sapiens and put the age of the child at two and a half to three years old. Further teeth were still embedded in the child’s lower jaw, discovered with the spine, ribs and other bones from the shoulder and limbs. Stone tools for scraping, boring and engraving were found in and around the grave, alongside stone points that may have been hafted on to wooden shafts to make spears.
The images show that the child was laid on their right side with knees tucked up towards the chest, while the position of the skull suggests that it lay on a headrest or pillow. The articulated bones, such as the spine, had not fallen apart in the grave, leading the researchers to suspect the body was wrapped tightly in a shroud before burial. Dating found the bones to be about 78,000 years old, according to the study published in Nature.
… “Early African burials are especially rare despite the fact that Africa is the birthplace of our species,” said Boivin. “This almost certainly reflects biases in where research has been done – the regions where earlier burials have been found have been much more extensively researched than Africa.