Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Back to school/Cavemen on the Rock

Welcome back, I hope you all had a super summer (Ha! "you all", as if. I know we only have one occasional reader, and they lost their job this summer).

For many of us still bumming about universities, this time of year leaves one reeling as your nice, quiet, sun drenched campus suddenly gets flooded with literally millions of identikit happy, confident, fresh undergrads. Today, I'm out of the lab helping register them (for cold hard cash you understand), and frankly, they are making me sick. When I was 19 and just starting uni I wasn't as happy or good looking. My cynical nausea is off set occasionally by periods of trying to be all suave and witty to all the pretty 19 year old girls as I issue them their email addresses. Then I feel like a dirty old man, and the cynicism returns. The Scientician’s Accomplice insists that they are so happy and confident just because they haven’t been broken by life yet, and the thought of them crying themselves to sleep in a few months time makes me feels somewhat better. The little gobshites.

I'm just bitter as I'm finally coming to my final year of formal education. Imagine how the last Neanderthals stuck on Gibraltar, as reported in Nature this week (doi:10.1038/nature05195) felt as all the hot new Modern Humans started invading their space. It was previously thought we had out competed Neanderthals around 35 thousand years ago (kyr), slowly chasing the dim-witted, but artistically bent brutes to the warmer finges of Europe (there is a movement to try and address the perception of Neanderthals as being stupid cavemen, but come on, they couldn't beat us so they must be rubbish). But now fresh radiocarbon dating results suggest that a population survived up until 28kyr in a cave system on the now British colonial oddity that is Gibraltar.

Here is the transcript of a typical conversation from the time...

Guuur: Bloody hell, here come a load of those fresh faces, confident, large society building "modern humans". Can we get no peace [Guuur actually does air punctuation whilst saying "modern humans"].
Ugg: awwww, no. First there are these bloody tailless monkeys that hang out this god forsaken place, next come these idiots.
Guuur: You know they’re just so happy because they haven’t been broken by life yet. They'll be crying them selves to sleep in a few centuries time.
Ugg: Yeah, the little gobshites.

By the way, the picture is of Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Wahington University, St Louis. He comes up whe you google image search neandertal phd.