Tag Archives: art

This 51,000-year-old Neanderthal bone carving may be one of the world’s oldest works of art

Inside a cave in the Harz Mountains of central Germany, paleontologists have come across a striking artifact. The 51,000-year-old toe bone belonging to a prehistoric deer was purposefully carved with lines by Neanderthals, quite possibly with a symbolic meaning. It may very well be the world’s oldest art, claim German researchers.

The engraved deer bone found at Einhornhöhle. Credit: V. Minkus.

The front side of the bone is carved with overlapping chevrons (inverted Vs) that point upwards with smaller incisions on the lower edge that might have served as a base. When the artifact was placed on its base, it didn’t tip over. “It was probably left standing upright in a corner of the cave,” said archaeologist Dirk Leder of the Lower Saxony state office for Cultural Heritage.

Alongside the carved toe bone, archaeologists discovered the shoulder blade bones of deer, which may or not have belonged to the same animal, as well as the skull of a cave bear. These remains were, interestingly enough, discovered in Einhornhöhle, also known as ‘Unicorn Cave’, due to the fossilized bones found there since the 16th century which locals believed came from fabled unicorns.

Modern excavations at Unicorn Cave showed the site was inhabited by successive generations of Neanderthals from at least 130,000 years ago until 47,000 years ago when they went extinct. Only much later, starting about 12,000 years ago, did modern humans take over the cave.

MicroCT-scan of the engraved deer artifact. Credit: NLD.

The researchers are confident that the artifact was carved by Neanderthal hands rather than humans. Although humans and Neanderthals were acquainted by the time the bone was etched 51,000 years ago, our species had yet to make its presence known at Einhornhöhle. Neanderthals were the only hominids in that part of Europe (and Einhornhöhle specifically) at the time, the researchers claim in their study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Concerning the meaning of the chevron carvings, the archaeologists can only speculate. It may represent a female figurine, a mountain landscape, or some abstract art.

What seems more certain is that the bone was carved purposefully as an ornament rather than the result of butchery. The carvings are etched deep, which means the bone was likely boiled beforehand to make it softer. The deer species, Megaloceros giganteus, from which the bone came was quite rare in the region, which would have made the artwork all the more special.

This symbolistic artifact is not singular among Neanderthal culture. Previously, researchers uncovered a pendant made from ancient eagle talons and cave paintings in Spain made by Neanderthal artists. Together, these findings show that Neanderthals’ reputation as brutes is undeserved.

But this also raises an even more exciting possibility: since both humans and Neanderthals shared creative abilities, it’s possible that they both inherited them from a common ancestor. If this is the case, we might have to look even further — much further — down in history to find where these abilities first appeared. In the process, we may learn how humans came to develop the qualities we now endow to humanity.

Leder and colleagues plan on performing more digs at Einhornhöhle in the hope they might find other engraved artifacts, perhaps stashed away in some dark corner of the cave.

The longest known exposure photograph ever was captured using a beer can

It took duct tape, a 500ml cider can, and Ilford Multigrade photographic paper to construct the makeshift camera. The result may look blurry, but to the trained eye, the arced lines are not an accident: they represent trails of the sun as it rose and fell, going higher in the summer and lower in the winter; 2,953 of these trails, to be precise, because that’s the exposure time of the photo: 2,953 days.

Image Credits: University of Hertfordshire.

The image was taken by Regina Valkenborgh, who began capturing it towards the end of her MA Fine Art degree at the University of Hertfordshire in 2012. Valkenborgh was interested in capturing photos without the use of modern technology. She prefers beer or cider cans to soft drinks because they’re taller and create a better image. The can is used as a pinhole camera.

She trialed exposure periods of 6 months and one year, the latter turning much different from the former. But one particular setup, she forgot about. The equipment was laid in place in 2012 at the University of Hertfordshire’s Bayfordbury Observatory. and forgotten about. The makeshift camera apparently remained static until late 2020, when it was discovered by the Observatory’s Principal Technical officer, David Campbell. — a matter of pure luck, and ironically, contradicting what Valkenborgh intended for the image (which was to spin it around and look at different parts of the sky).

“It was a stroke of luck that the picture was left untouched, to be saved by David after all these years. I had tried this technique a couple of times at the Observatory before, but the photographs were often ruined by moisture and the photographic paper curled up. I hadn’t intended to capture an exposure for this length of time and to my surprise, it had survived. It could be one of, if not the, longest exposures in existence.”

Regina Valkenborgh pictured at the University of Hertfordshire’s Bayfordbury Observatory, where she placed the camera – the ‘solar can’ beer can she is holding – in a telescope in 2012. Image credits: University of Hertfordshire.

Long exposure photography is a technique that uses a long-duration shutter speed to sharply capture the stationary elements of images while blurring, smearing, or obscuring the moving elements. Usually though, this longer period means a few seconds or at most, a few hours.

Extreme long exposure photography has been carried out before, notably by German photographer Michael Wesely, whose work includes cameras with exposures of up to 34 months. But as far as we could find, Valkenborgh’s is the longest exposure photography ever taken — and it will be hard to break her record.

The basic idea of using a pinhole is straightforward, but you need to leave the camera undisturbed for the entire duration. A single perturbation could ruin a years-long exposure photography.

Valkenborgh now works as a photography technician at Barnet and Southgate College.

Researchers train robot swarm to serve as ‘real-life paintbrushes’

Creating art is an intensive and time-consuming process. It’s not just envisioning and designing the piece that’s challenging — the labor of painting also takes a lot of time. But what if robots could help with this, and maybe even expand an artist’s repertoire?

It may seem far-fetched, but in a new study, researchers paved the way for exactly this: they trained a swarm of robots to be used in producing art.

Image courtesy of María Santos.

María Santos was always fascinated by the intersection of engineering and arts. A musician herself, she loves to explore this overlap of seemingly different worlds, she tells ZME Science.

“During my PhD at the School of Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech, I was given the opportunity of combining my research on control theory and multi-robot systems with different forms of art,” she says.

It all started in a previous study with her doctoral advisor, Professor Magnus Egersted. The two first studied the expressive capabilities of robot swarms to convey basic emotions and then moved on to look at the individual trajectories executed by the swarm of robots.

Is there some artistic merit to this, or could this approach be applied in an artistic setting as a tool? Santos believes so.

“In this study we explore how the integration of such trajectories over time can lead to artistic paintings by making the robots leave physical trails as they move,” Santos explains in an email.

“We envisioned the multi-robot system as an extension of an artist’s creative palette. The presented painting swarm along with all its control knobs embody new means of interaction between artists and the piece of art, whereby artists can explore new creative directions, intuitively interacting with a robotic system while not having to concern themselves with aspects such as individual robot control or available paints to each robot.”

At first glance, using robots for art seems like a weird idea, but it makes sense once you look at it. Painting is typically labor-intensive, and despite the world around us becoming more and more automated, painting has remained exclusively a manual endeavor. The idea is not to have the robots create art, but rather for artists to use the robots as a tool to ease their workload or explore new artistic directions.

Image courtesy of María Santos.

The robots in the project move about a canvas leaving color trails, and the artist can select the areas of the canvas to be painted in a certain color — the robots will oblige in real time. It’s a bit like applying digital techniques into the real-life analog world and can serve as an interesting tool for artists.

The way Santos envisions the approach, the artist would control the swarm behavior, but not necessarily every individual robot.

“In this approach, the robotic swarm can be thought of as an “active” brush for the human artist to paint with, where the individual robots (active bristles) move over the canvas according to the color specifications given by the human at each point in time. Thus, the artist can control the collective behavior of the swarm and potentially some other general parameters (how much paint to release, how sharp the trajectories of the robots may be), but not the individual movements of each robot.”

This leaves a wide array of parameters the artist can influence to produce the desired effect, and explore different variations. It’s akin to how a composer writes variations on a theme, Santos tells me.

A video highlighting the technique, courtesy of María Santos.

In the experiments, the researchers used a projector to simulate the colored paint trail with a digital input, although they will soon replace this with a robot that handles actual paint. They found that even when the robot doesn’t have access to the desired color, it is capable to collaborate with other robots and approximate the color. This means the artist doesn’t need to worry whether the robots have access to all the possible colors.

Now, the researchers hope to collaborate with artists to see how this approach could be best tweaked to make it work in real life. The current pandemic, however, has proven to be quite a hurdle.

“We would love to get feedback from artists! In fact, when we started this project, our idea was to get artists to come to the lab and interact with the robotic swarm. This way we could see what they could come up with creatively in terms of generated paints, but also to get their input about which features would be most interesting to develop as the project progresses further.”

“However, due to COVID19, this part was infeasible during the last months, so we focus on studying the characteristics of the paintings as a function of different parameters in the swarm.”

Ultimately, the team hopes to develop this into a full-scale artistic project and allow artists and the public to experiment with it

“As of now, the artworks were created to evaluate the operation of the system, but we would love to exhibit them! Once we can get people back in the lab to try the system, we would love to see what people would come up with.”

Journal Reference:  Interactive Multi-Robot Painting Through Colored Motion Trails, Frontiers in Robotics and AI(2020). DOI: 10.3389/frobt.2020.580415

Munch’s ‘Scream’ is fading due to low-quality paint and the breath of art lovers

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1910. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Munch’s 19th-century masterpiece The Scream is one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. It’s been featured countless times in pop culture with various renditions appearing in film, literature, art, and animation. Unfortunately, the famous artwork is deteriorating fast — and fans visiting museums may be partly to blame, according to a new study.

A fading scream

In a new study, an international team of researchers, working under the guidance of the Munch Museum in Oslo, probed the chemistry of the famous painting, which has suffered significant fading since its completion in 1910.

““I walked one evening on a road. I was tired and ill — I stood looking out across the fjord — the sun was setting — the clouds were colored red — like blood — I felt as though a scream went through nature — I thought I heard a scream. — I painted this picture — painted the clouds like real blood. The colors were screaming,” Much once said, describing the idea behind the artwork. However, his striking colors have since faded.

The analysis revealed that the artist employed poor paint, resorting to low-quality cadmium sulfide pigments. The study, which was published in the journal Science Advances, also showed that exposure to light was not responsible for the fading, as previously suggested.

This yellow pigment that colors the swirling sunset and anguished human figure is very susceptible to the degrading effects of moisture, even when present at subtle levels such as during conditions produced by the exhalation of humans. It seems like all those years of open exhibition to millions of art lovers didn’t help at all.

Degraded cadmium yellow paints and ultraviolet–visible–near-infrared spectroscopy single-point analysis in The Scream.

To make matters worse, the painting suffered additional damage during a 2004 gallery heist, which left a nasty brown water mark on the artwork. Munch’s The Scream and Madonna, another one of his paintings that was stolen during the same robbery, were both recovered in 2006 and have since been kept in a light and temperature-controlled storage unit.

“It turned out that rather than use pure cadmium sulfide as he should have done, apparently he also used a dirty version, a not very clean version that contained chlorides,” Koen Janssens, a professor at the University of Antwerp who worked on the study, told the Guardian. “I don’t think it was an intentional use–I think he just bought a not very high level of paint. This is 1910 and at that point the chemical industry producing the chemical pigments is there but it doesn’t mean they have the quality control of today.”

During the time of the painting’s completion, cadmium sulfide was manufactured by reacting cadmium chloride with sodium sulfide. During this process, it is possible for chlorine-containing compounds to not fully react, the leftovers of which remained in the paint, contributing to the artworks’ unfortunate fading.

Artwork in Indonesia might be the new ‘oldest’ hunting scene by modern humans

Indonesia may be the home of the oldest cave paintings of hunting bands found in the world.

A section of the cave painting.
Image credits Griffith University via Gizmodo.

A new study reports on what appears to be a depiction of human-like figures hunting wild buffalo and pigs at the Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4 site in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. It was dated to be approximately 43,900-years old. If this estimate is true, it would make the artwork the oldest known example of figurative art drawn by modern humans.

For now, exactly what the scene is meant to represent is still up for debate, but it could also be the oldest depiction of a hunting scene to date.

Hunting or myth-telling

Cave art that precedes this one has been discovered both in Europe and Africa. However, the cave drawings in Europe, featuring animals, dots, geometric signs, and hand stencils, were almost certainly made by Neanderthals. The art-piece from Africa, a 73,000-year-old cross-hatched pattern drawn onto a smooth rock, is not a figurative work (i.e. not meant to represent a real scene or place).

The oldest known hunting scenes that we know were made by modern humans date back between 21,000 to 14,000 years ago and were found in Europe — including the famous drawing at The Shaft in Lascaux France. The new scene found in Sulawesi shows that the tradition of figurative cave paintings wasn’t necessarily born in Europe.

Due to the ravages of time, the 4-meter (13 ft) wide artwork isn’t fully visible. However, it seems to have been a single composition depicting tiny humans with spears and ropes hunting buffalo and pigs.

The oldest known hunting scenes that were made by modern humans date back somewhere between 21,000 and 14,000 years ago and were found in Europe — including the famous drawing at The Shaft in Lascaux France. The new scene found in Sulawesi shows that the tradition of figurative cave paintings wasn’t necessarily born in Europe.

The team was able to date the drawings using calcium carbonate growths that form naturally in limestone caves — the same growths that now obscure parts of the artwork. The tests returned an age of 43,900 years ago but, as these bits of mineral grew over the paints, the drawing itself could be much older.

Both modern and several kinds of archaic humans — including Homo erectus and the Denisovans — lived in the area at this time. While any one of them could have created the work, we know for a fact that modern humans would paint similar (and unrelated) scenes at later dates all over the world, making them the most likely candidate.

Ochre, hematite, and other natural pigments were used to paint the figures, the team explains. It showcases several therianthropes hunting or subduing six animals: two Sulawesi warty pigs and four dwarf buffaloes known as anoas, both of which were common to Sulawesi at the time.

“Although these animals were depicted in outline profile with irregular patterns of infill the figures were executed with a relatively high degree of anatomical realism and certain [anatomical features] of these species are clearly represented, such as, in the case of Sulawesi warty pig, its distinctive head crest, and, with the anoas, their characteristic straight, dagger-like horns,” corresponding author Adam Brumm told Gizmodo.

He adds that “we can’t ever know the real meanings of this cave painting,” the team is “fairly convinced” that it showcases a hunting scene; it could also be a depiction of myth or religious story due to the presence of the therianthropes.

The paper “Earliest hunting scene in prehistoric art” has been published in the journal Nature.

Beautiful ‘Capturing Ecology’ photo competition winners announced

Every year, the British Ecological Society (BES) runs the ‘Capturing Ecology’ photo competition to “celebrate the diversity of ecology”. This year’s finalists have just been announced and they definitely delivered on that goal. So let’s take a look at the charming and sometimes adorable moments that the photographers captured on film.

Worth a thousand words

The Overall Winner of the competition was an image of a Malagasy tree boa taken by Roberto García Roa, Ph.D., an evolutionary biologist at the University of Valencia. He wanted to showcase the plight of Madagascar, whose ecosystems have suffered severe damage at the hands of human poaching and fires.

“Red Night” / Roberto García Roa.

“Unfortunately, many areas of Madagascar are suffering huge anthropic pressures including poaching and fires, and big snakes are becoming increasingly difficult to see,” Roa explained on the submission. “During my visit to Madagascar, I had the pleasure of finding this outstanding snake and photographing it. To offer a dramatic scenario reflecting the conditions that these snakes are suffering, I used an external red light as a source of light and severe blurring to capture the environment.”

Professor Richard Bardgett, President of the BES, finds the image “stunning” and deserving of the Overall Winner prize, saying it “not only captures the beauty of the Malagasy tree boa, which is endemic to the island of Madagascar, but also its vulnerability, especially to hunting and fire.”

Nilanjan Chatterjee, Ms.C. at the Wildlife Institute of India, won the Overall Student Winner award for his picture titled Flames in Flumes, showing a plumbeous water redstart waiting for its hapless prey by a cascade.

“Flames in Flumes” / Nilanjan Chatterjee.
“Autumn Texture” / Mikhail Kapychka.

Kapychka’s photograph of a birch forest in the autumn is the Overall Runnerup of the competition.

Up Close and Personal

A category aimed at “displaying the intricacy of nature using close-up or macro photography.”

“Fluorescence” / Roberto García Roa.

Not content with simply winning outright, Roa also claimed the Up Close and Personal award with this picture of a fluorescent scorpion glowing under UV light. Don’t worry, the scorpion wasn’t the end of him — either in real life or in this competition.

Khristian Valencia won the Student award in this category with the picture below. The frog he captured “exhibits one of its less common morphs” of the species.

“Harlequin” / Khristian V. Valencia.

Dynamic Ecosystems

This category rewarded images that “demonstrat[e] interactions between different species within an ecosystem”

Roa claimed this award with this picture Small Warrior. It showcases a Malayan spider taking on an ant several times its size — and winning.

“Small Warrior” / Roberto García Roa.

The student award in this category went to Pablo Javier Merlo from the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. Are You Seeing the Same as Me? shows a domestic cow and a chimango — a relative species of the falcon — pondering something over a breathtaking visage of the Beagle Channel (the southernmost tip of South America). I don’t know what they’re meditating on, but this is my personal favorite entry in the competition.

“Are You Seeing the Same as Me?” / Pablo Javier Merlo.

Individuals and Populations

“A unique look at a species in its environment, either alone or as part of a population” was the subject of this category.

The winner here was Felix Fornoff from the University of Freiburg with Sleeping Still. The image shows leafcutter bee offspring developing in intricate nests of several leaven layers constructed by adult bees.

“Sleeping Still” / Felix Fornoff.

The Student prize in this category was awarded to Khristian Valencia from the University of Antioquia, Colombia. Watchful shows a dazzling black-and-white snake fixing its gaze on its (soon-to-be-caught) prey.

“Watchful” / Khristian V. Valencia.

People and Nature

Looking for “an interesting and original take on the relationships between people and nature,” the award in this category went to Andrew Whitworth a Ph.D at the University of Glasgow and a member of the Osa Conservation group, for Why Did the Sloth Cross the Road?.

The photograph shows a female three-toed sloth navigating a busy road — luckily, she was spotted by the driver of an oncoming truck and everybody lived to see another day.

“Why Did the Sloth Cross the Road?” / Andrew Whitworth.

Gergana Daskalova, a student at the University of Edinburgh, Thawing Away, A human silhouette is dwarfed by the size of a retrogressive thaw slump on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island in Canada. The shifts resulting from these slumps can echo through the whole ecosystem. This photo was taken on an expedition supported by the National Geographic Society.

“Thawing Away” / Gergana Daskalova.

Ecology in Action

Molly Penny at the University of the West of England won this category for best “showcasing the practice of ecology in action” with The Rhino’s Annual Haircut. This annual procedure is protects the animals from poaching.

“Rhinos Annual Haircut” / Molly Penny.

Gergana Daskalova at the University of Edinburgh won the student prize in this category for capturing how drones are helping us better map climate change with Capturing Tundra Vegetation Change.

“Capturing tundra vegetation change” / Gergana Daskalova.

The Art of Ecology

The final category asked for “a creative and original take on photography denoting ecology”. Peter Hudson from Penn State University won with a picture of a heart-shaped flock of flamingos over Lake Magadi.

“For the Love of Flamingoes” / Peter Hudson.

Sanne Govaert from Ghent University captured a tiny, dew-laden Mycena spp. mushroom growing inside a rotten tree trunk.

“Teeny Tiny World” / Sanne Govaert.

Archaeologists find first prehistoric figurative cave art in the Balkans

The cave art, which was first discovered in 2010, has now been shown to be truly figurative. It could be as old as 34,000 years old.

Composite of digital tracings of 1 Bison_2 ibex and 3 possible anthropomorphic figures from cave art – Credit Aitor Ruiz-Redondo

Ancient artists

An international team of researchers from Britain, France, Canada, Spain, and Croatia analyzed the cave paintings found in Romualdova Pećina (Romuald’s Cave), Croatia. Radiocarbon dating showed that these works are at least 17,000 years old, but judging by other indirect data (such as the dating of the cave sedimentary layers), the paintings might even date from 34,000 years ago. Further research will be conducted in order to establish the precise age of the rock art. But more important is the nature of these paintings. Although not very visible to the naked eye, digital recordings and image amplification techniques have revealed that the paintings represent a bison, an ibex, and two possible anthropomorphic figures.

These are clearly figurative paintings — depictions derived from real object sources and so is, by definition, representational — an important landmark of cultural evolution. The oldest known figurative art painting is over 40,000 (perhaps as old as 52,000) years old and represents an unknown animal. The dating results were only published one year ago. Meanwhile, the earliest known European figurative cave paintings are those of Chauvet Cave in France. These paintings date to earlier than 30,000 BCE (Upper Paleolithic) according to radiocarbon dating. However, these new findings represent the first such art found in the Balkan area.

“Rock art is key for understanding European Palaeolithic societies. Long thought to have been restricted to South-west Europe, recent discoveries on the Balkan Peninsula have expanded significantly the geographic distribution of Upper Palaeolithic figurative rock art, calling into question the idea of its limited distribution,” researchers write in the study.

Dr. Aitor Ruiz-Redondo, a British Academy-funded Newton International Fellow at the University of Southampton and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bordeaux, further adds that the paintings offers an important clue to understand how different cultures were developed at the same time.

“The importance of this finding is remarkable and sheds a new light on the understanding of Palaeolithic art in the territory of Croatia and the Balkan Peninsula, as well as its relationship with simultaneous phenomena throughout Europe.”

Further research is currently being carried out at the cave.

Journal Reference: Ruiz-Redondo et al. Expanding the horizons of Palaeolithic rock art: the site of Romualdova PećinaAntiquity, 2019; 93 (368): 297 DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2019.36

Planets collage.

Art-integrated science lessons make some students ‘learn at 105%’, new study finds

Mixing arts into science lessons can help students better retain information and be more creative in their learning process.

Planets collage.

Image via Pixabay.

Is there a place for arts in science? We’ve tackled this idea before (read about it here and here) and, long story short, we feel the answer is a confident “yes”. A new study supports our view: the team, led by the vice dean of academic affairs for the School of Education at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU), reports that art isn’t only desirable in the classroom — it’s “absolutely needed”.

Rappin’, dancin’, drawin’ science

“Our study provides more evidence that the arts are absolutely needed in schools. I hope the findings can assuage concerns that arts-based lessons won’t be as effective in teaching essential skills,” says Mariale Hardiman, the study’s first author.

Past research has shown that dabbling in the arts helps improve students’ academic outcomes and memory capacity, the team writes. However, it was still unclear whether instructing students on art, incorporating it into lesson plans, general exposure to it, or a combination of these factors, was responsible for the observed benefits.

The team writes that one of the biggest hurdles teachers are facing is that “children forget much of what they learn” in class, so the content of the previous year has to be taught again. The efforts of the current study focused on improving students’ retention of information (specifically science content) through the integration of art in the curriculum.

They followed 350 fifth-grade students in 16 different classrooms across 6 schools in Baltimore, Maryland, throughout the 2013 school year. Each student was randomly assigned in one of two classroom pairs: astronomy and life science, or environmental science and chemistry. The experiment consisted of two sessions, each spanning three to four weeks.

In each session, students first took an arts-integrated class or a conventional class — and switched for the second session. Thus, the team ensured that all students experienced both types of classes and that all eleven teachers involved in the study taught both types of classes.

Art-integrated classes included activities such as rapping or sketching to support learning new terms and expanding their vocabulary. The students also designed collages to separate living and non-living things. In conventional classes, these activities were matched with your regular educational process: reading paragraphs of texts with vocabulary words aloud in a group and completing worksheets.

To estimate how well each approach worked, the team analyzed students’ content retention before, right after, and 10 weeks after the study ended. Those at a basic reading level before the study began showed (a quite surprising) 105% content retention in the long term on average. The authors themselves seem surprised with this result, explaining that :

“The value of 105% […] is an actual value. This value for Basic Readers in the Arts Integrated condition resulted from students demonstrating enhanced retained content on the followup testing beyond what was initially demonstrated on the posttest,” they write in the paper.

So not only did their art-infused approach help students remember the subjects being taught during the study, it helped them better retain content they were later exposed to. The team explains that students remembered more in the delayed post-testing because they kept singing songs they had learned during their art activities. Much like how a catchy tune gets stuck in your head the more you think of it or sing it aloud, these songs helped students hold onto educational content in the long term.

The study also found that students who took a conventional session first remembered more science in the second (art-integrated) session. Students who took the art-integrated session first maintained performance over in the second session. The exact differences between the two groups aren’t enough to be statistically significant, the authors note, but it does suggest that students carry the creative problem-solving skills they learned in arts-and-science classes over to the conventional lessons — and it helps to enhance their ability to learn.

Looking forward, Hardiman hopes that educators and researchers will put their methods to use, which will serve to expand on their study and improve understanding of arts integration in schools. They also say that integrating arts into science lessons could be a very powerful tool for students who struggle the most with skills such as reading, because so much of the conventional curriculum relies on students reading material to learn — so if they cannot read very well, their ability to learn also suffers.

“Our data suggests that traditional instruction seems to perpetuate the achievement gap for students performing at the lower levels of academic achievement,” says Hardiman.

“We also found that students at advanced levels of achievement didn’t lose any learning from incorporating arts into classrooms, but potentially gained benefits such as engagement in learning and enhanced thinking dispositions. For these reasons, we would encourage educators to adopt integrating the arts into content instruction,” .

The paper “The effects of arts-integrated instruction on memory for science content” has been published in the journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education.

Banksy stencil sells for $1.3 million — then immediately self-destructs

A series of bizarre events recently stunned the art world. First, a 2006 stenciled spray-painting had sold for £1.042m (roughly $1.3 million). The fact that a stencil sold for that much is shocking in the first place — even though it was allegedly made by Banksy, the renowned English street artist. But as soon as the auction was concluded and the hammer dropped, the paper started self-destructing.

Image via Facebook.

Going, going, gone

The always elusive Banksy has done it again — playing a prank on the entire art world, making history, and sending a strong message in true Banksy style. But how do things really lie with this new stunt?

Firstly, even if you haven’t heard of Banksy, the odds are you’ve seen one of his works at one point. He’s been called everything from a vandal to a political activist, though he is essentially a graffiti street artist. His works can be viewed as political and social commentaries on the modern world, often mocking centralized power, consumerism, and warfare.

In 2017, one of Banksy’s most famous works, Girl With Balloon, which originally appeared on a wall in Great Eastern Street, London, was voted the nation’s favorite artwork. Luckily for auction houses and collectors, Banksy made a few painting-style stencils of Girl with Balloon, which were sold anonymously in 2006 for meager prices. The Sotheby’s auction house in London got a hold of one of these stencils, which they auctioned the past weekend — the final price was well over one million dollars. But that’s only the start: as the stencil started shredding itself, Banksy first posted this on Instagram, simply saying “Going, going, gone.” Then, he added a video detailing how he installed the self-destroying machine in the frame. He quoted Picasso, saying “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”


View this post on Instagram


. “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge” – Picasso

A post shared by Banksy (@banksy) on

The auction house said they were just as surprised as anyone, and were not expecting this turn of events, which they classified as a “prank”. The buyer, who also remained anonymous, did not comment. The quote from Alex Branczik, Sotheby’s Europe head of Contemporary Art, says it all: “We got Banksy’d”.

Art history and good batteries

No matter how you look at it, this stunt will make modern art history and will likely be discussed by art historians for decades to come. To make things even better, the artwork has almost certainly increased in value, maybe even doubled. That’s right, a framed stencil worth over $1 million just doubled in value after shredding. However, this is Banksy world, so normal rules don’t seem to apply.

But was this really a prank from the artist, or was it a carefully orchestrated stunt, to add more expected value to a piece of art?

For starters, one of Banksy’s presumed associates was detained after the event, holding something which looked like a remote control for the shredder. The incident caused quite a commotion, but Sotheby’s didn’t comment and did not say whether they were going to press charges or who the man was. But even so, to make this kind of plan work is no easy feat. Banksy’s video is short on technical details, and there are definitely a few bits which seem unlikely. The fact that the frame remained uninspected and did not pass through any metal detection or security checks seems unlikely for an auction of this caliber.

The interior of the frame shredder, taken from Banksy’s explanation video.

Furthermore, as Hackaday points out, Banksy’s plan features some “barely believable batteries.” Banksy mentions that the plan has been in place “for years” — since 2006, to be more precise. Operating a shredder requires a bit of power, and for the batteries to stay charged and active for so long seems a stretch — though it’s certainly not impossible; good batteries can last for years and years, but 12 years is way off from any reliable warranties. Unfortunately, we don’t know Banksy, so we can’t ask him how he did it or whether the auction house was in on it.

It’s plausible that Banksy planned and carried this out all on his own, but if the auction house was in on it, it would have definitely made things a lot easier and reliable.

Who is Banksy?

As any event involving Banksy, the question of the artist’s identity also comes up.

Banksy’s works often address consumerism.

It’s thought that he grew up in Bristol, with Guardian journalist Simon Hattenstone describing Banksy in 2003 as “white, 28, scruffy casual — jeans, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring.” A 2008 Mail on Sunday investigation stated that the artist is believed to be Robin Gunningham, a former private school pupil, who was expelled for various misdemeanors. Another theory states that Banksy is actually a team of seven artists, while others have suggested that Banksy is Robert del Naja — one of the founding members of Massive Attack, as some of his graffiti paintings can be corroborated with the band’s concerts. Jamie Hewlett, the graphical creator of the band Gorillaz was also rumored as a “suspect.”

There was even a scientific geographical study on Banksy’s identity, which concluded that Robin Gunningham is the most likely person to be Banksy.

Yet perhaps more than with any other artist, it’s not about who Banksy is, but about his art. Banksy’s work is certainly a modern phenomenon that will continue to make headlines and people think for years to come — and if you can destroy an artwork and double its value, then we definitely have a lot to think about.

Stone pattern.

Painted rock points to higher cognitive function in humans 73,000 years ago

A painted rock shows that humans tried their hand at symbolism as early as 73,000 years ago, pointing to the roots of modern cognition patterns.

Stone pattern.

Image credits Christopher S. Henshilwood et al., 2018, Nature.

International researchers report discovering the oldest evidence of abstract drawing to date. The artifact in question is a fragment of polished rock painted with a crosshatch pattern of nine fine lines, unearthed from a 73,000-year-old archaeological stratum at the Blombos Cave in South Africa.

“Do you do portraits, too?”

It’s not easy determining symbolism from art when dealing with some of the earliest graphic productions humanity has ever created. The main difficulty lies in determining whether the splotches of pigment were applied deliberately or not. After intentionality is established, the next step is to determine whether the images you’re dealing with are doodles or storytelling crutches, or whether they held particular meaning.

Needless to say, across the huge divides of time and culture that separate us from our ancestors, both points can be very tricky to handle.

The oldest known sample of art we’ve found before now is the shell of a freshwater mussel engraved with a zigzag pattern discovered in Tirnil, Java, in a 540,000-year-old archaeological layer. Decorated trinkets discovered in several archeological sites in Africa, likely used for personal adornment, have been dated to roughly 70,000 years ago.


A rendition of the crosshatched pattern seen on the fragment of stone.
Image credits Christopher S. Henshilwood et al., 2018, Nature.

Still, art does not necessarily a symbol make. A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that represents an idea, another object, or a relationship. While the main trait of art is beauty or its ability to encapsulate an emotional message, a symbol is, foremost, an abstraction. As such, accurately telling apart art and symbolism is very important for anthropology. Both art and symbols “are a prime indicator of modern cognition and behavior”, the team writes — the latter especially so, since abstraction requires that extra bit of intellectual brawn to handle.

Well, we have new evidence pointing to the roots of abstract thinking at least 30,000 years earlier than previously discovered works suggested.


The artifact, detailed by an international team that includes scientists from Norway, France, South Africa, and Switzerland, is a fragment of siliceous rock (silcrete) adorned with nine fine lines in a crosshatch pattern. It was found during excavations at the Blombos Cave, South Africa, in a 73,000-year-old archeological stratum. According to the team, the lines were drawn using an ocher (the iron ore from which the eponymous color is derived) pencil.

Ocher and silcrete implements.

Ocher and silcrete implements used in the reconstruction efforts.
Image credits Christopher S. Henshilwood et al., 2018, Nature.

Determining whether the pattern was deliberately drawn fell primarily on the shoulders of the team’s French members, who have a background in the chemical analysis of pigments.

They started by trying to reproduce the lines through various techniques — an approach known as experimental or experiential archeology, as it relies on direct experience gained from experimentation — that were available to the people living around the cave at the time. These included whittling ocher fragments to a point or an edge to see which shape better recreates the lines, as well as applying watery solutions of ocher powder using brushes.

Closeup original.

Closeup of the original markings.
Image credits Christopher S. Henshilwood et al., 2018, Nature.

They then compared the lines against their ancient counterparts from a microscopic, chemical, and tribological (the science of friction and wear) standpoint. According to the team, the lines were intentionally drawn with a pointed ocher implement (akin to a pencil). As such, the pattern represents the earliest known abstract drawing to date.

Closeup reconstruction

Closeup of the reconstructed lines.
Image credits Christopher S. Henshilwood et al., 2018, Nature.

With intentionality established, the next step was to decide whether the team was looking at a symbol or just pretty doodles. This step was surprisingly simple, however. Blombos Cave is the site of an ongoing excavation by teams from the University of Bergen (Norway) and the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa) that began in 1991. Over the years, many other objects with symbolic markings — including ocher fragments that feature very similar crosshatched engraving — were uncovered in the same archaeological stratum in which the present artwork was discovered.

The team writes that by using various techniques to produce similar patterns on different materials suggests that the marks serve a symbolic function.

The paper “An abstract drawing from the 73,000-year-old levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa” has been published in the journal Nature.

Harbour seal.

The role of art in research with science illustrator Sarah Gluschitz

What is the common trait all scientists share? And what role does art play in research? Today we talk with scientific illustrator Sarah Gluschitz to find out.

Sarah Gluschitz.

Sarah alongside some very impressive anatomy illustrations.

One of the goals we set here at ZME Science is, understandably, to promote science in society. You gals and guys make that job quite easy for us; you’re curious, thirsty for knowledge and hungry for the latest, juiciest morsel of research. Driving people to make the next step, that of getting personally involved in science, however, proves to be a more elusive goal.

Most people with whom I’ve discussed this conundrum confess that they want to bring their own contribution — but that they feel outclassed. They say they don’t have something that will make a difference when brought to the research table. They feel they don’t have Einstein’s prowess in physics or Darwin’s eye for evolution, and that that bars them from pursuing science.

But guys — very few people do. Einsteins, Curies, Darwins, and Newtons stand out in history because (you won’t believe this) they were outstanding. Most scientists you’ll talk to look up to them as leviathans, and most suffer from impostor syndrome as a result. However, the small, incremental advances these scientists put in every day are what advances scientific knowledge. The leaps that people such as Curie or Newton made were built upon these efforts — and the overall contribution to science these figures made are relatively small compared to that of the first group.

So don’t sweat it; science would be very happy to have your brain on the team.

Harbour seal.

The other reason people offer up is competence in ‘hard’ topics: math, physics, computer languages, and so on. I can completely empathize with this. I’m trained as an engineer, and I loved every day at Uni — except those that involved math. Which was basically every day. I’m not good at calculus, I couldn’t do it to save my life, and this haunted me throughout my four years of university.

The current, wiser me wants you to know that it’s totally fine. You don’t have to be great at everything to be a researcher. It helps, sure, but it’s not a prerequisite. I figured out I was quite good at geometry while my colleagues weren’t; so they would handle calculus on group projects and I’d crunch the shapes. It worked out well.

Still, I was at a loss as to what to say to the friends, strangers, or readers who broached the subject with me. I knew the tools but not the engine of scientific pursuit, its trappings but not its source — so I didn’t have any wisdom to share.

I found my answer at this year’s European Science Open Forum in Toulouse in the shape of one Sarah Gluschitz. In a room of researchers holding talks and journalists holding recorders, Sarah was drawing. Not aimlessly — contours merged with keywords on topics being discussed. This fresh (if unorthodox) approach caught my eye and sparked a conversation that served me with a heaping of realization: The only thing you really need to be an asset to science is curiosity.

Sarah is about as far from the traditional image of a scientist as you can get, and yet she was there. With a background in arts, she was discussing science and science journalism. Her story helped me make better sense of my work and what I can bring to science.

Today, I’m sharing her story with you.

With Sarah’s permission, we’ll also get to enjoy some samples of her work.

Human Dissection.

Tell me a little about yourself. A short bio of sorts. Something to help our audience get to know you better.

My name is Sarah Gluschitz. I am a Scientific Illustrator and Artist based in the Netherlands. As long as I can remember I have been fascinated with a world hidden in plain sight. A world underneath our skin, one only visible to a small group of people. As a scientific Illustrator, I am fortunate to now be part of that world and to help to translate it for others.

After attending the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, graduating as a Bachelor in Interactive/Media/Design, I continued my studies at the ZUYD University of Applied Science and Maastricht University in Maastricht. There I have graduated cum laude in Scientific Illustration with my masters’ thesis “Corpse in the copse”, which focusses on the taphonomy [the study of how organisms fossilize] of the human skeleton in 2D and 3D for archaeological applications. This combines my passions for Archaeology, Forensics, Human Anatomy, and Illustration.

What was your first passion? Did you start with science, or with art? What made you mix the two together?

Work in progress.

Illustration in progress of the circulatory and respiratory system of the spiney dogfish (Squalus acanthias).

I have always been artistically inclined as well as having a great interest in getting to the bottom of things. During high school in Germany, it was mandatory to choose two subjects as the main focus point of your studies. I chose Arts and Biology which early on seemed to me like a natural combination of things.

I didn’t know about Scientific Illustration as a field just yet. Searching for a way to use my Arts degree on another level and satisfy my thirst for knowledge I came across Scientific Illustration. Once I got into contact with it for the first time it was as clear as day to me, that this is where I needed to be.

Do you regret your choice of career? Why or why not?

I absolutely adore my line of work. It gives me the possibility to express myself artistically, while also being in contact with science and the source of the knowledge I love so much.

It is multi-layered and diverse as I am not confined to any specific field, but get the possibility to dive into a large variety of topics. This summer, for example, I have illustrated Drones for the ENAC, the French National Civil Aviation School in Toulouse, while only a few months before that I was a research assistant at a forensic decomposition facility in the US.

My favorite thing about my job is being able to translate the researcher’s knowledge to a new audience and making both ends enthusiastic about the topic. I strongly believe that a visual language is one of the universal mediums we can use to reach an audience free of spoken language barriers.

Tell me something you love and something you hate about your line of work.

There is nothing I would like to change about my line of work. I would like to be part of bringing it into the spotlight and showing people the amazing world of Scientific Illustration.

Many people imagine ‘science’ as being strictly something you do with beakers in a lab. But art has a very important part to play in science and the process of gathering knowledge. Illustrations such as yours have graced the pages of encyclopedias for decades, even centuries.

What advice would you give to someone who has an artistic inclination and a passion for science, but feels like they lack ‘hard’ skills like maths, physics, so on?

I believe there is a niche for every one of us, that fits our interest and skillset. Being artistically inclined doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a career in arts, nor should a lack of hard skills hinder us from being in touch with science. Scientific Illustration is one way of combining both, so is journalism.

I believe that a symbiotic relationship between science and art will elevate research and help it outgrow the confinements of the scientific community. The community is often separated, through their own language, from the general public. Utilizing a visual language breaks down the walls and helps create spaces for open communication. Everyone who feels like neither arts nor science is a perfect fit should start exploring at what point they could come in and be the link between the two worlds they love.

Once you find that intersection it will come naturally as how to proceed.

What is your view on the relationship between art and science? Should they be more separated, or should they play together more often?

Like many things, art and science would be even greater combined. Both fields have their own mentality, research methods and ways of thinking. This sometimes leads to places where each is stuck. A fresh view, that might seem unorthodox at first, can open up new pathways for each field to continue growing.

Both science and art are very complimentary to each other.

Can art help us make better science? What about the other way around?

Within the Arts, the field of ArtScience is continuously growing and welcomed with open arms, while within the Science community there still is some resistance towards having Arts distort the nature of Science; the accuracy and the objectiveness.

In Scientific Illustration, we make sure that that accuracy and objectiveness is guarded, while still offering a different perspective and approach to a problem, such as the reconstruction of Archaeological findings. Reconstruction of archaeological finds has several layers and goals, one being to understand a past society. But can you truly understand the creation of an art object from the past, when you don’t engage artist with their unique way of thinking into the process of reconstruction?

All image credits to Sarah Gluschitz. You can see more of her work on her Instagram page or her website.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck next to the mirror-covered sphere his company sent into Earth's orbit. Credit: Rocket Lab.

New Zealand startup launches huge ‘disco ball’ into space. It’s now the brightest object in the night sky

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck next to the mirror-covered sphere his company sent into Earth's orbit. Credit: Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck next to the mirror-covered sphere his company sent into Earth’s orbit. Credit: Rocket Lab.

An up-and-coming aerospace company from New Zealand made history last week when it deployed what can only be classed as a giant disco ball, of all things, into Earth’s low orbit. The flashing strobe was launched with Electron — a two-stage orbital launch vehicle developed over the last decade by Rocket Lab — alongside a less artistic payload comprised of two commercial satellites.

Turning the planet into a huge planet

Rocket Lab says that the art project called Humanity Star, which was launched on January 21, should now be the brightest object in the night sky. Although it’s now visible between latitudes between 46° north and 46° south, people in mainland United States will eventually be able to see the cosmic disco ball with the naked eye. In time, the object’s orbit will tilt and, provided that the observer and the orbiting strobe are perfectly aligned, almost the entire world will be able to see Humanity Star at night and dawn. Such favorable conditions will occur from March onward.

“No matter where you are in the world, or what is happening in your life, everyone will be able to see the Humanity Star in the night sky,” Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. “For us to thrive and survive, we need to make big decisions in the context of humanity as a whole, not in the context of individuals, organizations or even nations. …We must come together as a species to solve the really big issues like climate change and resource shortages.”

The carbon-fiber geodesic sphere is a little over a meter (3.3 ft) in diameter and is covered in 65 highly reflective panels. Because of its 90-minute polar orbit, the satellite will also be visible to a lot of people.

Humanity Star is designed to be visible to everyone on Earth. Credit: Rocket Lab.

Humanity Star is designed to be visible to everyone on Earth. Credit: Rocket Lab.

The New Zealand engineers also took space junk into consideration. Instead of launching new litter into space, the team behind the iridium sphere were careful to set it on a nine-month orbit that will eventually return it to the atmosphere where the satellite will disintegrate. For the curious, there’s a tracking app on the Humanity Star website which you can use to make it easier to spot the sphere.

Of course, Humanity Star isn’t the only man-made object orbiting the Earth which is visible to the naked eye. A classic example is the International Space Station (ISS), which is the size of a football field and whose extended solar panels shine brightly in the sun. Humanity Star, however, flies at a far lower orbit and is essentially covered in mirrors, making it more visible than the ISS.

This was Rocket Lab’s debut orbital flight. Beyond launching a weird art project, Rocket Lab achieved some more practical milestones like performing the first liftoff in New Zealand or the Southern Hemisphere, for that matter.

Not everyone is excited about parading ‘art’ through Earth’s orbit, however. On Twitter, various astronomers expressed their disappointment and concerns. Some, people like Ian Griffin, an astrophotographer and the director of New Zealand’s Otago Museum, even went as far as calling it an “act of environmental vandalism”.


Whether this is merely a publicity stunt or a genuine art project meant to inspire people is entirely up to your own interpretation.

Left: The Scream by Edvard Munch; Right: Mother-of-pearl clouds near Oslo, Norway, half an hour after sunset. Credit: Svein M. Fikke.

How science might settle the debate around two famous Munch and da Vinci paintings

Two exciting papers presented this week at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) in Vienna, Austria could settle the debate around two of the world’s most famous paintings. The researchers argue The Scream by Edvard Munch was inspired by a rare type of cloud and that a geological analysis suggests The Virgin of the Rocks on display in the National Gallery in London can not be attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

The scream

Left: The Scream by Edvard Munch; Right: Mother-of-pearl clouds near Oslo, Norway, half an hour after sunset. Credit: Svein M. Fikke.

Left: The Scream by Edvard Munch; Right: Mother-of-pearl clouds near Oslo, Norway, half an hour after sunset. Credit: Svein M. Fikke.

Munch’s 19th-century masterpiece The Scream is one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. It’s been featured countless times in pop culture with various renditions appearing in film, literature, art, and animation. But no one really knows what inspired Munch to paint that incredible orange-red sky. The pet-favorite theory is that the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 which caused the European sky to shine in fiery hues is what ultimately influenced Munch when he completed the painting in 1893. Others have suggested that Munch was inspired by the proximity of a madhouse and a slaughterhouse to the artwork’s subject’s supposed Oslo location.

Helene Muri of the Department of Geosciences of the University of Oslo has a different take on the matter. She claims that despite the fact that Krakatoa’s eruption in Indonesia caused colorful sunrises and sunsets, the injected particles in the stratosphere couldn’t have produced the wavy textures seen in the famous painting. Instead, she identified a natural phenomenon that much better resembles Munch’s distorted sky. Namely, polar stratospheric clouds, also called nacreous or mother-of-pearl clouds.

These rare clouds form when stormy weather causes moist air to bang up against mountainsides and pushed up into the stratosphere where it condenses into ice crystals. These crystals are too thin to be seen with the naked eye during the day, but when the sunset shines from below, the crystals suspended in the clouds display the exact color and texture that Munch featured in his opus. According to Muri, mother-of-pearl clouds appear only four times a year.

da Vinci’s rocks

(left) The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre Museum in Paris. (right) Another Virgin of the Rocks painting at the National Gallery in London, attributed by the museum also to Leonardo da Vinci. Credit: Public Domain.

(left) The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre Museum in Paris. (right) Another Virgin of the Rocks painting at the National Gallery in London, attributed by the museum also to Leonardo da Vinci. Credit: Public Domain.

Elsewhere, Ann Pizzorusso, an independent scholar who is both a geologist and an expert on the Italian Renaissance, is showcasing new insight into one of the biggest controversies in art. There are two almost identical (to the untrained eye) paintings called Virgin of the Rocks housed in two separate museums, one in London, the other at the Louvre in Paris. The public knows of fewer than 20 paintings completed by the great Italian artist, inventor, and polymath. Why on earth would he complete two versions of the same painting? It’s a question that has inspired many controversial theories.

The story of the Virgin of the Rocks starts in 1483, when da Vinci, aged 30, arrived in Milan from Florence. He had already garnered a formidable reputation by then but was a bit in a financial mess so he accepted to paint the fantasy scene as an altarpiece for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception in their chapel at San Francesco Grande. It’s likely excursions to nearby caves, which da Vinci often enjoyed, served as inspiration for the work. He once wrote in a 1480 journal entry:

“Drawn by my eager desire I wandered some way among gloomy rocks, coming to the entrance of a great cavern, in front of which I stood for some time, stupefied and uncomprehending such a thing… Suddenly two things arose in me, fear and desire: fear of the menacing darkness of the cavern; desire to see if there was any marvellous thing within.”

Da Vinci never worked fast. This was a man who was equally skilled at painting as he was at anatomy and other sciences. All the rocks were drawn with maximum care and precision, as were the various plants showcased. Yet, some 21 years later, da Vinci painted the same painting again — almost the same painting. This later version is more idealized and the angel Uriel is no longer pointing at St John.

The controversy surrounding the Virgin of the Rocks has attracted some of the wildest opinions. Writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater claimed the painting is evidence of Leonardo’s decadence and his alleged homosexual proclivities, as the pointing angel was seen by them as a disturbingly androgynous figure. Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, wrote the Louvre picture is a secret allegory of Leonardo’s contempt for the established church, as it shows a Madonna-Christ pagan role-reversal.

Pizzorusso has been following the story of da Vinci’s controversial work for more than 20 years and even wrote a popular geology book on the subject called Tweeting Da Vinci. She notes that the plants and rocks featured in the painting housed at the London museum couldn’t have been made by da Vinci’s hand. She told EOS that on the Louvre version “you can see fossil imprints on the front of the sandstone and geologic features that would have been caused by sedimentation.” She also reiterated what other biologists have mentioned before, namely that the plants in the National Gallery painting don’t exist in nature whereas those housed at Louvre are real, like Iris germanicus.

“The plants are correct in the Louvre version, Iris germanicus, for example. And they are growing in the soft, sandy soil, whereas a lot of the plants in the London version are trying to grow out of hard diabase, where it’s very hard for roots to take hold,” she told science journalist Bas den Hond.

Simply put, the latter version shares nothing of da Vinci’s eye for drawing nature as closely as possible to reality.

“Basically, the rocks are unidentifiable,” she added. “You cannot tell whether they are sandstone or limestone. It almost looks like a stage setting, with Styrofoam rocks.”

Pizzorusso thinks the later version, now in London, was made by one of da Vinci’s coworkers, a fellow called Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis. She argues that da Vinci sold the Louvre painting to someone else, and the London painting was the fulfillment of his contract. Pressed by time, da Vinci likely accepted that his coworkers take care of the piece after his example.

The truth for both The Scream and the Virgin of the Rocks might never be known but it’s amazing what kind of evidence science is able to glean many centuries later.

The Food Chain Project: Fighting Food Waste With Art

People in the developed world generally waste a lot of food – a lot! Nearly 100 million tonnes of food are wasted annually in the European Union, which comes in at about 280 kg (620 lb) per person per year. Things are even worse in the US, where the waste is 295 kg (650 lb). With that in mind, Israeli-Dutch artist Itamar Gilboa has started a new project where he monitored everything he ate during a year and made a work of art out of it. It’s hard to imagine just how much food we eat… and how much we buy, but never use.

The Food Chain Project is a pop-up supermarket made entirely of sculptural groceries that represent Itamar Gilboa’s consumption over 365 days — which is similar to most of us. Most of what he consumed is what you’d expect (apples, burgers, cheese and so on), and in the end, everything added up to 6,000 products. Thinking about his personal consumption habits, Gilboa started to research the social implications of individual consumption choices on global food issues. By presenting the 6000 products he consumed in a year, Gilboa aimed to raise awareness and generate a wider discussion on global food issues.

It took him three years to replicate all the items, building them from white plaster and materializing them into a unique exhibition. He then turned the exhibition into his “traveling supermarket”, taking it around the world for everyone to see. The message he’s sending is simple and powerful: the items are generic, they could be any product, and they could be used to end someone’s hunger – but we’re throwing them away.

Gilboa is part of a newer breed of artists, one that doesn’t aim to put itself in the center of art. Instead, he chooses bigger, broader topics, which affect more people, while still maintaining a down-to-earth approach. It’s art made not only to be beautiful, but also to stir up ideas and debates. Personally, I feel that this is a great approach, which can lead to some much-needed discussions.

‘Interestingly, as an artist I am not necessarily concerned with creating works that represent who I am. Rather I focus on larger subjects matters. Taking myself as the starting point in my work I am able to grasp these subjects. I am able to focus on consumption issues, migration or violence without being pompous. In this sense I see my work as social sculptures; in the end I have a story to tell’.

First artwork to be made in space is now orbiting above all our heads

Art has found its way to space! On Friday, a 3D printer aboard the ISS launched a sculpture of the human laugh into space.

Image credits NASA.

It’s not the first time art has gone to space — but it’s the first time it’s been made up there, as part of project #Laugh. This collaboration between Israeli artist Eyal Gever and California-based company Made In Space (the guys that build and operate the ISS’s Additive Manufacturing Facility/3D printer), started back in Dec. 2016 when Gever launched an app that converts the users’ unique laugh soundwave into a 3D-model.

Gever let all the app’s users vote on their favorite ‘laugh star’ — the winner was Naughtia Jane Stanko of Las Vegas, whose model was beamed up to the ISS and printed out Friday. But it’s not just a pretty shape — the star carries symbolic significance, Gever said.

“We live in epic times, where continuous disruption and rapid change exists against a backdrop of extremely volatile cultural shifts constantly challenging our human conscience,” he said in a statement.

“A laugh star floating in space, above all our heads, is my attempt to create a contemporary metaphor for the hanging ‘Sword of Damocles,’ a reminder that the beauty of human life is so fragile.”

The AMF is usually put to work printing spare parts, tool, and a whole wide range of stuff the astronauts need aboard their orbiting lab. Made in Space were more than happy to expand on its usual range of applications for the project however.

“It’s important for the world to see that technology and art are not independent of one another,” Made In Space President and CEO Andrew Rush said in the same statement.

“We’ve enjoyed being a part of this project, and hope that it communicates to the world that innovation and creativity are the driving forces behind humanity’s future in space.”

Gever and Made In Space Chief Technology Officer Jason Dunn will showcase the laugh star on March 13 at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.

Pretty rock found in Croatia points at Neanderthals’ softer, artistic side

A rock found at the Krapina site in Croatia 100 years ago seems to have been taken there by Neanderthals only because it was pretty, with no intention of being used as a tool.

Pretty rock is pretty,
Image credits David Frayer / University of Kansas.

A huge part of science is collecting stuff — data, questioners, images, stuff from caves. Sadly, what often happens is that things get collected, taken to a place such as a lab or museum to be examined, and then simply forgotten.

Sometimes though, research teams go museum-diving, and they make some pretty fantastic finds. An international team of researchers has (re?)discovered a piece of split limestone retrieved from the Krapina site in Croatia and stored in the Croatian Natural History Museum in Zagreb. The site was excavated between 1899-1905 and found to contain Neanderthal bones.

The best part? This piece of limestone wasn’t worked over and would have probably made a horrible tool anyway. Neanderthals couldn’t eat it, or use it in any other way. It simply was a pretty rock.

“If we were walking and picked up this rock, we would have taken it home,” said David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology and corresponding author of the study.

“It is an interesting rock.”

The finding adds to a growing body of evidence showing that Neanderthals weren’t simple brutes. They were able to see simbolic or aesthetic value in objects, not just the “rock big, good for smash” property. Frayer and lead author Davorka Radovčić, curator at the museum, also published a paper in PLOS ONE in 2015 describing a set of eagle talons found at the same site which were fashioned into jewelry.

“People have often defined Neanderthals as being devoid of any kind of aesthetic feelings, and yet we know that at this site they collected eagle talons and they collected this rock. At other sites, researchers have found they collected shells and used pigments on shells,” Frayer said.

“There’s a little bit of evidence out there to suggest that they weren’t the big, dumb creatures that everybody thinks they were.”

Similar to how they found the talons, Frayer credited Radovčić’s keen eye for finding the rock among the items recovered from the site. The cave, he said, was dug in sandstone so the rock obviously was brought from somewhere else. It stands out in over 1,000 stone items recovered from the cave, but the original archaeologists didn’t give it much attention beyond bagging and tagging it.

Clam-shell view of the rock with black dendrites. The flake, only shown on Side A, fractured after excavation.
Image credits David Frayer / University of Kansas.

The rock, which measures roughly 5x4x1,5 inches, doesn’t show any striking platforms or other preparation of an edge, so the team suspects it wasn’t meant to be used as a tool. A small flake seems to fit in with the rest of the rock, but the break likely happened after the specimen was recovered

“The fact that it wasn’t modified, to us, it meant that it was brought there for a purpose other than being used as a tool,” Frayer said.

What caught Radovčić’s eye were the inclusions (black lines) that stood out from the brown rock. Its look is probably what made the Neanderthal want to collect it. He or she either carried it a few kilometers to the cave from a local outcrop of biopelmicritic limestone, or found it closer to Krapina — likely transported by a stream.

And yea I get that as far as archaeological findings go, this one is not so dramatic — it’s a stone from the stone age. But personally, I think it’s awesome. I like collecting rocks. Always have. The fact that one Neanderthal a hundred-and-some thousand years ago had the same hobby as me makes them more relatable than a gazillion cave paintings in France ever could.

Pretty rocks rule, my Neanderthal brother. Or sister.

The full paper was published in the journal Human Palaeontology and Prehistory with what is probably the best scientific paper name I have seen in a long time: “An interesting rock from Krapina”.


Mathematical concepts can be very useful for us to generate beauty. By using the trigonometric functions sine and cosine, we can make an infinite number of stunning symmetrical images. Below you can see seven images and the formulas I used to create them. Each of these shapes is constructed by 7,000 circles.

7,000 Circles (1)

Credit: Hamid Naderi Yeganeh

7,000 Circles (2)

Credit: Hamid Naderi Yeganeh

7,000 Circles (3)

Credit: Hamid Naderi Yeganeh

7,000 Circles (4)

Credit: Hamid Naderi Yeganeh

7,000 Circles (5)

Credit: Hamid Naderi Yeganeh

7,000 Circles (6)

Credit: Hamid Naderi Yeganeh

7,000 Circles (7)

Credit: Hamid Naderi Yeganeh

See more images at: https://mathematics.culturalspot.org

Oscar Diar

Self-ink calendar uses capillary action to mark dates

Oscar Diar

Credit: Oscar Diaz

When art and science meet, the results can be incredible. Case in point, Oscar Diaz‘s ink calendar which uses capillary action to spread the ink on paper so the current date is always filled with colour.

Ink Calendar

Credit: Oscar Diaz

Each date of the month is an embossed number on the paper. Because the time it takes for the ink to spread on the paper is predictable, Diaz could space his calendar figures in such a way that each passing day ‘printed’ his calendar. Each day, one blank day is filled until the end of the month or about an ink bottle’s worth.

Oscar Diaz

Credit: Oscar Diaz

The colors of the ink Diaz used are related to a ‘color temperature scale’. This way, each month is inked in a colour related to our perception of the weather on that month. For instance, dark blue in December, three shades of green in the spring, orange and red in the summer.

Because you can actually see the ink filling each embossed calendar date, people get a heightened perception of the passage of time. This is, in fact, the aim of the project — to address our senses, rather than the rational brain which only needs a signal and reference point.

The medieval elephant was partly horse, partly dog, totally hilarious

There were some pretty epic works of art made throughout the Middle Ages and especially the Renaissance. Tapestries, the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, monumental works gracing royal chambers and cathedrals. But we’re not gonna talk about those today. We’re gonna talk about the drawings that would have barely made it under a magnet on the fridge door (if they would’ve had fridges or magnets in those times.)

The drawings that never fail to get a giggle out of me. No matter how tragic or dramatic the scene, there’s always a little something hilarious in the depiction; most often caused by a dissociation between what’s happening and the expressions depicted. The fiercest battle, the most grueling siege, for example, has that one guy stabbing away with a bored expression on his face, seemingly wondering whether or not he turned the stove off before he left home. For me, it just adds to the experience — they’re treats, like little chips of chocolate in a cookie to be found and enjoyed.

But if you want a full chocolate bar, look no further than these medieval takes on what an elephant looks like.

From the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare, Classe

Ok so only two pictures in and color, anatomy and size are already hilariously wrong. A preschooler could probably draw a better elephant, right?

Well yes, that’s probably right. But consider the fact that these drawings were done starting from nothing more than a description of what an elephant is, and a shoddy one at that. Or from another drawing, at best. The average preschooler today has seen a lot more elephants than all these artists combined. So they naturally drew them similar animals they knew of which seemed similar in form or use: horses, boars or dogs.

From the Rochester Beastiary

It just goes to show the huge difference modern photography makes in our lives, connecting the world, making it smaller and smaller each day. I can’t think of a single thing that I know of without having seen at least one picture or photograph of. But if I do and I’m curious to see how it looks like, all I have to do is google it. These artists could have only dreamed of that.

Luckily for us, or they wouldn’t have made these awfully hilarious drawings.

All images via Imgur.

Islamic art inspires metamaterial that grows when stretched

A new type of metamaterial that can grow when stretched, with possible applications for medical equipment and satellites, was inspired by an unlikely source — ancient Islamic art.

Most materials, such as cotton, plastic or rubber, stretch in one direction and become thinner in another when you pull on them. Some metamaterials however, a class of materials engineered specifically to have properties that don’t occur naturally, can be designed to grow as you pull on them.

It all comes down to the way they’re structured at a microscopic level. If you zoom in enough, you’ll see that they’re typically made up of a series of interconnected squares. When pulled apart, these squares turn relative to one another, increasing the total volume of the material — in essence, becoming larger. But this comes at the price of losing the original shape of the material as it expands.

Ahmad Rafsanjani and Damiano Pasini of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, set out to create a material that would grow when stretched but keeps its form. And they turned to the beautifully intricate geometry of ancient Islamic arhitecture.

Some of the designs that the team used as inspiration.
Image credits A Rafsanjani/McGill University.


“There is a huge library of geometries when you look at Islamic architectures,” says Rafsanjani.

The team picked their designs out of the over 70 patterns adorning the walls of Iran’s Kharragan towers, two mausoleums built in 1067 and 1093 in the northern part of the country. The mausoleums are decorated with intricate patterns of both repeating and alternating shapes, separated by either parallel or circular cuts.

Based on the same design features, the team fashioned the new metamaterial from natural rubber. When pulled on, it can expand into a larger volume that the original by leaving open spaces in between the shapes.

“I introduced some cuts and some hinges, but the pattern is exactly the same,” says Rafsanjani.

The new material, based on designs nearly a thousand years old.
Image credits A Rafsanjani/McGill University

Rafsanjani presented the materials at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Baltimore, Maryland, on 15 March.

The ability of the material could make it useful for an array of applications, such as inserting medical devices inside veins and arteries, or deploying new satellites that unfold in space.