Tag Archives: shell

Dutch court orders Shell to steeply cut 45% of its carbon emissions in landmark ruling

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell will have to reduce its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 (from 2019 levels) following a ruling of a Dutch court. That’s a much larger drop than the company’s current aim of 20%. Civil society largely celebrated the move, which they argue will have implications for other fossil fuel companies around the world. 

Campaigners at Friends of the Earth celebrate the ruling with an intervention outside the court. Image credit: Friends of the Earth

This is the first time that a court has ruled a company has to reduce its emissions in line with the global climate targets, according to Friends of the Earth, the environmental organization that brought the case against Shell. It comes a week after the International Energy Agency asked fossil companies to stop drilling for oil and gas right now. 

A spokesperson for Shell said the company will appeal the court’s “disappointing” decision. “We are investing billions of dollars in low-carbon energy, including electric vehicle charging, hydrogen, renewables and biofuels. We want to grow demand for these products and scale up our new energy businesses,” the source said in a statement. 

Shell argues its carbon intensity targets are aligned with the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global temperature increases. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Friends of the Earth said the company’s investment on fossil fuels shows it doesn’t take climate change seriously, and the cour agreed, finding that Shell’s emissions are a “very serious threat” to Dutch residents.

The lawsuit was filed in April 2019 by seven activist groups such as including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace on behalf of 17,200 Dutch citizens. The court found that Shell’s business model “is endangering human rights and lives” by posing a threat to the Paris Agreement, arguing the company has an “individual responsibility” to reduce its emissions.

Shell told the court there was no legal basis for the case and that governments alone are responsible for meeting Paris targets. Nevertheless, the court found that “since 2012 there has been broad international consensus about the need for non-state action” on climate change because “states cannot tackle the climate issue on their own.” This is an extremely point, because it means that legally, companies (and not just countries) also have climate responsibilities.

“This is a turning point in history,” Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands, said in a statement. “This case is unique because it is the first time a judge has ordered a large polluting corporation to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. This ruling may also have major consequences for other big polluters.”

Oil companies are facing growing pressure from shareholders and activists to abandon fossil fuels and instead invest into cleaner energy sources. The ruling “may sound revolutionary, but, in fact, it is in line with what long term investors are increasingly asking companies to do anyway,” Cees van Dam, a research at Rotterdam School of Management, told CNN. 

Shell held its annual general meeting last week and shareholders voted overwhelmingly in favor of the company’s energy transition plans. Nevertheless, a growing minority rejected the strategy, insisting the oil giant needs to do much more in the fight against climate change. Shell’s CEO Ben Van Beurden said the company’s strategy was “comprehensive and ambitious.”

This is the third environmental case Shell has lost in recent times. In February, the United Kingdom Supreme Court ruled that thousands of Nigerians can sue Shell in English courts over environmental damage. Meanwhile, in January, a Dutch court ordered Shell to compensate locals for oil pipeline leaks that occurred more than a decade ago.

The earliest dinosaurs probably laid soft-shelled eggs

The first dinosaurs were huge softies, judging by the shells of the eggs they laid, a new study reports.

Photographs, histology and Raman spectroscopy of Protoceratops
and Mussaurus soft eggshells.
Image credits Mark A. Norell et al., (2020), Nature.

Researchers from the American Museum of Natural History and Yale University analyzed the eggs of two different non-avian dinosaurs to find that they resemble those of turtles in terms of microstructure, composition, and mechanical properties.

Meaning that early dinosaurs likely laid soft-shelled eggs. Under pressure from predators or the environment, dinosaurs evolved hard-shelled eggs at least three independent times, the team adds.

Getting an egg up

“The assumption has always been that the ancestral dinosaur egg was hard-shelled,” said lead author Mark Norell, chair and Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology. “Over the last 20 years, we’ve found dinosaur eggs around the world. But for the most part, they only represent three groups — theropod dinosaurs, advanced hadrosaurs like the duck-bill dinosaurs, and advanced sauropods.”

“At the same time, we’ve found thousands of skeletal remains of ceratopsian dinosaurs, but almost none of their eggs. So why weren’t their eggs preserved? My guess — and what we ended up proving through this study — is that they were soft-shelled.”

Amniotes are a group of animals including birds, mammals, and reptiles, which reproduce by laying eggs with an inner membrane or “amnion”. This membrane helps keep the embryo from drying out. Some amniotes, the team explains, including many turtles, lizards, and snakes, lay soft-shelled eggs, whereas others (mostly birds) lay hard-shelled eggs. Their hardness comes from high levels of calcification in the shell.

Harder eggshells provide better protection from the environment and was a big development for amniotes, as it allowed for more eggs to survive until hatching in more varied environments.

Modern crocodilians and birds, the closest living relatives to the dinosaurs, lay hard-shelled eggs. The fact that soft-shelled eggs rarely fossilize also helped as it made it extremely difficult to study the transition from soft to hard eggshells. So, it was assumed that non-avian dinosaurs used this type of shell.

But this was not the case, a new study reports. The authors studied embryo-containing fossil eggs of Protoceratops (a sheep-sized herbivore) and Mussaurus (a long-necked, big herbivore dino).

The skeletons of six among the Protoceratops embryos have been preserved surrounded by a black-and-white, egg-shaped halo, according to the team. Two of them (potentially hatched) were largely free of this halo. A closer analysis showed that the shapes were created from chemically-altered residues of the membrane lining the inside of all modern archosaur eggs. The same was true for the Mussaurus embryos.

Comparing the minerals that made up these shells with those in the eggshells of modern species, the team determined that the Protoceratops and Mussaurus eggs were indeed non-biomineralized, meaning they were leathery-soft.

“It’s an exceptional claim, so we need exceptional data,” said study author and Yale graduate student Jasmina Wiemann. “We had to come up with a brand-new proxy to be sure that what we were seeing was how the eggs were in life, and not just a result of some strange fossilization effect.”

“We now have a new method that can be applied to all other sorts of questions, as well as unambiguous evidence that complements the morphological and histological case for soft-shelled eggs in these animals.”

Using chemical composition data and the mechanical properties of eggshells from 112 other extinct and living relatives, the team determined that calcified eggs evolved independently at least three times in dinosaurs, probably from a soft-shelled type.

Soft eggshells are more sensitive to water loss and offer little protection against mechanical stress, so Protoceratops and Mussaurus probably buried them in sand or soil and incubated them with heat from decomposing plant matter, as some reptiles do today.

The paper “The first dinosaur egg was soft” has been published in the journal Nature.


Wild chimpanzees learned how to crack open tortoises — and they’re sharing the knowledge among themselves

Turns out that you can teach an old chimpanzee new tricks — more to the point, they’ll teach themselves.


Image credits Simon Bardet.

A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the University of Osnabrück (both in Germany) report that wild chimpanzees in the Loango National Park, Gabon, have learned how to crack open and eat tortoise. The chimps will smash tortoises against tree trunks in order to get through their tough shells. This is the first time such behavior has been observed and, the team adds, it likely is a cultural one — meaning the chimps share this knowledge inside their groups and through generations.

Breaking their fast

“We have known for decades that chimpanzees feed on meat from a variety of animal species, but until now the consumption of reptiles has not been observed,” says Tobias Deschner, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

“What is particularly interesting is that they use a percussive technique [i.e. smashing] that they normally employ to open hard-shelled fruits to gain access to meat of an animal that is almost inaccessible for any other predator.”

The team observed this behavior in the newly-habituated Rekambo community. Ten chimpanzees engaged in this behavior a total of 38 times over the dry season, the team explains, a period when other food such as fruit is abundant. Tortoise-whacking seems to be a highly social activity for the chimpanzees, the team explains.

“Sometimes, younger animals or females were unable to crack open the tortoise on their own. They then regularly handed the tortoise over to a stronger male who cracked the tortoise’s shell open and shared the meat with all other individuals present,” says Simone Pika, first author of the study and a cognitive scientist at the University of Osnabrück.

The authors also detail an exceptional case in which an adult male, who was sitting on his own up in a tree, cracked a tortoise, ate half, and hid the rest in a tree fork. The male climbed down from the tree, built his nest in another one nearby, then returned the next morning to eat the leftover tortoise. This particular case suggests that chimps can plan for the future, says Pika, which is quite an exciting find.

“The ability to plan for a future need, such as for instance hunger, has so far only been shown in non-human animals in experimental and/or captive settings. Many scholars still believe that future-oriented cognition is a uniquely human ability. Our findings thus suggest that even after decades of research, we have not yet grasped the full complexity of chimpanzees’ intelligence and flexibility.”

“Wild chimpanzee behaviour has been studied now for more than 50 years and at more than ten long-term field sites all across tropical Africa,” Deschner adds. “It is fascinating that we can still discover completely new facets of the behavioural repertoire of this species as soon as we start studying a new population.”

Pika says that chimpanzees offer a unique window into our own history, and that observing them in the wild can teach us a lot about our own evolution.

The paper “Wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) exploit tortoises (Kinixys erosa) via percussive technology” has been published in the journal Science Reports.

Double buttons.

Prehistoric craftsmen were really into freshwater mussel shells, research reveals

New research is showing that ancient Europeans were really fond of ornaments made from freshwater mussel shells.

Double buttons.

Prehistoric shell ornaments made with freshwater mother-of-pearl.
Image credits Jérôme Thomas / University of Burgundy-Franche-Comté.

An international research team says that freshwater mussel shells were all the rage in Europe between 4200 and 3800 BC. The findings are based on an analysis of proteins extracted from prehistoric shell ornaments found on the continent. Despite being found at extremely far-off locations in Denmark, Romania, and Germany, the artifacts used in this study were all remarkably similar in look, the authors note — and were all made using the mother-of-pearl of freshwater mussels.

Shell we make some jewelry?

“We were surprised to discover that the ornaments were all made from freshwater mussels because it implies that this material was highly regarded by prehistoric craftsmen, wherever they were in Europe and whatever cultural group they belonged to,” says senior author Dr Beatrice Demarchi, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York and the University of Turin, Italy.

“Our study suggests the existence of a European-wide cross-cultural tradition for the manufacture of these double-buttons.”

The ornaments the team looked at (known as “double-buttons”) were manufactured between 4200 and 3800 BC. They were generally found in coastal regions, which isn’t very surprising, but they were even found in those areas where plenty of other shells would have been available — which is quite surprising.

Double-buttons were likely applied to leather garments such as armbands or belts through pressing, the team notes. This implies that they were more of a stylish accessory rather than a practical one, a way to show off status or wealth through clothing. As such, archeologists rarely considered freshwater mollusks as a potential source of materials for these buttons in prehistory. They were, simply put, too local and easy to acquire to be considered flashy.

However, it seems that our prehistoric ancestors didn’t really agree. Mother-of-pearl is a very strong and resilient material and, the findings suggest, quite sought-after. It also seems to have been an important driver of prehistoric trade.

“The ornaments are associated with the Late Mesolithic, Late Neolithic and Copper Age cultures,” says Dr André Colonese, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, a co-author of the paper.

“Some of these groups were still living as hunter gatherers, but in the south they were farmers switching to a more settled lifestyle. The fact that these ornaments look consistently similar and are made from the same material suggests there may have been some kind of interaction between these distinct groups of people at this time.

The findings show that these peoples either traded for the buttons, shared knowledge of how to manufacture them, or inherited the craft from the groups that came before them. Whatever the case may be, people living at this time “clearly had a sophisticated understanding of the natural environment and which resources to use,” Colonese adds.

Mollusc shells only contain a small quantity of proteins compared to other bio-mineralized tissues (such as bone). This makes them notoriously difficult to analyze, the team goes on to explain. To address this issue, they are not working on “palaeoshellomics,” a set of techniques that should allow them to extract proteins from mollusk fossils.

“This is the first time researchers have been able to retrieve ancient protein sequences from prehistoric shell ornaments in order to identify the type of mollusc they are made from,” says Dr Demarchi added.

“This research is an important step towards understanding how molluscs and other invertebrates evolved. We hope that using these techniques we will eventually be able to track an evolutionary process which began at least 550 million years ago.”

The paper “‘Palaeoshellomics’ reveals the use of freshwater mother-of-pearl in prehistory” has been published in the journal eLife.

“Shell knew.” The big oil company was aware of the effects of climate change since at least 1991

A new, previously unreleased film has emerged, revealing that big oil company Shell was aware of what they called the “catastrophic effects of climate change.”

A snippet from the video. You can watch the whole thing below.

Shell knew

It’s not like oil companies are oblivious to the effects of their activity. Some of the world’s best geologists are working in corporations like Shell or Exxon — and these companies invest a lot in science. It’s just that they don’t always make their findings public and they don’t always act on what they find. After all, profit is a hard incentive to ignore.

The video has resurfaced thanks to research from Jelmer Mommers of the Dutch blog The Correspondent, after which it was picked up by Damian Carrington of the Guardian. The film, shot in 1991, paints our current situation with disturbing accuracy. It talks about the negative effects of fracking (which has since become a mainstream technology), increased floods, and the social change which will accompany the climate change. Shell’s 28-minute film is ominously called Climate of Concern, and was particularly aimed at schools and universities. However, it was never made public until now.

Ironically, it starts discussing the need for climate studies — something that the fossil fuel lobby is trying to sweep under the rug for years.

“Research of this kind is being stepped up worldwide. The need to understand the interplay of atmosphere and oceans has been given a new sense of urgency by the realization that our energy-consuming way of life may be causing climatic changes, with adverse consequences or us all.”

Does that sound familiar? It’s what researchers have been saying for years and years, with growing urgency. Yet the US just elected a president and an administration which promised to U-turn on all climate action. But it gets even better, as the video emphasizes the negative effects that everyone will suffer:

“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”

To top it all off, the film also lauds existing renewable energy sources — which in 1991, were much less efficient than the ones we have access to today.

It’s not like Shell was alone, they weren’t the only ones to figure out what was happening. As I was saying before, there are many good scientists working in oil companies — and Exxon could easily claim the top spot here. The largest private oil company and the third largest company in the world invests heavily into research. They’ve done so for decades, and it paid off… sort of. Exxon knew that climate change was happening since the 70s. A 2015 investigation showed that despite knowing about global warming years before it became a public issue, they chose to fund people to simply deny the problem instead of coming out publicly.

Exxon is currently under investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and state attorney generals for allegedly misleading investors about the risks climate change posed to its business. Much like Shell, Exxon too chose to focus on profits instead of doing what was right. The strategy of the two companies is similar in the long run: make a whole lot of money, invest a small part of it into renewables or some sort of clean technology and have all your spokespeople say how “green” you are. Save your face. In the meantime, invest more of it into lobby to push forth your agenda. Keep pumping oil and making more money. It works, the oil industry arguably has a stronger voice than ever. Have you seen the new US Secretary of State? Meet Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil.

Artist impression of Platychelys oberndorferi. Credit: Patrick Roeschli.

Ancient 150-million-year-old ancestor could explain how turtles evolved to retreat their necks

The turtle’s ability to retreat its neck and limbs to cower away in its shell may have been used by its ancestors as an attack mechanism.  Researchers who analyzed a 150-million-year-old turtle fossil claim this ancient ancestor likely retreated its neck backward so it could spring back with more punch to catch prey.

Artist impression of Platychelys oberndorferi. Credit: Patrick Roeschli.

Artist impression of Platychelys oberndorferi. Credit: Patrick Roeschli.

There are two main types of turtles: cryptodires and pleurodires, which further split into 13 families, 75 genera, and more than 300 species. Cryptodira comprises the bulk of both turtles and tortoises, including sea turtles and the heaviest freshwater turtles in the world — the alligator snapping turtles. The Pleurodira is comprised of only three families, all highly aquatic and some species are notable for being able to breathe through their cloacae, which is essentially their butts.

Despite their different adaptations, turtles from both suborders can retreat their necks. The cryptodires pull their heads straight back into their shells, while the Pleurodires bend their necks sideways to bring them into the shell. It’s important to note, however, that no ancient turtle could retreat its neck into the shell.

Jérémy Anquetin, a paleontologist from the Jurassica Museum in Switzerland, and colleagues became intrigued by the characteristics of a 150-million-year-old turtle Platychelys oberndorferi. Its skeleton and shell clearly suggest it belongs to Pleurodires but the shape of its two cervical bones seem to indicate it used to pull its neck backward like cryptodires. The same neck bones would have made it impossible for the turtle to retreat all of its neck into its shell.

The Platychelys oberndorferi fossil from the Late Jurassic period found in Germany. Credit: H. Tischlinger.

The Platychelys oberndorferi fossil from the Late Jurassic period found in Germany. Credit: H. Tischlinger.

So why would this ancient turtle have all the biological means to pull back its neck if it couldn’t retreat it inside its shell for protection? Anquetin reckons it must have developed this ability to snap back at prey as the modern alligator snapping turtles.  In other words, the trait initially appeared as a result of the benefits it offered from catching prey and later turned into a defense mechanism.

“It is very bizarre in evolving in the late Jurassic a morphology that would evolve only millions of years later in cryptodires,” said Anquetin, noting that two orders of turtles evolved their ability to retreat the neck independently.

Possible neck retraction mechanism for Platychelys oberndorferi. Credit: Credit Patrick Roeschli.

Possible neck retraction mechanism for Platychelys oberndorferi. Credit: Credit Patrick Roeschli.

The researchers turned to the alligator snapping turtle and the matamata — two modern turtles who are distant relatives but who nonetheless share similarities with Platychelys oberndorferi — to offer a glimpse of how the ancient turtle must have used this trait.

“They usually live in the bottom of swamps or slow rivers and they walk in the bottom of the water amid the vegetation and they capture prey by very [quickly] projecting their head forward,” said Anquetin for The Guardian. “Our interpretation is that this fossil turtle probably lived in the same way as the two modern ones and that this particular neck anatomy which restricted the movement of the neck in the vertical plane was probably an adaptation to help the fast forward projection of the head to capture prey.”

The hypothesis, published in the journal Scientific Reports, doesn’t explain why pleurodira turtles evolved to pull their necks in sideways, though. Right now, the main conclusions are pretty speculative but future studies might be able to shed more light with better evidence.

Both a lizard and primitive turtle, the Pappochelys fills a evolutionary sweet spot in turtle evolution. Image: Rainer Schoch/Nature

How the turtle got its shell: missing link ancestor shows how

The newly discovered fossils of an ancient reptile-like creature help explain how turtles evolved their most recognizable feature: the shell.  The newly named species, Pappochelys, Greek for “grandfather turtle”, lived some 240 million years ago and fills an evolutionary sweet spot sitting between earlier turtle ancestors and more recently established species.

A shell is born

Both a lizard and primitive turtle, the Pappochelys fills a evolutionary sweet spot in turtle evolution. Image: Rainer Schoch/Nature

Both a lizard and primitive turtle, the Pappochelys fills a evolutionary sweet spot in turtle evolution. Image: Rainer Schoch/Nature

The researchers from the  Natural History Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. systematically analyzed 18 fossil specimens, in addition to a complete skull. Piecing together the complementary remains, the team painted a complete picture of the ancient creature: it was eight inches long or roughly the size of a modern-day box turtle, and while it didn’t had a shell it definitely featured a precursor. Its ribs were broad and sturdy, but at the same time extended in line with the spine making the body hold more volume and improving buoyancy. If it didn’t have a shell, what makes it a turtle ancestors then? Well, the primary hint is a line of shell-like bones covering its belly – the kind turtles today bear.

“It has the real beginnings of the belly shell developing,” says Hans-Dieter Sues, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., “little rib-like structures beginning to fuse together into larger plates.”

“This is not a kind of rib that you find in anything else, so this was the first giveaway,” he says. “We were certain that we had found a very important new thing, and we went out and had a couple of celebratory beers, in good German fashion.”

Of course, there are many animals, ancient or modern, that evolved bony plates of various kinds, but  them to be “completely enclosed — basically, in its own little bony house — is something that’s unique to turtles,” according to Sues.

Pappochelys' skeleton. Highlighted: turtle-like rib arrangement and belly bones. Image: Rainer Schoch

Pappochelys’ skeleton. Highlighted: turtle-like rib arrangement and belly bones. Image: Rainer Schoch

Later on, the earliest evidence we know of a turtle with a completely evolved shell is 214 million years old. Previously, a  260-million-year-old fossil from South Africa suggests an even earlier turtle ancestor. In this context,  Pappochelys fits nicely between the two, completing the lineage, as reported in the journal Nature.

“Suddenly,” Sues says, “we got sort of a picture that yes, a turtle shell may have actually developed from something like that.”

Additionally, the findings help settle an age-old debate: are turtle more related to dinosaurs or reptiles? Pappochelys has two openings in the skull behind the eye sockets, which is a reptile feature. Specifically, this is a feature found in reptiles like  lizards and snakes. So, turtles aren’t related neither to dinosaurs or another different group of primitive reptiles that are now extinct, as also previously hypothesized.

“At the time during which turtles evolved, all continents formed a single giant landmass known as Pangaea,” Sues says for Smithsonian. “Thus, there were few—if any—major obstacles to the dispersal of animals, so [fossils of] very closely related species can be found in South Africa and China, among other places.”

Oldest ever engraving discovered on 500,000-year-old shell

Archaeologists have identified the oldest engraving known to mankind – a 500,000 shell scratched by a human ancestor.

Detail of the engraving on fossil Pseudodon shell (DUB1006-fL) from Trinil.
Credit: Wim Lustenhouwer, VU University

In 2007, Stephen Munro was a graduate student in archaeology; while he was studying some shells from Java, Indonesia, he had the shock of his life: he found that one shell had a pattern of zig-zag lines inscribed into it. Using microscopy, Francesco d’Errico, an archaeologist at the University of Bordeaux showed that the marks had been etched in one session, by one person using a sharp tool.

“I almost fell off my chair,” Munro says. That’s because the oldest known engravings date back 100,000 years and were made by modern humans—the only species thought to be capable of making abstract designs.

But 500,000 years ago (the age of the shell), there were no modern humans around. However, Homo Erectus was around. Homo Erectus is an extinct species of hominid that lived throughout from about 1.9 million years ago to 143,000 years ago. The species originated in Africa, but spread as far as Georgia, India, Sri Lanka, China and (of course) Java. That’s right, Homo erectus on Java was already using shells of freshwater mussels as tools half a million years ago, and as a ‘canvas’ for an engraving.

“Until this discovery, it was assumed that comparable engravings were only made by modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa, starting about 100,000 years ago,” says lead author José Joordens, researcher at the Faculty of Archaeology at Leiden University.


Note the zig-zag graving. Image credits: WIM LUSTENHOUWER/VU UNIVERSITY AMSTERDAM

This is significant because many psychologists believe that geometric engravings are a sure sign of modern cognitive abilities, and only modern humans (Homo Sapiens) were thought to have cognitive abilities. This also means that Homo Erectus didn’t only made tools from stone, as was previously believed, but also used shells for this. They know shells were used as tools because one of them has a smooth and polished edge, which indicates that it was used as a tool for cutting or scraping.

Homo Erectus was pretty creative with the shells – first of all, they opened them by drilling a hole through the shell using a hard, pointed object (possibly a shark’s tooth) at exactly the spot where the muscle that keeps the shell closed is attached. Archaeologists have found many shells like this. If you damage or destroy these mussels, they open right up. If these findings are confirmed, then this means that after opening and eating them, Homo Erectus also used the shells as tools and as canvas for doodling.

“The precision with which these early humans worked indicates great dexterity and detailed knowledge of mollusc anatomy,” says Frank Wesselingh, a researcher and expert on fossil shells at Naturalis.

A team of 21 researchers analyzed the shells and associated sediments. The engraved geometrical pattern on one of the shells came as a total surprise. You need light coming from a particular angle to see the drawing, which is clearly older than the weathering processes on the shell arising from fossilization. Researchers at the VU University Amsterdam dated the shells and found that their age is between 430,000 and  540,000 years old. Could it be a hoax? The answer is almost beyond the shadow of a doubt: No, it’s not a hoax. This type of dating is usually very accurate and furthermore, Robin Dennell, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom revealed that the interiors of the grooves were smooth and rounded, not “jagged and sharp-edged” as you’d expect with modern engravings.


“I raised the scenario that one of Dubois’s workforce might have been bored and engraved a shell over lunch time”, he joked, before explaining how we know this is not the case.

What’s interesting to note is that the shells have been in a museum collection for quite some time now, and this spectacular discovery was just now made.

“It’s fantastic that this engraved shell has been discovered in a museum collection where it has been held for more than a hundred years. I can imagine people may be wondering whether this can be seen as a form of early art,” says Wil Roebroeks, Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at Leiden University. He was able to finance this long-term research with his NWO Spinoza Prize. “At the moment we have no clue about the meaning or purpose of this engraving.”

Can we really call this art? I don’t really know, but one thing’s for sure – we have to reevaluate our knowledge about the cognitive abilities of humanity’s ancestors.

Journal References:

  1. Joordens J.C.A., d’Errico F., Wesselingh F.P., Munro S. de Vos, J., Wallinga, J. Ankjærgaard, C., Reimann, T., Wijbrans, J.R., Kuiper K.F., Mücher H.J., Coqueugniot, H., Prié, H.V., Joosten, I., van Os, B., Schulp, A.S., Panuel, M., van der Haas V., Lustenhouwer W., Reijmer J.J.G., Roebroeks, W. Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving. Nature, December 2014 DOI: 10.1038/nature19362
  2. Josephine C. A. Joordens, Francesco d’Errico, Frank P. Wesselingh, Stephen Munro, John de Vos, Jakob Wallinga, Christina Ankjærgaard, Tony Reimann, Jan R. Wijbrans, Klaudia F. Kuiper, Herman J. Mücher, Hélène Coqueugniot, Vincent Prié, Ineke Joosten, Bertil van Os, Anne S. Schulp, Michel Panuel, Victoria van der Haas, Wim Lustenhouwer, John J. G. Reijmer, Wil Roebroeks. Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13962

‘Everything is NOT awesome’: Greenpeace viral video slashes Shell-Lego partnership


Photo: YouTube

Greenpeace premiered a video yesterday that campaign’s against Shell’s plans of drilling in the Arctic, but primarily targets a proxy company, Lego. The ad wants to move the Danish toy company to cancel its deal with Shell that will put Lego toys in hundreds of gas stations. In the video, an oil-stricken Arctic depicted in a set comprised of 120kg of Lego is shown as it slowly becomes engulfed by a sea of black tar. The only concrete message comes at the very end when a text block warns: “Shell is polluting our kids’ imagination”, in response to Lego’s official company mission – serving creativity and inspiration to children.

The ad went completely viral, hitting more than 1,3 m views already on YouTube, and garnering over 300,000 signatures for the Greenpeace petition to Lego.

It’s only been a day, but if we’re to heed credence to Lego’s most recent statement at the matter, it seems like the ad didn’t quite struck a chord with them.

“We are determined to leave a positive impact on society and the planet that children will inherit. Our unique contribution is through inspiring and developing children by delivering creative play experiences all over the world.

A co-promotion contract like the one with Shell is one of many ways we are able to bring LEGO® bricks into the hands of more children.

We welcome and are inspired by all relevant input we receive from fans, children, parents, NGOs and other stakeholders. They have high expectations to the way we operate. So do we.”

If anything, however, the video has made a lot of environmentalist Lego fans really mad, if we’re to judge from social media comments. Greenpeace’s reputation isn’t at its best either, to be fair. Only a week ago, the Guardian and Der Spiegel revealed that the world’s most famous environmental group squandered £3m on currency markets and that one of its top executives commuted to work by plane.

A Honda FCX Clarity was the firstretail fuel-cell electric vehicle customer to refuel at the new Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., on May 10, 2011. (c) Honda

Hydrogen fuel station opens in Torrace, CA

A Honda FCX Clarity was the firstretail fuel-cell electric vehicle customer to refuel at the new Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., on May 10, 2011. (c) Honda

A Honda FCX Clarity was the firstretail fuel-cell electric vehicle customer to refuel at the new Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., on May 10, 2011. (c) Honda

Toyota is the leading electric car manufacturer in the world, and now the Japanese automobile manufacturer is prepping to dominate another emerging green auto market – the hydrogen fueled car market.

The first step hydrogen fueled cars need to take to actually make it, and maybe sometime in the not so distant future to actually go mainstream, is to have an infrastructure. This first step was made just recently when the first hydrogen refuelling station in the US which is fed directly from an active industrial hydrogen pipeline went operational.

The hydrogen fuel station is located in Torrace, a suburb of Los Angeles, and was oppened in cooperation between Toyota, who owns the land on which the station was built, and Shell, which works directly with Air Products and provides on-site equipment and station maintenance. Air Products’ also provides storage and dispensing technology and hydrogen compression; and currently has the requested fuel capacity of 50kg per 12hour day. Quite a joint venture.

“Building an extensive hydrogen refueling infrastructure is a critical step in the successful market launch of fuel-cell vehicles,” said Chris Hostetter, a Toyota group vice president. “We plan to bring a fuel-cell vehicle to market in 2015, or sooner, and the infrastructure must be in place to support our customers’ needs.”

Los Angeles is home to probably more hydrogen vehicles than anywhere else in the U.S., which doesn’t necessarily say a lot since there are only a handful, but the new station is only the seventh in the region, so  if hydrogen vehicles ever take off, then SoCal is likely to be the place.

The station will also feature a learning centre that provides hydrogen and station information to local students and the general public. The arrival of the site will also make the part of the California Hydrogen Highway Initiative.

Fuel cell cars are still a long way though, and don’t expect to see too many hydrogen fueled cars in the near future. The current procedure is so intricate and exclusive that only a handful of people are currently driving such vehicles, most of which are actually test drives. But it’s starting to take off, bit by bit.

About three years ago, Honda started leasing the Clarity, a fuel cell car, to qualified people. Now Mercedes-Benz joined the bandwagon as well, and started leasing it’s own fuel cell car. It isn’t cheap at $850 a month, but that includes insurance and the fuel once stations start charging for it. Besides the high price, you need to also live near a hydrogen station to be considered for the waiting list.

“Currently, that’s our biggest challenge,” said Mercedes spokesman Larkin Hill. “The technology is ready, but the fueling is an integral part, and we need to have people live next to or close to a fueling station.”