Human Footprints / Visual Geology

“Experiential geology” One of my favorite aspects of understanding geologic processes is the direct experience of “seeing” the same type of manifestations of physical “acts” today as were recorded in the rock record as fossil traces, impressions and patterns on specific days and times millions of years ago. Although these are my own refrozen boot prints from previous days, in principle they are no different than any track way made by any ancestral biped. I imagine some familiar, and yet alien creature, under the same sun, walking alone, or with another, and try to envision where they were going, and why, but I can’t assume that their thoughts were like mine: that their experience of the environment and each other was modern in any way. Geology sticks to physical facts, processes, and results. What I experience in these moments is mine; it is not the experience of a creature who “walked similarly to me” millions of years ago.

Perhaps they felt the sun warming their backs, the mud and water squishing between their toes, the effort it took to “not get stuck” and looked around for a less muddy path; maybe they didn’t. There were no “hiking trails”; no camp grounds with electricity and running water; no place to clean up; no home. We really can’t imagine a planet undivided by human landscape schemes; roads, fences, fields and grids; maps and satellite photos. We have a compulsion to “know where we are”.  We really can’t imagine a “human-like brain” that is not likewise divided, reduced and confined by ideas to one prescription for living. One perception of reality.

I get the best of both some days, thanks to having studied geology. A ‘snippet’ of a lost species, who walked like me, enters into my day, but it lived as a natural animal.

My question is always, Did its kind perceive beauty? Not some elaborate description of beauty, but the sensation of “rightness” – proportion, pattern, color, detail in their surroundings; the changes  made by light, by night, by dawn and the pleasure this creates? Or were they simply hungry, anxious, stressed; on guard, uncomfortable and slogging through a muddy stretch of ground toward a bit of shade, wary of ever-present predators?

In a way, I prefer not to know. I’m happy to have my big 4 WD truck parked nearby, equipped with a so-so heater and defroster. A warm house to return to with food waiting in the fridge, and a stove on which to cook it. A natural gas “campfire” and lights. And most of all, hot water on demand to unfreeze my fingers and toes.



Charles Lyell (1797-1875), the famed Scottish geologist and paleontologist  befriended the young Charles Darwin and strongly influenced his thought. In particular, Darwin’s reading of Lyell’s Principles of Geology prompted him to think of evolution as a slow process in which small changes gradually accumulate over immense spans of time.

In this founding document of modern geology, Lyell emphasized natural law. It makes sense, he said, to assume that geological processes acting in the past were much the same as those we see today — forces such as sedimentation in rivers, erosion by wind, or deposition of ash and lava by volcanic eruptions. This is the principle of uniformitarianism, the reasonable assumption that the forces that acted in the past are of the same sort as those we see acting today.

In emphasizing these natural processes, he undermined the claims of earlier geologists many of whom had a distinct tendency to explain geological formations in terms of biblical floods. In the same way, Darwin, who took a copy of Lyell’s Principles around the world with him on the voyage of the Beagle, constructed an explanation of the origin of living things in terms of natural processes.



Geologists discover 5.7 myo “human-like” footprints / CRETE


Fossil footprints challenge established theories of human evolution

August 31, 2017 / Uppsala University

Summary: Newly discovered human-like footprints from Crete may put the established narrative of early human evolution to the test. The footprints are approximately 5.7 million years old and were made at a time when previous research puts our ancestors in Africa — with ape-like feet.

Ever since the discovery of fossils of Australopithecus in South and East Africa during the middle years of the 20th century, the origin of the human lineage has been thought to lie in Africa. More recent fossil discoveries in the same region, including the iconic 3.7 million year old Laetoli footprints from Tanzania which show human-like feet and upright locomotion, have cemented the idea that hominins (early members of the human lineage) not only originated in Africa but remained isolated there for several million years before dispersing to Europe and Asia. The discovery of approximately 5.7 million year old human-like footprints from Crete, published online this week by an international team of researchers, overthrows this simple picture and suggests a more complex reality.

Human feet have a very distinctive shape, different from all other land animals. The combination of a long sole, five short forward-pointing toes without claws, and a hallux (“big toe”) that is larger than the other toes, is unique. The feet of our closest relatives, the great apes, look more like a human hand with a thumb-like hallux that sticks out to the side. The Laetoli footprints, thought to have been made by Australopithecus, are quite similar to those of modern humans except that the heel is narrower and the sole lacks a proper arch. By contrast, the 4.4 million year old Ardipithecus ramidus from Ethiopia, the oldest hominin known from reasonably complete fossils, has an ape-like foot. The researchers who described Ardipithecus argued that it is a direct ancestor of later hominins, implying that a human-like foot had not yet evolved at that time.

The new footprints, from Trachilos in western Crete, have an unmistakably human-like form. This is especially true of the toes. The big toe is similar to our own in shape, size and position; it is also associated with a distinct ‘ball’ on the sole, which is never present in apes. The sole of the foot is proportionately shorter than in the Laetoli prints, but it has the same general form. In short, the shape of the Trachilos prints indicates unambiguously that they belong to an early hominin, somewhat more primitive than the Laetoli trackmaker. They were made on a sandy seashore, possibly a small river delta, whereas the Laetoli tracks were made in volcanic ash.

‘What makes this controversial is the age and location of the prints,’ says Professor Per Ahlberg at Uppsala University, last author of the study.

At approximately 5.7 million years, they are younger than the oldest known fossil hominin, Sahelanthropus from Chad, and contemporary with Orrorin from Kenya, but more than a million years older than Ardipithecus ramidus with its ape-like feet. This conflicts with the hypothesis that Ardipithecus is a direct ancestor of later hominins. Furthermore, until this year, all fossil hominins older than 1.8 million years (the age of early Homo fossils from Georgia) came from Africa, leading most researchers to conclude that this was where the group evolved. However, the Trachilos footprints are securely dated using a combination of foraminifera (marine microfossils) from over- and underlying beds, plus the fact that they lie just below a very distinctive sedimentary rock formed when the Mediterranean sea briefly dried out, 5.6 millon years ago. By curious coincidence, earlier this year, another group of researchers reinterpreted the fragmentary 7.2 million year old primate Graecopithecus from Greece and Bulgaria as a hominin. Graecopithecus is only known from teeth and jaws.

During the time when the Trachilos footprints were made, a period known as the late Miocene, the Sahara Desert did not exist; savannah-like environments extended from North Africa up around the eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, Crete had not yet detached from the Greek mainland. It is thus not difficult to see how early hominins could have ranged across south-east Europe and well as Africa, and left their footprints on a Mediterranean shore that would one day form part of the island of Crete.

‘This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate. Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen,’ says Per Ahlberg.



Human Adaptation to Cold Environments / Population Growth

I’ve been wondering lately whether or not our assumptions as to Neanderthal, Denisovan and early AMH – Homo sapiens adaptation to Eurasian climates is “logical” in that we assume that adaptation was “highly successful”. What if it wasn’t? 
Looking again at this guesstimate of human population growth, we see that between 100,000 ya (at which time HS pop. is set at “0”) and the “mythic” date 1492, (when supposedly HS pop. was 500 million), the rate of increase was actually pretty dismal. Although HS had migrated to much of the planet, most human population was concentrated in low, hot, coastal environments (and still is). It was only with the fabulous amount of energy supplied by fossil fuels that we succeeded in “invading” both extremely hot and cold environments in any significant and permanent way. “Artificial thermoregulation” has actually resulted in a runaway rate of increase in population growth AND the unforeseen consequence of heating the entire planet. Human artificially cooled and heated environments are not “closed systems” – they are wide open to the surrounding environment. 
An analogy might be: Hauling alligators to Siberia, and expecting them to adapt to the cold; a ridiculous expectation: You’d have to change Siberia into Florida. Isn’t that what we’ve begun…? 
Temperature (Austin)Published online 2016 Feb 22. doi:  10.1080/23328940.2015.1135688

Human whole body cold adaptation


The most widely accepted view of geographic origin and early migration of humans is that they originate from tropical Africa and started to disperse over the world only about 40,000 y ago.1

Since high temperatures dominate in that area, one can assume that at that time humans possessed optimal behavioral and physiological mechanisms to cope with heat and less developed physiological and behavioral mechanisms to cope with cold as encountered in temperate and arctic regions. Even though it is well documented that climatic changes occurred in tropical regions, seasonal variation in ambient temperature is blunted compared to temperate climates and heat stress dominates.2 40,000 y is a relatively short time span in evolutionary terms and it is therefore interesting to investigate if current modern humans are still tropical animals. What mechanisms do we have to cope with cold and do they differ from mechanisms that we supposed to have had 40,000 y ago?

Both tropical and (Ant)Arctic climates are challenging climates for humans due to extreme heat and cold respectively. It is assumed that moderate climates with ambient temperatures of around 21°C need minimal human energy investment in comparison to heat and cold exposure.3 However, it is good to realize that human protection from adverse performance and health outcomes is required already in temperate climates due to daily and seasonal variations in temperature, and not only for temperature extremes.

Since we are not able to compare the population living 40,000 y ago with the current population, we have to make some assumptions in an attempt to make comparisons. One assumption is that humans of the current population of central Africa possess comparable thermoregulatory mechanisms as humans 40,000 y ago. This assumption is defendable since at least part of the African population continued to live under similar climatological circumstances. Therefore we can compare the heat and cold coping mechanisms of the current population of tropical Africa with people living in cold areas for millennia, in order to learn about the adaptivea mechanisms that have occurred. Another way to investigate adaptations is to compare Caucasians to the population originating from Africa that is currently living in colder areas, such as the black Americans.

Finally, experimental studies on repeated exposure to cold may elucidate the mechanisms to acclimatize. It is the purpose of this review to contribute to the discussion if and how humans adapt to cold, including population studies ánd dedicated cold acclimation studies. In this review exposure to cold is categorized as severe, moderate and mild according to the thermal stressor that includes both the medium (at a given temperature cold water exposure is more severe that cold air exposure) and the temperature of the medium. Thermal strain is the reaction of the body to the cold exposure often quantified by core body temperature.

The human thermoregulatory system relies on behavior and on physiological responses for thermal homeostasis.10 Our physiological mechanisms are limited: basically, thermal balance in humans is maintained by vasodilation/vasoconstriction of the skin and peripheral tissues within the so-called thermo-neutral zone.11 We have one extra physiological mechanism in the heat (sweat evaporation) and 2 extra mechanisms in the cold (shivering- [ST] and nonshivering-thermogenesis [NST]). Humans are good sweaters with maximal values observed exceeding 3.5 l/hour.12 Since the heat of vaporization of water is high, this leads to a cooling power of over 2500 W! Moreover, the sweating capacity adapts very well to the demand: 10 weeks of heat acclimation can double sweat production.13 This acquired additional cooling power is maintained for several weeks, even when not exposed to heat anymore.14 In conclusion, our thermal response to heat and our adaptation capabilities to heat are well developed. This review will focus on our capabilities to counteract cold exposure, which are less effective, at least on the long term.

Human adaptation to thermal extremes is not only an academic question, but important to assess the impact of climate change on mortality and morbidity.4 It is predicted that we will face more thermal extremes in the future, and the role of adaptation is essential to understand its impact. Some studies even predict the extinction of human populations that live in extremely hot climates in a few decades,5 but they hardly take human adaptation into account. On the other side, it is not unlikely that Northern Europe may experience cooling due to the thermohaline circulation6 and then it is good to know if and to what extent we can adapt to cold. Another important question is if workers are better protected against cold after repeated cold exposure. Occupational work is expected to increase in cold areas due to the exploration of natural gas (over 30% of world gas reserve is located in the Arctic area) and the opening of the waterway north of Russia. Similar questions arise in the area of sports, where running, skiing or skating in extreme cold is increasingly popular: does it have any benefits to expose oneself to cold prior to the sports event in order to be optimally prepared? Therefore, this review focuses on the capability of humans to adapt to cold.

First the basic mechanisms to cope with cold will be discussed, followed by differences between populations living in hot and in cold areas. In most reviews on cold adaptation7-10 studies regarding population differences are intertwined with acclimation studies (in line with the definition in the Glossary of terms11). This may lead to confusion and therefore this review starts with discussing the results of population studies followed by studies on acclimation to cold. When required, small excursions will be made to the effect of heat exposure on humans. A recent review on heat adaptation provides extended information on adaptation to heat.12


Of course, this “physics” problem is very complicated….

Geology on Mars / Just Like Home

Much more at “Rocks on Mars”

Just like home in Wyoming. Incredible!

Photos NASA / Captions


This satellite image acquired by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in July 2015 shows a sand dune moving over a highly-fractured bedrock surface that has been broken by physical stress and temperature change. The leading surface of the sand dune is covered with sand ripples.This is just one out of an enormous field of dunes. Image by NASA. Enlarge image. [9] “Barcan dune”

mudstones-lgkimberly crater This photograph, taken by NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity in 2015, shows sedimentary rocks of the Kimberley Formation in Gale Crater. The crater contains thick deposits of finely-laminated mudstone that represent fine-grained sediments deposited in a standing body of water that persisted for a long period of time – long enough to allow sediments to accumulate to significant thickness. Image by NASA. Enlarge image. [8]


 This photograph was taken by NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity on August 27, 2015 using its mast camera. It shows an outcrop of cross-bedded sandstone on the lower slope of Mars’ Mount Sharp. The cross-bedding is very similar to the wind-blown sand outcrops commonly found in the U.S. Southwest. NASA directly compared this image to an outcrop of the Navajo Sandstone in Utah. Image by NASA. Enlarge image. [7]


This photograph was taken by NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity in 2012 using its mast camera. It shows a portion of an outcrop inside the Gale Crater. This view shows an area about one meter wide. The color has been balanced to make the scene look as if it were on Earth.


Visible in this image are rocks that are very similar to the shales found on Earth. They are fine-grained, thinly layered and fissile (meaning they easily break into thin sheets). Rocks on Earth that break this way are usually made up of clay minerals or mica grains that settled out of an aqueous suspension. Their plate-shaped grains deposited on the bottom in a parallel orientation. This gives the rock the ability to be split into thin layers. Clay minerals are known to be abundant on Mars, so it is likely that these rocks are composed of clay minerals.


This photograph on the left was taken by NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity in 2012 using its mast camera. It shows a portion of an outcrop of a rock similar to the conglomerates found on Earth. The pebbles below the rock are clasts that have been weathered from the rock. The photo on the right is a conglomerate outcrop from Earth to show similarity. The presence of conglomerate and sandstones on Mars is evidence of moving water. Wind is not strong enough to pick up pebbles over one centimeter in diameter and carry them along in the current. The pebbles in this rock show a high level of rounding which implies a significant distance of transport. The red color is thought to be iron staining, which is nearly ubiquitous on Mars and gives it the name “Red Planet.” The “cement” that binds the particles in these rocks could be a sulfate mineral. Image by NASA. Enlarge image. [2]




Gender Lessons from the Islamic World / THE ENGINEER MAG. U.K.

From The Engineer / U.K.

Many predominantly Muslim countries boast an enviably high proportion of female engineers. Are there lessons here for the UK?

Andrew Wade reports. 

The very fact this magazine regularly publishes a Women in Engineering supplement is symptomatic of a problem that stubbornly persists.

Despite the best efforts of many figures both inside and outside the engineering industry, female participation in the sector as a whole remains at embarrassingly low levels in the UK.

A recent report, carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) on behalf of the Royal Academy of Engineering, ranked the UK 58th of 99 for gender parity, behind countries including Brazil and Greece. Statistics from EngineeringUK show that the UK has the lowest proportion of female engineers across the whole of Europe, with just 9 per cent. According to UNESCO data from 2013, women make up just 22 per cent of engineering graduates. The statistics are simultaneously unsurprising and depressing, and the underlying issues are familiar.

“The UK has a disproportionately low share of women who study STEM subjects to 18,” Dr Hayaatun Sillem, deputy CEO and director of strategy at RAEng, told The Engineer. “Only around 20 per cent of A-level physics students are girls, for example, a percentage that has not changed significantly over the last 25 years.”

The problem is by no means confined to the UK. Failings here are mirrored in the US, where, despite widespread programmes to involve more women in engineering, participation rates have been virtually static for more than two decades.

“In the US since 1993, it has only increased the share of women undergraduates in engineering by 3 per cent,” said Dr Julie A Kmec, a sociology professor at Washington State University (WSU).

Rather than resorting to the introspection that so often accompanies this issue, Kmec and her colleagues are now looking outwards. In an effort to find solutions to the gender imbalance at home, new research is under way to examine how other countries are getting it right. And many of those countries have predominantly Muslim populations. Specifically, the study is looking at Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

“The high GDP countries in the Gulf tend to have female representation up to 60 per cent in fields such as electrical engineering, computer engineering, chemical engineering and bioengineering,” said Dr Ashley Ater Kranov, a professor at WSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

A prominent member of the research team, Ater Kranov also has an academic role at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and has been studying the phenomenon of high participation in predominantly Muslim countries
(PMCs) for several years.

“Saudi only recently offered engineering as a degree option to women at one public university a few years ago,” she said. “However, it has had for years extremely high female representation in computer science, information science and IT. What is interesting as well, is that in my informal conversations with faculty and students all over the Gulf, female students tend to significantly outperform men in these particular fields.”


So not only are women participating in STEM subjects in much higher numbers than in the West, they are also excelling. But what are the factors drawing them in and, conversely, driving their Western counterparts away? According to Kmec, there are a variety of interlocking socio-political elements at play.

“We have this sort of ‘be happy, follow your dreams’ mentality, coupled with a macro-cultural value system… a system of gender centralism, which essentially is this notion that men are good at this, and women are good at something different,” she said.

“When I say the word ‘engineer’ in the US, I think of a man,” Kmec admitted, a trace of guilt inflecting her voice. “When you say ‘engineer’ in some of these countries, the first thought that comes to mind – especially if you say a chemical engineer – it’s not a man.

Gender equality has long been a pillar of Islamic doctrine, and the religion has a rich history of empowering women through education.

“Some fields of engineering are actually gender-typed female in these countries, at least more so than here, because they don’t involve interaction in public… I know for a fact that in Saudi Arabia, women are highly discouraged from majoring in communications, for example, because that puts them too much in the public space.”

While there are undoubtedly social restrictions in some Muslim countries that could push women towards ‘backroom’ engineering roles, it’s important to acknowledge that these do not apply across the entirety of Islam. In fact, gender equality has long been a pillar of Islamic doctrine, and the religion has a rich history of empowering women through education.

“Although there is a perception that Islam represses women and does not give them the freedom to pursue education, this is far from the truth,” said Fatumina Abukar, a biochemical engineering PhD student at UCL who was recently shortlisted for a WISE (women in science, technology and engineering) Rising Star Award.

“Science and education have always been very encouraged in Islam. For example, Mariam Al-Ijliya, who lived during the 10th century in Syria, was employed by the ruler of the city as an astrolabe builder. In addition, one of the oldest universities in the world, University of Qarawiyyin [Morocco] was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima al-Fihri, before women in the West were even allowed to go to university.”

In relation to the high rates of female engineers in PMCs today, Abukar believes there are two key factors at play. First, significant numbers of Muslim countries are either still developing, or are in politically unstable parts of the world. Studying engineering makes sense from a practical standpoint, as it is likely to provide a steady income.

“Second, in Islam, one is encouraged to pursue careers that will ultimately benefit society, so the population will tend to gravitate more towards professionally designated careers,” said Abukar.

These points are echoed somewhat by Kmec. In the US and the UK, physical infrastructure is not as visibly in need of improvement when compared to most developing nations. (Hah! U.S. infrastructure is notoriously out of date, in disrepair and dangerous)  It makes sense that if you grow up in a country where there is a clear and obvious requirement for engineers, it’s a career path you’re more likely to follow, both for practical and moral reasons.

Dr Julie A Kmec
Dr Julie A Kmec

“We have a developed economy,” said Kmec. “We have infrastructure, we have roads. In developing countries, the economy does not necessarily allow people to have a choice. In Pakistan, for example, there are limited roads and bridges, and they get washed out every time there’s a storm. And so the infrastructure of countries that are developing… means people go to study what’s important for their country.”

The four countries in the US study were chosen for a variety of reasons, not least due to existing social connections the researchers already have. As mentioned, Ater Kranov has an academic role at a Saudi university, where she spends a substantial part of her time. Kmec’s co-lead on the project, Purdue University’s Dr Jennifer DeBoer, worked across Malaysia and Tunisia for her dissertation. And Dr Nehal Abu-Lail, another WSU engineering professor involved in the research, is a Jordanian national. Incidentally, she comes from a family of six, where all five daughters have become engineers.

A common thread across the four nations is the extent to which their populations practise Islam, with Malaysia being the one outlier at just 63 per cent. Jordan is 97 per cent Muslim, Saudi Arabia 93 per cent, and Tunisia almost entirely homogeneous at 99.5 per cent. By contrast, Muslims make up just 0.9 per cent of the population in the US, and 4.5 per cent in the UK. According to Kmec, however, there are socio-economic and political variations across the different countries that should enrich the research.

“We didn’t realise until we looked at the information,” she said, “but there’s great variation within these countries in terms of their GDP, in terms of labour force participation of women, their scores on individualism, women’s rights even. Women had the right to vote as early as 1957 in Tunisia, but only in 2015 in Saudi Arabia.

Gender imbalance has been the standard in Western engineering for so long that many now view it as a cultural norm.

“The women who participate in the focus groups will answer a quantitative survey, just giving basic demographic background characteristics of themselves. But the whole point is to be able to figure out what women are talking about, and how we can use the information we gather to craft a better quantitative tool that we can apply elsewhere in a survey.”

Ultimately, Kmec and her colleagues aim to shed light on the fundamental issues that are keeping female participation so low in countries such as the US and the UK. By exploring the gender balance of the PMCs in their study, the researchers will hopefully gain some insight into imbalance in the West – an imbalance that persists in the face of significant effort and resource.

Dr Ashley Ater Kranov
Dr Ashley Ater Kranov

“Not much at all has been done to study what we are studying in these target countries,” explained Ater Kranov. “That said, there’s been a ton on what may be the factors to such low representation in the US. However, in spite of investing billions, the US hasn’t been able to make representation any higher, save for at a few schools that have made it a priority.”

Gender imbalance has been the standard in Western engineering for so long that many now view it as a cultural norm. Readers of The Engineer occasionally express their exasperation at the amount of coverage the topic receives, believing we should simply accept the status quo and move on. (Because the readers are overwhelmingly male?) But encouraging more women into the industry is absolutely vital, and should not be dismissed as an exercise in optics. The long-term health of the industry and even the wider economy are at stake.

“We know that engineering makes a significant contribution to society, so increasing the number of women in engineering is therefore critical to maintaining and improving the prosperity of the UK,” said RAEng’s Dr Sillem.

Dr Hayaatun Sillem, deputy CEO and director of strategy at the Royal Academy of Engineering

“Addressing gender diversity will not only help to bridge the skills gap, but could also improve business performance: evidence shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.”

In an industry already struggling to generate enough skilled professionals to meet demand, it would be madness to willingly accept the shockingly low rates of female participation that currently exist. Shrugging of shoulders and essentially writing off 50 per cent of the population is not an option. On top of this, the economic upshot of gender parity is potentially massive, as Sillem points out.

“If gender parity in engineering graduates was achieved – which would equate to around 36,000 female graduates per year – the UK would climb from 14th to seventh in the Engineering Index, putting it above countries such as the Republic of Korea, Belgium, Finland, and Hong Kong. This would boost UK GDP per capita by 7 per cent, according to the Cebr study.”

Shifting the gender imbalance would have a very tangible impact, not least on the women driving the growth themselves. By looking to the example of the East, let’s hope the West can start finding some answers.

I’ve included some comments on the article:

By the time girls are ready to take on A levels it is far far too late to draw them to engineering. Their perceptions of what is and what isn’t women’s roles have long been formed even if they haven’t already settled on a profession to shoot for. Perhaps we should be speaking less to teenagers about engineering and speaking more to kids about science & technology in general.

Female#2 / I would just like to comment on this article about the Muslim countries who have more female engineers than the UK. I am a female engineer who has a degree and MSc in Mechanical Engineering and wears a head scarf, with over four years experience within engineering (post-graduate) and been out of employment for the last four months, is the reason for not many female’s in engineering to do with the lack of them or that they cannot find a job? Also, in order to encourage more females to study engineering, should the companies not send female engineers to schools to give talk’s rather than males? I have seen with my own eyes when companies have talk’s at local schools and they send in male’s (even though I working for the company at that time) to give the talk, how can we change the perception of females minds when they see men on the stage, talking to them about engineering which before the talk they had no interest and no interest after.Also, with countries like Saudi Arabia they give money for students to study at the universities, where in the UK, the students have to pay for tuition fees plus all the other fees that come with university study.

Reply to Female#2 by Female #1:

Sadly in my experience companies and universities often visit schools for talks at a point when the majority of pupils have already decided whether engineering is for them. My university would often visit local schools to give science & engineering demonstrations and we were fortunate enough to have over 50% of the visiting engineers be female but we were giving the majority of our talks to 13 & 14 year olds. Here many of the girls, even if they loved the activities, had already decided they had no place or interest doing something similar as a job (I recall an all girls school where we did get 1 pupil saying she wanted to be an engineer). Contact with women doing engineering helps but it felt like we should have been interacting with pupils 3-5 years younger to make a lasting impression.

Male #1 / I am saddened to read of these issues. My neighbours daughter -now 17- has for some years (following my introduction) been interested in ‘our’ blog and indeed in learning of my former work. She recognises that ‘textile’ Engineering is only one aspect of a very diverse topic: but her understanding of the processes (and the machinery to perform such) has an immediate link to the topic which probably more than any other excites her. Clothing, fashion, etc. I am delighted to report that she has now proudly announced her intention to study Mechanical Engineering. As she says: she wants to prove herself in the company of her peers -primarily young men.

I am looking forward to being her mentor/support.

My comment: In the U.S. many people still think that “engineers” drive trains! LOL. Engineers design and build the world we live in, and have been since the first building or bridge fell down and someone had to figure out why – and how to “make it work”.  Since then, the need for engineers and their ability to solve a vast array of real-world applications has expanded exponentially. If a “female” has a burning hormonal desire to pursue a career that “helps” other human beings, engineering offers an incredible opportunity to do just that! And yes, having a mentor is critical!

Male #2 / (more to this comment, but I LOVE this argument: Women are smarter than men, so they REJECT engineering; there are so many other “high-paying, high status jobs” to choose from! What BS!) 

….  I would argue, inequalities arise today because women are CHOOSING other career paths on the basis of an informed cost benefit analysisthat does not find engineering sufficiently compelling. If industry wants to improve the gender balance then its going to have to address the inherent cost / benefit analysis from a more female perspective – personally I don’t think it will. Given the high entry costs to an engineering career, the slow career progression in most companies and the often unfavourable working hours required – Women will wisely continue to choose different paths that better remunerate them for the commitments they give. Perhaps if males had to balance the time demands, family commitments and the financial burdens women make daily; they would choose different careers as well. (Lucky men! They don’t have to do any of these irksome tasks! I wonder why? This is a prime example of using the barriers that men have erected to “keep women out” as the REASON women are choosingnot to seek entry into “all male” occupations!

It’s THEIR FAULT for not having a penis


Male #3 / Good and thought provoking article. I have travelled in Middle east quite a lot and only very occasionally met female engineers in the Islamic countries, of course cultural issues do get in the way of such experiences. The subject of getting more females into engineering always gets a good response from engineers and clearly has no quick fix. However, the issue of getting girls to study physics is at the root of the problem followed by encouragement of girls to move into technical studies by preferential financing probably (i.e. positive discrimination). (Yeah, we’re for it as some abstract concept that we may deal with in future, but right now, we’re not going to lift a finger to help) 

I also believe that conversion courses for females who have studied other sciences could be developed and financed. (I studied geology because I love geology; I wouldn’t be any more interested in “converting” to engineering than being converted to Mormonism. At the end of our field course, in which we had to do a lot of mapping, our prof told us: If you need a map or survey, hire an engineer: that’s what they do. You guys are terrible…) 

Previous articles have a also considered developing engineering as a normal curriculum topic in secondary schools. However, this has a similar problem to physics in lack of teachers, it is still well-worth considering further.

Or we could start in pre-school like we do for boys, who are presented with, and urged to play with, engineering / science toys instead of pink and purple unicorns…

Female # 3/ How to get more people (of all sexes) to seriously consider and hopefully study engineering? Subsidise tuition fees. Simple!

Male #4 / I used to work in aerospace in the U.S.A with loads of female embedded software engineers. Of course, they were paid lots and they could work flexible hours to suit their family needs. Perhaps UK industries’ factory management by suited skin-head thugs may be an issue?

Female #4 / I think there are many factors for the reason there are more girls wanting to be engineers in the middle east than girls in US or UK. For a true analysis, you might have to explore the biological aspect of it, and its influence on gender norms.(Here we go – another female “pimping” for the outrageous myths and distortions that keep women in poverty) It is more typical for women to enter job fields requiring more socialising and nurturing, (social-workers, nurses, teachers, even hairdressers) and you have to realise the biological difference in a man and in a woman and how it would affect their behaviour. I used to think that gender-differentiated behaviour was a social construct, and that men and women could have similar interests but due to society enforcing the gender’s preferred interest, we were limited in choice. (You were correct)That may be true, but after considering the biological factor (What biological factor? That men have penises and therefore “smart brains” which ironically and conveniently disable them from “doing” family commitments, and other “female stuff”? Sure women do the “growing a baby” biological thing, but once the baby arrives, does it matter who is caring, nurturing and “present” in his or her life? What happened to the human advantage of having both parents involved in child development, which is supposedly one reason why humans are so superior to other species? When it comes to raising homo sapiens, the more “caregivers” from both sexes…the better! 

…the 2 different sexes have different functions and that may influence (typically, most) of our behaviours and interests. (Wow! Cliches are not facts!)

The usual Blah, Blah, Blah… excuses…

In an environment where women have more opportunities and more choice (in the “western” countries), (like low-pay part-time service jobs, cleaning up after other people, putting up with x#4c^ rude people at “customer service” frontline positions or on the phone, stripping for cash, prostitution, teaching (baby-sitting) other people’s out-of-control kids, waitressing at “Hooter’s) perhaps they are able to cultivate their interests more freely, thus taking jobs they have interests in. Whereas, in countries, some in the middle-east, where women have/had fewer opportunities and less choice, they would want to create more gender equality, thus wanting to get the jobs more male dominated to perhaps show their capability (which they no doubt have). what I think I’m saying is that in countries in the Middle East, some young women feel they need to prove their capability due to the oppression they’ve felt in times of their life, whereas, most girls in the western countries do not. (Women in the West are so stupid that they don’t even know that gender inequality exists!)

(SO HEY, girls may not like the more systematic jobs or jobs that require labour (the train thing again?)(intellectual effort?) and that might possibly because of our biology? but it’s okay cause equal doesn’t mean same, and we don’t need to be the ‘same’ for our job/role-in-society or BODY to be valued) (OMG! The social indoctrination is complete! Biology makes women dumb and lazy – ergo, our only value to society is our bodies, and this is how it’s supposed to be!)

Women in the U.S. have so many excellent choices!

Past tense? Wrong – this is the same today as it ever was…

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Depictions of Mammoths before and after sufficient evidence was found

I kind of wish that such a ridiculous beast actually existed – rather charming, even if preposterous.  

Copy of an interpretation of the “Adams mammoth” carcass from around 1800, with Johann Friedrich Blumenbach‘s handwriting

Remains of various extinct elephants were known by Europeans for centuries, but were generally interpreted, based on biblical accounts, as the remains of legendary creatures such as behemoths or giants. It was also theorised that they were remains of modern elephants that had been brought to Europe during the Roman Republic, for example the war elephants of Hannibal and Pyrrhus of Epirus, or animals that had wandered north. The first woolly mammoth remains studied by European scientists were examined by Hans Sloane in 1728 and consisted of fossilised teeth and tusks from Siberia. Sloane was the first to recognise that the remains belonged to elephants.

Sloane turned to another biblical explanation for the presence of elephants in the Arctic, asserting that they had been buried during the Great Flood, and that Siberia had previously been tropical prior to a drastic climate change. Others interpreted Sloane’s conclusion slightly differently, arguing the flood had carried elephants from the Tropics to the Arctic. Sloane’s paper was based on travellers’ descriptions and a few scattered bones collected in Siberia and Britain. He discussed the question of whether or not the remains were from elephants, but drew no conclusions. In 1738, the German zoologist Johann Philipp Breyne argued that mammoth fossils represented some kind of elephant. He could not explain why a tropical animal would be found in such a cold area as Siberia, and suggested that they might have been transported there by the Great Flood. In 1796, the French anatomist Georges Cuvier was the first to identify the woolly mammoth remains not as modern elephants transported to the Arctic, but as an entirely new species. He argued this species had gone extinct and no longer existed, a concept that was not widely accepted at the time.

When excavated, this mammoth was almost intact and retained skin, muscles, and innards. It was found in 1900 at the Berezovka River, a tributary of the Kolyma.
see also:

Mummified Steppe Bison from 43,000 ya during a warm period, Kenai Peninsula. Displayed at University of Alaska Museum of the North

Ape Evo / Graecopithecus freybergi / Azmaka Bulgaria Hominids

An excellent example of the geosciences applied to controversial questions concerning evolution of hominids. Awe-inspiring!  

Messinian age and savannah environment of the possible hominin Graecopithecus from Europe


Dating fossil hominids and reconstructing their environments is critically important for understanding human evolution. Here we date the potentially oldest hominin, Graecopithecus freybergi from Europe and constrain the environmental conditions under which it thrived. For the Graecopithecus-bearing Pikermi Formation of Attica/Greece, a saline aeolian dust deposit of North African (Sahara) provenance, we obtain an age of 7.37–7.11 Ma, which is coeval with a dramatic cooling in the Mediterranean region at the Tortonian-Messinian transition. Palaeobotanic proxies demonstrate C4-grass dominated wooded grassland-to-woodland habitats of a savannah biome for the Pikermi Formation. Faunal turnover at the Tortonian-Messinian transition led to the spread of new mammalian taxa along with Graecopithecus into Europe. The type mandible of G. freybergi from Pyrgos (7.175 Ma) and the single tooth (7.24 Ma) from Azmaka (Bulgaria) represent the first hominids of Messinian age from continental Europe. Our results suggest that major splits in the hominid family occurred outside Africa.


For “objections to” the notion that the origin of “humankind” could have taken place outside Africa:

Note: The insistence of an “either Europe (or Asia) or Africa” as the “home” of humankind is so social typically irrational. Silly! It’s not like archaic apes had a map of the continents with political-geographic boundaries printed on it, with instructions like, “Evolution is forbidden to occur on both sides of this body of water; no fair “living in the vicinity of” (in the region surrounding this feature). Not recognizing “socially designated” boundaries will confound and disturb future neurotypicals and cause bizarre arguments.”


Prose Archives / Trip to Mormonville

Babes in a Mazda

My friend’s new car was scheduled to have warranty work done at a dealership in Salt Lake City, so he fetched me at 8:30 a.m., Saturday. I brought a heavy jacket and hiking boots, a bottle of water, and two bananas. What if we got stuck and had to walk for help or wait in the car? Not so paranoid a proposition. While driving over to SLC the previous month to buy a new vehicle, my friend’s old Mazda conked out in the middle of nowhere. A passer-by picked him up, fed him lunch, and called a relative to come out of the city and get him. In exchange for the conked out car and a quick bill of sale, the relative delivered him at the dealership in time to purchase a new vehicle, the very one already scheduled for warranty work.

The driving was easy, the skies clear across our high basin, snow hiding pimples of sage as efficiently as liquid painting medium, the barest features sketched in with thin blue wash, the artist having walked away for a moment, or forever, leaving an unfinished landscape on the easel.

This was actually our second attempt on Salt Lake City: the previous Saturday we were stopped by a dense fog that wouldn’t budge, despite our complaints that it ought to, so we bailed out at the first and only opportunity, an outpost called Little America, its windbreak of black pines something to see within the grounded white clouds, the outpost’s colonial buildings an oddity in terra Wyoming. My friend and I marveled once again at one man’s conceit that what the Wyoming wasteland needed was a cartoon village. Our immediate goal was breakfast in the big dining room, where travelers are fed and watered like teams of oxen being fortified to cross the Great American Desert.

A couple from town happened to take the adjacent table; there were no other patrons. The four of us speculated on travel forward, their determination to drive on settled by a previous life-threatening blizzard, years ago, which led them to the novel survival strategy of never turning back, no matter what. My friend and I concurred that the weather would / might clear between here and SLC, but a part of the excitement of a road trip for stir crazy villagers like us, is letting our eyeballs loose on new stretches of countryside. And, should the dangerous fog persist, the remaining 145 miles into Salt Lake City might prove more stressful than our nerves would tolerate, so we returned home.

We departed again yesterday in my friend’s new car, shooting for an 11 a.m. slot at the Mazda dealership in Salt Lake City. A mundane trip, except that I rarely leave our high and dry province; scantily populated by a huddle of humanity that is notable for a lack of dynamism. The two towns that make up civilization in the desert of southwest Wyoming are like a binary star system that has a chronic lack of mass, therefore never gets spinning.

My friend’s car plummeted through a gap in the Wasatch Range, literally falling into the neighborhood of the Great Salt Lake and onto the streets of Salt Lake City – a stunning transition on a clear day, but a noxious wedge of pollution seemed to have no limit and it fouled the Promised Land and its promise of urban adventure. The smog, or crud, or yellow breath of God, who perhaps, now and then, takes up cigar smoking in order to annoy certain people, blanked out city and suburb alike. Objects just feet from the road were mysterious and unidentifiable.

The auto dealership, our primary destination, was as fresh as the architect’s final check. High-class coffee perked in a high-style coffee pot. Cooking videos cycling on a flat screen TV featured a pair of chatty chefs, one of whom prodded a plate of chicken parts in a somewhat predatory and sexual way, which bugged me.

“I wouldn’t eat anything prepared by a person who touches food that way,” I told my friend. He was seated on a heavy chrome stool, sorting magazines in the light of stylish overhead purple glass fixtures.

“Is that a Martha Stewart magazine?” he asked, motioning for me to pass it along. Ninety-two minutes passed pleasantly, without the smell of exhaust, boredom of torn auto parts catalogs and girly magazines.

Sealed inside the silver Mazda, we vanished into the noxious city, past an abandoned fast food site that had been taken over by an ethnic restaurant, displaying a practical succession of occupants reminiscent of a coral reef, whose creatures find new homes in discarded shells or vacated crannies.

“Jeez, this place is a pain. Can you figure out where we’re supposed to turn? I think I missed it.”

Rural persons like my friend feel that traffic signs, lights, and street markings are inimical to a happy life. I agree. My side of town used to have two stoplights, but the city sensibly disabled one of them because it was a nuisance.

“Make a U-turn,” I said.

“Don’t think I can do that,” he said, examining the rearview mirror.

“You know, if Salt Lake City was in Wyoming, the wind would blow the crap out of here in ten minutes.”

Lunch at a Greek Restaurant might have supplied an end to our growing disappointment, but our griping merely escalated. “Taste this soup,” I said. “It’s weird, like a bottle of vinegar got knocked into the pot.”

And inside a “big” store that supposedly carried the type of ceramic tile I had come all this way to buy, I said, “What good is a city if you can’t buy what you can’t get at home?”

We left for Wyoming hours earlier than expected with plenty of spending money still stuck in our pockets. At Park City, Utah, the rays of the setting sun colored clear skies. From there it was a short, happy shot across the Wyoming border, then home, following a final stop for snacks at a “restaurant.” The truckers lounging inside looked like 5th Century Goths waiting for the right moment to sacking Salt Lake City or to retreat to Cheyenne. I could have been mistaken. The people of the good ol’ United States look a bit rough these days, but I did feel like the rough stock regarded me as a barbarian hooker as I strolled innocently outside the café.

I offered to drive the rest of the way, powering the Mazda through a crumbly gray stretch of lonesomeness that improves once night has fallen black and complete.

“If we were in my truck we wouldn’t be able to hear each other talk and our butts would hurt,” I said.

“That’s why I bought a nice car this time. Every Joe in Wyoming drives a truck.”

Little America came and went as a nest of lights in the dark universe, the product of a distant aesthetic blending the cultures of Antarctica and Connecticut, an alien venture that has added so much to the impoverished Wyoming experience. The Mazda chased and passed trucks through the early winter night until we were home.

Bonus blip:

Six years ago, my friend was called on to make an emergency delivery to the Salt Lake City airport. I tagged along. A group of local high school students was poised to fly to Germany for the summer and one girl had actually forgotten her passport. We made the 185-mile distance, plus a sprint through the facility, in time to see all twenty-seven teenagers board their plane. I bumped into one of those students recently, now  married and all grown up. She disclosed that thanks to that trip to Germany, she had lost any desire to ever leave Wyoming again.


Mormonville; unhealthy for living things.

When one thinks of the West they typically imagine mountains, trees and no pollution. However, Salt Lake City has become one of the worst places in America to breath the air according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to the Wyoming EPA, there are no advisories in the state concerning air quality. (No need.)