Zebra finch song and human speech


This video says about itself:

15 November 2012

A zebra finch male sings to a female that he thinks is attractive. She’s just not that into him though. Better luck next time fella.

From McGill University in Canada:

Do birdsong and human speech share biological roots?

Experiments with zebra finches suggest songbirds also have ‘universal grammar’

November 22, 2017

Do songbirds and humans have common biological hardwiring that shapes how they produce and perceive sounds?

Scientists who study birdsong have been intrigued for some time by the possibility that human speech and music may be rooted in biological processes shared across a variety of animals. Now, research by McGill University biologists provides new evidence to support this idea.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that young zebra finches — a species often used to study birdsong — are intrinsically biased to learn to produce particular kinds of sound patterns over others. “In addition, these sound patterns resembled patterns that are frequently observed across human languages and in music”, says Jon Sakata, Associate Professor of Biology at McGill and senior author of a paper published online in Current Biology on Nov. 22.

On the shoulders of Chomsky

The idea for the experiments was inspired by current hypotheses on human language and music. Linguists have long found that the world’s languages share many common features, termed “universals.” These features encompass the syntactic structure of languages (e.g., word order) as well as finer acoustic patterns of speech, such as the timing, pitch, and stress of utterances. Some theorists, including Noam Chomsky, have postulated that these patterns reflect a “universal grammar” built on innate brain mechanisms that promote and bias language learning. Researchers continue to debate the extent of these innate brain mechanisms, in part because of the potential for cultural propagation to account for universals.

At the same time, vast surveys of zebra finch songs have documented a variety of acoustic patterns found universally across populations. “Because the nature of these universals bears similarity to those in humans and because songbirds learn their vocalizations much in the same way that humans acquire speech and language, we were motivated to test biological predisposition in vocal learning in songbirds,” says Logan James, a PhD student in Sakata’s lab and co-author of the new study.

A buffet of birdsong

In order to isolate biological predispositions, James and Sakata individually tutored young zebra finches with songs consisting of five acoustic elements arranged in every possible sequence. The birds were exposed to each sequence permutation in equal proportion and in a random order. Each finch therefore had to individually “choose” which sequences to produce from this buffet of birdsong.

In the end, the patterns that the laboratory-raised birds preferred to produce were highly similar to those observed in natural populations of birds. For example, like wild zebra finches, birds tutored with randomized sequences often placed a “distance call” — a long, low-pitched vocalization — at the end of their song.

Other sounds were much more likely to appear in the beginning or middle of the song; for example, short and high-pitched vocalizations were more likely to be produced in the middle of song than at the beginning or end of song. This matches patterns observed across diverse languages and in music, in which sounds at the end of phrases tend to be longer and lower in pitch than sounds in the middle.

Future research avenues

“These findings have important contributions for our understanding of human speech and music,” says Caroline Palmer, a Professor of Psychology at McGill who was not involved in the study. “The research, which controls the birds’ learning environment in ways that are not possible with young children, suggests that statistical learning alone — the degree to which one is exposed to specific acoustic patterns — cannot account for song (or speech) preferences. Other principles, such as universal grammars and perceptual organization, are more likely to account for why human infants as well as juvenile birds are predisposed to prefer some auditory patterns.”

Sakata, who is also a member of the Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM), says the study opens up many avenues of future work for his team with speech, language, and music researchers. “In the immediate future,” he says, “we want to reveal how auditory processing mechanisms in the brain, as well as aspects of motor learning and control, underlie these learning biases.”

Denise Klein, Director of the CRBLM and neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute, says James’ and Sakata’s study “provides insights on universals of vocal communication, helping to advance our understanding of the neurobiological bases of speech and music.”

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Fly diving in toxic lake


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

A tiny fly can ‘scuba dive’ in a salty and toxic lake

21 November 2017

Alkali flies plunge into the salty and alkaline Mono Lake, to feed and lay their eggs, but until now it has been unclear how they manage to survive. Read more here.

‘British government, stop supporting Saudi mass murder of Yemenis’


This video from the USA says about itself:

26 May 2017

There is a state of emergency in Yemen’s capital after a recent outbreak of cholera. John Iadarola (Host of ThinkTank), Chavala Madlena (Investigative Journalist, Filmmaker) discuss on a special episode of The Young Turks previously recorded LIVE at Oslo Freedom Forum.

By Steve Sweeney in Britain:

Act to stop Yemen slaughter, Corbyn tells May

Tuesday 21st November 2017

JEREMY CORBYN wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday demanding she act to end the war in Yemen as a million people stand on the brink of famine.

The Labour leader condemned the government for its role in supporting the Saudi-led invasion coalition and urged Theresa May to suspend arms sales to Riyadh and call for “an immediate ceasefire” through the UN.

Britain has licensed more than £3.3 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia since its bombing campaign against Yemen began in March 2015.

Mr Corbyn wrote: “At least 10,000 people have been killed since the conflict started in 2014 and seven million people are in extreme hunger.

“Food shortages and the cholera outbreak are a direct result of the continuing blockade of Yemen by the US and UK-backed Saudi-led coalition.”

He called for immediate steps to end the suffering of the Yemeni people and for a peaceful, negotiated solution.

Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell branded Britain “dangerously complicit” yesterday in promoting a famine in Yemen through its support for Saudi Arabia.

Speaking in the Commons he said: “Are we not on the brink of witnessing in Yemen a totally preventable, massive humanitarian catastrophe, the likes of which we have not seen in decades?”

As a US-backed Saudi tightening of the blockade against the impoverished and war-ravaged country of Yemen enters its third week, the International Committee of the Red Cross has reported that pumping stations and sanitation facilities in both the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and the south-central city of Bayda have run out of fuel, leaving 2.5 million in crowded urban areas without access to clean water: here.

Crows, clever birds, videos


This video says about itself:

Secret Life of Crows (full documentary) HD

3 October 2014

Corvus is a widely distributed genus of birds in the family Corvidae. Ranging in size from the relatively small pigeon-size jackdaws to the common raven of the Holarctic region and thick-billed raven of the highlands of Ethiopia, the 40 or so members of this genus occur on all temperate continents except South America, and several islands. In Europe, the word “crow” is used to refer to the carrion crow or the hooded crow, while in North America it is used for the American crow or the northwestern crow.

This 2007 video says about itself:

Wild crows inhabiting the city use it to their advantage – David Attenborough – BBC wildlife

This video says about itself:

Are crows the ultimate problem solvers? – Inside the Animal Mind: Episode 2 – BBC Two

This video from the USA says about itself:

In Seattle, a young girl has made an unlikely group of friends – a group of [northwestern] crows who hang out in her garden and regularly bring her gifts.

Ancient Pharaoh Tutankhamun, new research


This 2017 video is called Tutankhamun Tomb – Incredible Story of Egyptian Pharaoh – Documentary.

From the University of Tübingen in Germany:

New treasures from Tutankhamun’s tomb

November 16, 2017

As part of a German-Egyptian project, archaeologists from Tübingen for the first time examine embossed gold applications from the sensational find of 1922. The motifs indicate surprising links between the Levant and the Egypt of the pharaohs.

Researchers from Tübingen working on a German-Egyptian project have examined embossed gold applications from the treasure of the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun for the first time. The objects come from the famed find made by English archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. Until now, they had been held in storage at the Egyptian Museum Cairo. They can be seen at a special exhibition at the museum which began on Wednesday. Conservators and archaeologists of the Institute of Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES, Professor Peter Pfälzner), the German Archaeological Institute, Cairo, (DAI, Professor Stephan Seidlmayer), and the Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz (RGZM, Professor Falko Daim), as well as the Egyptian Museum have spent four years (2013-2017) analysing the find.

Through painstaking hours in the lab, the partners restored the objects at the Egyptian Museum. They also made drawings of the items and did comprehensive research on them. A team of conservators, Egyptologists and specialists in Near Eastern archaeology found the embossed gold applications in the same crate they were placed in by Howard Carter’s team immediately after their discovery. At the time, the artefacts were photographed and packed, unrestored, and were never again removed until this project.

During years of detail work, conservators Christian Eckmann and Katja Broschat of the Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseum Mainz reassembled the fragments to produce 100 nearly complete embossed gold applications. They suspect the items are decorative fittings for bow cases, quivers and bridles. IANES archaeologists from Tübingen examined the images on the embossed gold applications and categorized them from an art-historical perspective. In her dissertation, doctoral candidate Julia Bertsch succeeded in distinguishing the Egyptian motifs on the embossed gold applications from those that could be ascribed to an “international,” Middle Eastern canon of motifs.

Among these are images of fighting animals and goats at the tree of life that are foreign to Egyptian art and must have come to Egypt from the Levant. “Presumably these motifs, which were once developed in Mesopotamia, made their way to the Mediterranean region and Egypt via Syria,” explains Peter Pfälzner. “This again shows the great role that ancient Syria played in the dissemination of culture during the Bronze Age.”

Interestingly, he adds, similar embossed gold applications with thematically comparable images were found in a tomb in the Syrian royal city of Qatna. There, the team of archaeologists from Tübingen led by Pfälzner, discovered a pristine king’s grave in 2002. It dates back to the time of around 1340 B.C., so it is just a bit older than Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt. The archaeologist says, “This remarkable aspect provided the impetus for our project on the Egyptian finds.” Now,” says Pfälzner, “we need to solve the riddle of how the foreign motifs on the embossed gold applications came to be adopted in Egypt.” The professor says that here, chemical analyses have been illuminating. “The results showed that the embossed gold applications with Egyptian motifs and the others with foreign motifs were made of gold of differing compositions,” he says. “That does not necessarily mean the pieces were imported. It may be that various local workshops were responsible for producing objects in various styles — and that one used Near Eastern models.”

After the current initial exhibition of these objects in Cairo, they will be on display in future in the new Grand Egyptian Museum close to the pyramids at Gizeh. Now, almost a century after they were discovered, and thanks to the work of archaeologists from Tübingen and Egyptologists and conservators from Mainz and Cairo, the scientific analysis of these artefacts from one of Egypt’s most sensational archaeological finds has been completed.

The German Foreign Office and the German Research Foundation (DFG) funded the work.

Longest sauropod dinosaur trackway discovery


This video says about itself:

3 September 2012

Huge sauropods’ footprints from the late Jurassic plus tridactyls’ trackways – Plagne, French Jura…150 millions years ago!

From CNRS in France:

World’s longest sauropod dinosaur trackway brought to light

November 13, 2017

In 2009, the world’s largest dinosaur tracks were discovered in the French village of Plagne, in the Jura Mountains. Since then, a series of excavations at the site has uncovered other tracks, sprawling over more than 150 meters. They form the longest sauropod trackway ever to be found. Having compiled and analyzed the collected data, which is published in Geobios, scientists from the Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon (CNRS / ENS de Lyon / Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University), the Laboratoire Magmas et Volcans (CNRS / Université Clermont Auvergne / Université Jean Monnet / IRD), and the Pterosaur Beach Museum conclude these tracks were left 150 million years ago by a dinosaur at least 35 m long and weighing no less than 35 t.

In 2009, when sauropod tracks were discovered in the French village of Plagne — near Lyon — the news went round the world. After two members of the Oyonnax Naturalists’ Society spotted them, scientists from the Paléoenvironnements et Paléobiosphère research unit (CNRS / Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University) confirmed these tracks were the longest in the world. Between 2010 and 2012, researchers from the Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon supervised digs at the site, a meadow covering three hectares. Their work unearthed many more dinosaur footprints and trackways. It turns out the prints found in 2009 are part of a 110-step trackway that extends over 155 m — a world record for sauropods, which were the largest of the dinosaurs.

Dating of the limestone layers reveals that the trackway was formed 150 million years ago, during the Early Tithonian Age of the Jurassic Period. At that time, the Plagne site lay on a vast carbonate platform bathed in a warm, shallow sea. The presence of large dinosaurs indicates the region must have been studded with many islands that offered enough vegetation to sustain the animals. Land bridges emerged when the sea level lowered, connecting the islands and allowing the giant vertebrates to migrate from dry land in the Rhenish Massif.

Additional excavations conducted as late as 2015 enabled closer study of the tracks. Those left by the sauropod’s feet span 94 to 103 cm and the total length can reach up to 3 meters when including the mud ring displaced by each step. The footprints reveal five elliptical toe marks, while the handprints are characterized by five circular finger marks arranged in an arc. Biometric analyses suggest the dinosaur was at least 35 m long, weighted between 35 and 40 t, had an average stride of 2.80 m, and traveled at a speed of 4 km/h. It has been assigned to a new ichnospecies1: Brontopodus plagnensis. Other dinosaur trackways can be found at the Plagne site, including a series of 18 tracks extending over 38 m, left by a carnivore of the ichnogenus Megalosauripus. The researchers have since covered these tracks to protect them from the elements. But many more remain to be found and studied in Plagne.

1 The prefix ichno- indicates that a taxon (e.g., a genus or species) has been defined on the basis of tracks or other marks left behind, rather than anatomical remains like bones.