Ever since humans domesticated the dog, the faithful, obedient and protective animal has provided its owner with companionship and emotional well-being. Now, a study suggests that being around ‘man’s best friend’ from an early age may have a health benefit as well — lessening the chance of developing schizophrenia as an adult.

And while Fido may help prevent that condition, the jury is still out on whether or not there’s any link, positive or negative, between being raised with Fluffy the cat and later developing either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

“Serious psychiatric disorders have been associated with alterations in the immune system linked to environmental exposures in early life, and since household pets are often among the first things with which children have close contact, it was logical for us to explore the possibilities of a connection between the two,” says Robert Yolken, M.D., chair of the Stanley Division of Pediatric Neurovirology and professor of neurovirology in pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, and lead author of a research paper recently posted online in the journal PLOS One.

In the study, Yolken and colleagues at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore investigated the relationship between exposure to a household pet cat or dog during the first 12 years of life and a later diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. For schizophrenia, the researchers were surprised to see a statistically significant decrease in the risk of a person developing the disorder if exposed to a dog early in life. Across the entire age range studied, there was no significant link between dogs and bipolar disorder, or between cats and either psychiatric disorder.

The researchers caution that more studies are needed to confirm these findings, to search for the factors behind any strongly supported links, and to more precisely define the actual risks of developing psychiatric disorders from exposing infants and children under age 13 to pet cats and dogs.

According to the American Pet Products Association’s most recent National Pet Owners Survey, there are 94 million pet cats and 90 million pet dogs in the United States. Previous studies have identified early life exposures to pet cats and dogs as environmental factors that may alter the immune system through various means, including allergic responses, contact with zoonotic (animal) bacteria and viruses, changes in a home’s microbiome, and pet-induced stress reduction effects on human brain chemistry.

Some investigators, Yolken notes, suspect that this “immune modulation” may alter the risk of developing psychiatric disorders to which a person is genetically or otherwise predisposed.

In their current study, Yolken and colleagues looked at a population of 1,371 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65 that consisted of 396 people with schizophrenia, 381 with bipolar disorder and 594 controls. Information documented about each person included age, gender, race/ethnicity, place of birth and highest level of parental education (as a measure of socioeconomic status). Patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were recruited from inpatient, day hospital and rehabilitation programs of Sheppard Pratt Health System. Control group members were recruited from the Baltimore area and were screened to rule out any current or past psychiatric disorders.

All study participants were asked if they had a household pet cat or dog or both during their first 12 years of life. Those who reported that a pet cat or dog was in their house when they were born were considered to be exposed to that animal since birth.

The relationship between the age of first household pet exposure and psychiatric diagnosis was defined using a statistical model that produces a hazard ratio — a measure over time of how often specific events (in this case, exposure to a household pet and development of a psychiatric disorder) happen in a study group compared to their frequency in a control group. A hazard ratio of 1 suggests no difference between groups, while a ratio greater than 1 indicates an increased likelihood of developing schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Likewise, a ratio less than 1 shows a decreased chance.

Analyses were conducted for four age ranges: birth to 3, 4 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 12.

Surprisingly, Yolken says, the findings suggests that people who are exposed to a pet dog before their 13th birthday are significantly less likely — as much as 24% — to be diagnosed later with schizophrenia.

“The largest apparent protective effect was found for children who had a household pet dog at birth or were first exposed after birth but before age 3,” he says.

Yolken adds that if it is assumed that the hazard ratio is an accurate reflection of relative risk, then some 840,000 cases of schizophrenia (24% of the 3.5 million people diagnosed with the disorder in the United States) might be prevented by pet dog exposure or other factors associated with pet dog exposure.

“There are several plausible explanations for this possible ‘protective’ effect from contact with dogs — perhaps something in the canine microbiome that gets passed to humans and bolsters the immune system against or subdues a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia,” Yolken says.

For bipolar disorder, the study results suggest there is no risk association, either positive or negative, with being around dogs as an infant or young child.

Overall for all ages examined, early exposure to pet cats was neutral as the study could not link felines with either an increased or decreased risk of developing schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

“However, we did find a slightly increased risk of developing both disorders for those who were first in contact with cats between the ages of 9 and 12,” Yolken says. “This indicates that the time of exposure may be critical to whether or not it alters the risk.”

One example of a suspected pet-borne trigger for schizophrenia is the disease toxoplasmosis, a condition in which cats are the primary hosts of a parasite transmitted to humans via the animals’ feces. Pregnant women have been advised for years not to change cat litter boxes to eliminate the risk of the illness passing through the placenta to their fetuses and causing a miscarriage, stillbirth, or potentially, psychiatric disorders in a child born with the infection.

In a 2003 review paper, Yolken and colleague E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., associate director of research at the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, provided evidence from multiple epidemiological studies conducted since 1953 that showed there also is a statistical connection between a person exposed to the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis and an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. The researchers found that a large number of people in those studies who were diagnosed with serious psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, also had high levels of antibodies to the toxoplasmosis parasite.

Because of this finding and others like it, most research has focused on investigating a potential link between early exposure to cats and psychiatric disorder development. Yolken says the most recent study is among the first to consider contact with dogs as well.

“A better understanding of the mechanisms underlying the associations between pet exposure and psychiatric disorders would allow us to develop appropriate prevention and treatment strategies,” Yolken says.

Working with Yolken on the research team are the following members from Sheppard Pratt Health System: Cassie Stallings, Andrea Origoni, Emily Katsafanas, Kevin Sweeney, Amalia Squire, and Faith Dickerson, Ph.D., M.P.H.

The study was largely supported by grants from the Stanley Medical Research Institute.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Robert Yolken, Cassie Stallings, Andrea Origoni, Emily Katsafanas, Kevin Sweeney, Amalia Squire, Faith Dickerson. Exposure to household pet cats and dogs in childhood and risk of subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. PLOS ONE, 2019; 14 (12): e0225320 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225320

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191218153448.htm

On a single summer day in 1990, Mahmoud Ghannoum’s life changed completely.

The research scientist was speaking at a conference in Washington, D.C., while his wife and children continued their family vacation in England.

But then, on Aug. 2, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. And Ghannoum, a professor at Kuwait University, suddenly lost his job, his home, and any way to access his bank accounts.

The conference was not the kind where he might land a job in the U.S. Another meeting, the following week, would be full of interview opportunities.

Problem was, Ghannoum had no money to stay—much less to pay to change his flight.

But then he met Jimmy Dorsey, a travel agent based in a local hotel. Dorsey not only changed his flight, but also arranged for a side trip to Milwaukee, where Ghannoum had a friend who could host him for a few days. Deeply grateful, Ghannoum began to leave. The agent stopped him, pulling $80 out of his wallet to give Ghannoum some spending money.

This past Sunday, Ghannoum was back in the greater D.C. area. Nearly 30 years later, he is globally recognized as the scientist who named the mycobiome—perhaps best known today in connection with gut health. He’s published hundreds of journal articles, been cited by other scientists thousands of times and, this summer, won a $3 million federal grant to build on earlier breakthroughs that hold promise for helping people with Crohn’s disease.

Ghannoum often told the story of his gratitude to the stranger whose kindness so profoundly affected his life—and, by extension, so many others. Because the travel agency had closed the following year, he’d never had the chance to thank him in person. It wasn’t until this fall, when Ghannoum’s son, Afif, put the story on Facebook, that the mystery was finally solved.

The Washington Post published a follow-up on Afif’s social media post, and soon after a reader wrote that the stranger sounded a lot like her boss at the time—Jimmy Dorsey, a Cleveland native, Vietnam veteran and volunteer firefighter. Sadly, cancer had taken his life the previous February, but Afif and the Post reporter eventually connected with his widow, Elaine.

Sure enough, she remembered Jimmy telling the very same story. The final proof came when she sent a photo of Dorsey as a young man. Ghannoum immediately recognized his rescuer, and the two families made plans to meet.

“He [gave] me the passion and the optimism that the world is good,” the elder Ghannoum said, “because people like him are out there.”

This weekend, the families came together for the first time. Ghannoum and his son decided they needed to do more than simply thank Elaine and her son Aaron. They came bearing gifts, specifically a plaque in Jimmy’s honor—and news that they had committed $25,000 to a scholarship fund at Case Western Reserve in his name.

“He was an outstanding man,” Elaine said of her late husband. “He was my knight in shining armor.”

On Monday, the Post recounted Sunday’s gathering, including mention of the new scholarship fund. People quickly began inquiring about how they too could give. Here’s the answer:

Visit the online giving site (https://tinyurl.com/z6xooba), choose “other area,” and in the “Special Instructions” box, write “Jimmy Dorsey Scholarship Fund.”
Mail: Checks should be made payable to “Case Western Reserve University” with a note “Jimmy Dorsey Scholarship Fund.” They should be sent to Case Western Reserve University, 11000 Cedar Avenue, #300, Cleveland, OH 44106-7035. Case Western Reserve University, Advancement Services

A single act of kindness affects millions

Pioneering aerosol writer Lonny Wood, better known by his moniker, Phase 2, has died. He is remembered for his invaluable, media-spanning contributions to hip-hop and is acknowledged as the first artist to perfect the “softie” style of aerosol calligraphy, characterized by its marshmallow-like bubbled lettering.

Born in the Bronx, New York, Phase 2 began tagging subway trains in the early 1970s, becoming one of the most widely emulated stylists of that moment. As his work matured, he progressively abstracted and complicated his calligraphy, “deconstructing the letter”—in the words of hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang—“into hard lines, third eyes, horns, drills, spikes, arches, Egyptian pharos and dogs, pure geometrics.” Phase 2 was an early member of United Graffiti Artists (UGA), a collective of train painters credited with mounting the first gallery show of so-called graffiti art, a term Wood rejected for devaluing and criminalizing his work and that of his peers.

In addition to his calligraphic work, Phase 2 rapped, DJ’ed, and was a member of the New York City Breakers, a pioneering break-dancing crew. As a graphic artist, he lent his hard-edge geometric style—influenced by the Bronx’s many Art Deco theaters—to flyers promoting significant parties and shows like 1982’s Kool Lady Blue at the Roxy nightclub in Chelsea, which established a rapport between hip-hop and New York’s contemporaneous punk and New Wave scenes. In the mid-’80s, he served as the art director of the underground zine International Graffiti Times, often cited as the first publication devoted to street and subway art. In 1996, he and International Graffiti Times editor David Schmidlapp copublished the book Style: Writing from the Underground, a history of aerosol art. In recent decades, his work has been featured in numerous exhibitions of urban art.

“I’m absorbing and devouring language,” Phase 2 said of his work “and creating something else with it. . . . The English language isn’t much, especially in its current state. By comparison (to Chinese and Japanese) it’s like a dot. Why not go beyond that and just create an alphabet or language? You can’t put a limit on communication or how one can communicate, you’ve always got to look further, that’s how style expanded in the first place.”

https://www.artforum.com/news/phase-2-1955-2019-81607


On the walls of a cave in southern Sulawesi, a humanoid figure about five inches wide hovers over the head of a warty pig, its arms connected to a long, spindly object. This figure, interpreted as a hunter in a 44,000-year-old mural, appears to have a stubby tail.

BY MICHAEL GRESHKO

AN INDONESIAN SPELUNKER named Hamrullah was exploring the grounds of a concrete plant on the island of Sulawesi in 2017 when he spotted the unassuming hole in the limestone high above his head. Without a second thought, he shimmied up the rock and tucked himself into the mouth of a small cave, where he clambered through the tunnel’s cool, musty air. He hit the back wall and saw a mural spread out across eight feet of flaking rock, so he pulled out his phone and began snapping pictures.

The painting, described today in the journal Nature, depicts two pigs and four small-bodied relatives of water buffalo, as well as what appear to be eight humanoid figures that are two to four inches tall. Some of the human figures are holding long, spindly objects pointed toward the animals that might be ropes or spears.


The rock art panel extends some eight feet across the back wall of Leang Bulu’ Sipong 4, one of the many caves in Sulawesi’s Maros-Pangkep region.
IMAGE BY ADAM BRUMM

Whether the art depicts a hunt or some other event, it’s likely the oldest known story told through pictures, the researchers say. The mural dates back at least 44,000 years, which makes it about twice as old as most similar cave-art scenes in Europe, such as a 19,000-year-old French mural of a bison charging a bird-headed man. The discovery adds to a growing body of ancient art known in Southeast Asia that changes some long-standing ideas about when and where humans started showing our defining cognitive traits.

“When you do an archaeological excavation, you usually find what people left behind, their trash. But when you look at rock art, it’s not rubbish—it seems like a message, we can feel a connection to it,” says lead study author Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at Australia’s Griffith University.

“Now we’re starting to date it, not just in Europe but in Southeast Asia, and we see that it completely changes the picture of our human journey.”

Finding the time

The mural is the latest major artistic work found in the caves of Sulawesi’s Maros-Pangkep region. Millions of years ago, underground rivers had cut through the limestone here to form a maze of caverns, many of which contain hand stencils and other paintings made by the humans who called the island home tens of thousands of years ago.

Since the 1950s, scholars have documented more than 240 cave art sites on Sulawesi, but for decades, these paintings were assumed to be no older than about 12,000 years. That started to change in 2014, when a team including Aubert and Brumm began finding cave paintings in Indonesia that were at least 40,000 years old, making them at least as old as Europe’s famed cave-art sites, if not older.

“Europe was once thought of as a ‘finishing school’ for humanity, because France in particular was the subject of intense research early on … so for a long time the European rock art record really set the tone for what we expected to see,” University of Victoria archaeologist April Nowell, who wasn’t involved with the research, says in an email. “We have long known this view of Europe as a ‘finishing school’ is no longer tenable, and the richness of the finds from Australia and Indonesia continue to underscore this point.”

The mural is globally significant, says Peter Veth, a University of Western Australia archaeologist who reviewed drafts of the study: “As with the early dates of people voyaging across the sea to Australia and engaging in highly complex art, here we have [Southeast] Asian Indigenes showing human-animal relations before sapiens even got to Europe.”

How do researchers tell the age of a cave painting? One method provides an indirect estimate by revealing when minerals started growing over the finished art. These minerals naturally include trace amounts of radioactive uranium, which decays into thorium at a predictable pace. The older the deposit, the more thorium it’ll have relative to uranium.

For the newfound mural, Aubert and Brumm’s team sampled deposits that grew over parts of the painting and found that the minerals started forming between 35,100 and 43,900 years ago. Since it’s possible that the mural was made even earlier, the researchers are treating these dates as minimums. And because the team thinks that the mural was done in one fell swoop, they are using the oldest date—43,900 years—as the whole mural’s minimum age.

Aubert is confident these dates will hold. For one, the team sampled minerals that clearly formed over the painting’s pigment layer and so were assuredly younger than the painting. The samples don’t seem to have leached uranium over time, which nixes a possible source of error. It’s also clear that Sulawesi’s ancient residents had developed artistic chops; a nearby excavation led by Brumm found 30,000-year-old “crayons” and pieces of jewelry.

Elisabeth Culley, an archaeologist at Arizona State University who specializes in cave art, agrees that the Sulawesi painting is at least as old as the paintings in France’s Chauvet Cave, which date to between 30,000 and 32,000 years ago. She also agrees that the artwork represents a proper scene.

“I don’t think the interpretation is controversial,” she says. “The figures are oriented toward each other, [and] it’s not simply dynamic—there does seem to be some motion.”

Going abstract

But the new mural has more contentious elements for scientists to ponder. The humanoid figures bear unusual features, including one with a stubby tail and another with a birdlike beak. As part of their paper, Aubert’s team claims that the figures might be the oldest human-animal hybrids ever found in a work of art. The oldest accepted one, a lion-headed male figurine, was carved from mammoth ivory in what’s now Germany 39,000 to 40,000 years ago.

If the painting’s figures do in fact blend the human and the non-human, they suggest that the artist behind them could think abstractly and creatively. It’s even possible that the figures hint at an early spirituality or express shamanic beliefs.

“Maybe early people at that time, to them, they saw themselves as an indivisible part of the animal world,” says study coauthor Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at Griffith University. “This special bond between humans and animals was so strong that culturally and philosophically, they might have seen themselves as part-animal, part-human, for all we know.”

Nowell agrees that the artwork might depict an abstract hunting scene: “Given that some of the human-like figures appear to have a tail or beak suggests that it is not a straightforward hunting scene, that there is some mythological quality to it,” she says. Culley also agrees that the artwork is meant to be abstract, since the painting’s humanoid figures are unrealistically tiny. But precisely because it’s abstract, Culley says, the painting could support many interpretations beyond a hunting scene. Perhaps the putative spears are shamanistic “power lines” meant to show energy moving from one object to another.

Regardless of the specifics, Culley says that the scene’s true importance lies in the artist’s attempt at abstraction—a trait that also pops up in France more than 30,000 years ago.

“There’s huge variation in [the two] cultures, there’s a lot of space dividing these traditions … but they’re also very consistent,” she says. “That, to me, is the real take-home: They’re contemporaneous with a very, very similar tradition, which must have some shared origin.”

Protecting the past

Now that researchers have described the painting, they’re racing to find and document more. Hamrullah, who is a study coauthor, and the team’s other Indonesian members routinely find more as-yet unexplored caves as they survey the region. The team is also trying to chart a future for this mural’s cave site. It’s unclear precisely why, but the newfound art has recently started flaking off the cave wall at an accelerating pace.

The bustle of activity around the site may play a role. While the local government and the concrete plant have agreed to protect the cave, nearby mining explosions still rattle the landscape.

“We don’t know how long it’s still going to be there,” Aubert says.

It’s possible that protections for the area will strengthen. In an email, Hamrullah expressed hope that the cave system could be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. And even though its future is uncertain, Brumm marvels at what the cave has already told us about our shared past.

“You do have this opportunity to sit in this cave where you’re only the fourth person, or fifth or sixth, to have seen this in tens of thousands of years, as far as we’re aware—and then to be privy to this knowledge, this understanding, to know how ancient this is,” he says. “It’s very hard to describe that feeling. But it’s certainly what keeps you going.”

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/12/ancient-cave-art-in-indonesia-may-be-worlds-oldest-hunting-scene/#close

By Chelsea Whyte

Sometimes stress can be good for a fish. When there are more predators around, killifish in Trinidad grow more brain cells than those that face no predators, and they do so even into adulthood.

“I was surprised to find this because in previous studies, we found that predators inhibit the production of brain cells,” says Kent Dunlap at Trinity College in Connecticut. It seems that killifish swim their own way.

Dunlap and his colleagues examined the brains of a type of wild caught killifish (Rivulus hartii) from three streams on the Caribbean island. In each stream, they gathered about eight adult fish from a location with a high number of predators and about eight from a location with little to no predation. They only used males because previous research on these fish showed that predation affects male but not female brains.

The researchers measured the size of the males’ brains as well as the density of newly grown cells. They found that fish from both spots in each stream had brains similar in size relative to their bodies, but those that had to fight off more predators had nearly double the amount of new brain cells. Dunlap says this may mean that instead of fairly static brains that respond to predators in a timid way, the new brain cells could allow for more responsive behaviour.

To sort out whether this effect is genetic or purely a response to their environment, Dunlap and his team raised fish from each location and then dissected their brains. In the lab, even with an absence of predators, they saw that the increased brain cell growth persisted in fish descended from those that lived in high-predation areas.

“Over evolutionary time, predation has caused the populations to differ genetically, so there’s this intrinsic difference now that’s upheld,” says Dunlap. He adds that this pattern would likely show up in other animals that continue to grow brain cells into adulthood.

“We mammals and birds, once we reach sexual maturation our body and brain don’t grow very much,” he says. “But fish grow throughout their lifetime, as do many other non-birds and non-mammals.”

Journal reference: Royal Society Proceedings B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2019.1485

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2226787-predators-may-make-prey-get-smart-and-grow-more-brain-cells/#ixzz67ovnyDlk

By Leah Fessler

Scrolling through Instagram can quickly convince you that everyone’s life is more interesting than yours. During a particularly adventurous week on Instagram Stories recently, I saw water skiing in Maui, hiking in Yosemite and swimming with wild pigs in Bermuda. Wild pigs!

Impulsively, I started Googling flights to new places. Then I ordered pho from the same Vietnamese place I eat at every week and … felt bad about not trying somewhere new.

This fear of missing out is rooted in a common psychological tic: Evolutionarily, we’re disposed to find novel experiences more exciting and attention-grabbing than repeat experiences, according to research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. It’s basically fight or flight psychology — our brains can’t process all the stimuli around us, so we evolved to pay attention to new, flashy and potentially dangerous things more intently than familiar things, which we’ve seen enough to know they’re not dangerous. What’s more, words like “repetition” and “repetitiveness” — unlike “novelty” — tend to be associated with more negative emotions, said Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School.

“Classic research shows that when we think about upcoming experiences, we think about variety,” said Mr. Norton, who specializes in consumer behavior. “If I ask you right now to select a yogurt for each day next week, you’ll pick your favorite flavor — say, blueberry — a few times, but you’ll mix in some strawberry and peach. Because who wants to eat that much blueberry yogurt? Over the longer term, though, as the original experience fades in time and memory, repetition can become more pleasurable.”

He added: “We’re simply more boring than we’d like to admit.”

Our obsession with novelty is also enhanced by the influencer and experience economies, which confer social status based on how many new things you can do, see and buy, as Leah Prinzivalli unpacks in a recent article documenting the rise of Instagram to-do lists. This can be emotionally and financially draining: Few of us have the time or money to regularly indulge new experiences, which can lead us to feel bad about our lives’ monotony. However, recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology about repeat and novel experiences suggests we ought to reconsider how we digest those feelings of monotony.

This research centers on hedonic adaptation — when an identical stimulus provides less pleasure the more it’s consumed.

Some previous research has painted a negative picture of repeat experiences, citing that doing the same thing twice can feel inherently less valuable. But Ed O’Brien, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, wondered whether behavioral science misconstrued hedonic adaptation, and people actually underestimate how positively they react to repeat experiences. Many of us happily listen to our favorite song on repeat, he noted, or rewatch favorite movies and TV shows. This repetition was the whole point of purchasing music or film before the age of Spotify and Netflix. This conflict is why Mr. O’Brien launched a series of studies on the topic.

“There’s a general belief that if you want to seem like an interesting, cultured person, the best thing you can do is to showcase that you’re open to new experiences,” he said. “That may be true, but I think we take for granted the other value of really digging deep into one domain.”

To test this hypothesis, Mr. O’Brien and his team exposed all participants to the same stimulus once in full (various stimuli were tested, including museum visits, movies and video games). Next, some participants were asked to imagine repeating the experience, while others actually did repeat the experience.

Counter to previous research, Mr. O’Brien found that across the board, repeat experiences were far more enjoyable than participants predicted.

“Doing something once may engender an inflated sense that one has now seen ‘it,’ leaving people naïve to the missed nuances remaining to enjoy,” he wrote in the study.

In other words: You’re far more likely to enjoy something the second time around than you think.

Given that participants experienced the exact situation they imagined repeating, their predictions should’ve been relatively accurate, Mr. O’Brien explains. In reality, participants who repeated experiences found the second time around just as enjoyable as the first.

“Novel experiences are definitely great for enjoyment, and our studies don’t go against this idea,” he said. “In many cases, the novel option is better. But what our studies emphasize is that repeat options also might have high hedonic value and might also come with less costs to acquire than a purely novel option, and people might sometimes overlook this.”

There is joy in repetition partly because every human mind wanders. Consequently, we miss a substantial part of every experience.

“As I’m enjoying a museum or a beer, my mind is also thinking about emails I need to send, phone calls I need to return and the name of my third grade teacher,” Mr. Norton said. “So repeating things can really be seen as another opportunity to actually experience something fully.”

This is especially true when the experience is complex, leaving ample room for continued discovery.

“When an experience has many layers of information to unveil, it’s probably a good bet to repeat it,” Mr. O’Brien said. “The rub is that it’s hard to tell which experiences will be like this, and our studies show that people are too quick to assume that they’ve ‘seen all the layers’ even in those cases where they haven’t.”

In fact, it’s safe to assume there are more explorable layers in any experience, according to Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the so-called “Mother of Mindfulness.” That’s because the process of looking for new insights in any repeat experience is fulfilling in and of itself. It’s the essence of mindfulness.

“When you’re noticing new things in any experience, neurons are firing, and that’s the way to become engaged,” Ms. Langer said. “Many people look to be engaged, because they’re bored with life and they don’t know what to do. All you need to do is approach whatever task is at hand by searching for the things that you didn’t see in the first time around.”

If you’re unsure how to be more mindful in repeat experiences, Ms. Langer offers three tips.

“First, recognize that everything is always changing, so the second experience is never exactly the same as the first experience,” she said. “Second, if you’re looking for novelty, that’s itself engaging, and that engagement feels good.” And third, you must realize that events are neither positive nor negative. “It’s the way we understand events that makes them positive or negative,” she said. “So that if we look for ways the experience is rewarding, exciting, interesting, we’re going to find evidence for that. Seek and ye shall find.”

Beyond helping us feel excited at the prospect of staying home and strolling around your neighborhood this winter rather than jet-setting to a tropical beach, Mr. O’Brien’s research suggests we should think twice about our cultural obsession with doing and accomplishing as much as humanly possible.

“Coffee will never taste as good as it does if you quit it for a month. So it’s true that novelty is fun, but given enough of a break in between, repeat experiences regain that initial buzz,” Mr. Norton said. “This is why people do seemingly crazy things, like creating time capsules. If you looked at your third-grade report card every day, you’d get sick of it — but if you bury it in a time capsule and unearth it 20 years later, that’s fascinating.”

Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient buried town in Ethiopia that was inhabited for 1400 years. The town was part of a powerful civilisation called Aksum that dominated East Africa for centuries and traded with other great powers like the Roman Empire.

“This is one of the most important ancient civilisations, but people [in the Western world] don’t know it,” says Michael Harrower of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “Outside of Egypt and Sudan, it’s the earliest complex society or major civilisation in Africa.”

The Empire of Aksum dominated East Africa and parts of Arabia from about 80 BC to AD 825. It was one of the leading powers of the time, alongside Rome, Persia and China. Its capital, also called Aksum, still exists and has many tall, stone obelisks.

Nobody knows how the Aksum civilisation developed. It was preceded by a “pre-Aksumite” society, the name of which is unknown. This earlier civilisation may have been based around Yeha in northern Ethiopia, which has the oldest writing and standing architecture in sub-Saharan Africa. For this reason, Harrower and his colleagues have surveyed the surrounding area.

A vanished town
After discussions with local people, the team began excavating a hill near a village. The researchers found a grid of stone walls: the remains of buildings.

“That’s what’s great about Ethiopia,” says Harrower. “In Greece and Rome, a lot of places have been explored and studied, so there’s not a lot of discoveries of major ancient towns any more.”

The researchers called the town Beta Samati, which means “house of audience” in the local Tigrinya language.

The find is “highly significant”, says Jacke Phillips at SOAS University of London. “Most of our known Aksumite and pre-Aksumite sites are old excavations, hastily conducted and badly published by today’s standards.”

Radiocarbon dates of the site span from 771 BC to AD 645. That means Beta Samati existed during the pre-Aksumite period and was continuously inhabited throughout the rise of Aksum. For Harrower and Phillips, this implies pre-Aksumite settlements weren’t abandoned when Aksum arose, and that there may not have been a sharp political break between the two, as archaeologists previously suspected.

Beta Samati contains many small buildings, either houses or workshops. There is also a large, rectangular building identified as a “basilica”. In the Roman Empire, basilicas were originally used for public administration and courts, and later as places of Christian worship.

Aksum originally had a polytheistic religion, influenced by traditions from the Saba kingdom in what is now Yemen. However, during the 4th century, King Ezana converted Aksum to Christianity, so the basilica may have been built as a Christian church. In line with this, the team has found a stone pendant marked with a Christian cross.

The team also found a ring, made of copper alloy covered with gold leaf, and bearing a red stone called a carnelian engraved with the image of a bull’s head over a vine or wreath. “It looks a lot like a Roman ring, except for the style of the bull insignia,” says Harrower.

It may be that Aksum rulers brought in Roman craftspeople and instructed them to adapt Roman designs to suit Aksum culture, says Harrower. Archaeologists have long known that Aksum was a major trading civilisation, exporting gold, ivory, elephants and baboons.

The trade evidently reached Beta Samati. The team found amphorae, probably used to store wine, which seem to come from Aqaba in what is now Jordan, and a glass bead probably from the eastern Mediterranean.

Journal reference: Antiquity, DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2019.84

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2226803-lost-ethiopian-town-comes-from-an-ancient-empire-that-rivalled-rome/#ixzz67iSds6o7