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2500-Year-Old Human Footprints Discovered at Arizona Construction Site

This past November, archaeologists uncovered dozens of human footprints preserved in the ground of a construction site north of Tucson, Arizona. Radiocarbon dating indicates they were left between 2500 and 3000 years ago, making them the oldest human tracks discovered in the American Southwest.

The discovery was made while archaeologists were inspecting the site of an upcoming road construction project near Interstate 10. Not only were the prints perfectly preserved, but they also clearly depicted the choreography of daily life for some of the region’s earliest farmers. “One of the things in archaeology that we always wish for is a time machine—to go back in time and see what people really did,” Dan Arnit, the archaeologist responsible for the discovery, told Western Digs. “Well, I think I found a time machine. Because the only thing that’s missing here is the person standing in the steps.”

A small irrigation ditch and depressions that might have held plants were also discovered in the 161-square-foot field. The tracks were made by a few adults and at least one child, probably as they tended to their crops. A print from a dog, likely the companion of one of the farmers, was also found inside a human print. Experts say the field itself looks to date to sometime in the Early Agricultural Period, between 2500 BCE and 50 CE, when farms first began appearing in the American Southwest.

Archaeologists attribute the prints' impressive condition to a sudden flood from a nearby creek. Soon after the tracks were left, the overflowing creek covered them in a mica-rich sandy sediment that would keep them preserved for millennia to follow. Researchers are currently working to salvage some of the prints and document the rest as best they can, as the site will soon be paved over.

Fields and human footprints dating back 2,500 years have been discovered during road construction near Tucson, Arizona....

Posted by Archaeology Magazine on Monday, January 25, 2016

[h/t: Western Digs]

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environment
How Colorful Stripes of Wildflowers Could Reduce the Need for Pesticides
David McNew/Getty Images
David McNew/Getty Images

The UK is emerging as a global leader in the effort to reduce our dependency on pesticides. In November 2017, the nation moved to restrict a class of pesticide that’s deadly to bees, and now 15 farms across the country are testing a natural supplement to the chemicals. As The Guardian reports, colorful strips of wildflowers have been planted among crops as a way to combat pests.

The floral stripes add vibrant pops of color to the farmland, but they’re not there for show. By planting wildflowers in the fields, farmers hope to attract predatory insects like hoverflies, parasitic wasps, and ground beetles. These are exactly the type of bugs farmers want flocking to their property: They don’t eat crops and instead prey on the insects that do. With more natural predators to control pest populations, farmers may be able to reduce their use of harmful pesticides.

The wildflower strategy isn’t entirely new. Farmers already knew that planting borders of wildflowers around their fields is an effective way to lure in good insects, but this method still leaves the center of their farms vulnerable. By dispersing flowers throughout the area, they can broaden the predatory insects’ range.

The 15 farms planted with wildflowers last fall are part of a trial run put together by the Center for Ecology and Hydrology. The organization will monitor the farms for five years to see if the experiment really is a viable alternative to pesticides. In the meantime, farmers will have plenty of room to plant and harvest as usual, with the flower beds only taking up 2 percent of their land. The selected flowers include oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed, and wild carrot.

There's a long list of reasons for farmers to phase out chemical pesticides, from the damage they do to local wildlife to the threat they pose to our own health. As lawmakers around the world begin to crack down on them, you can expect to see more natural alternatives gain attention.

[h/t The Guardian]

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History
Exploding Pants Were a Problem in 1930s New Zealand
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iStock

Liars apparently aren’t the only ones who should be concerned with having their pants catch fire. In 1930s New Zealand, a series of events conspired to threaten farmers’ trousers with spontaneous and lethal combustion.

According to Atlas Obscura, the problem stemmed from ragwort, a nuisance weed of European origin that began popping up in New Zealand in the late 1800s. Ragwort, or Jacobaea vulgaris, looks not unlike a dandelion but is far more harmful: Horses and cows react to it as a poison. With the rise of dairy farming in the country and a concurrent rise in grazing cows who knew better than to eat it, ragwort started proliferating.

To respond to the invasive species, farmers took up the Department of Agriculture’s suggestion to use sodium chlorate as an herbicide. It worked, but what the farmers failed to understand was that sodium chlorate was extremely flammable. With a fine mist of the stuff drying on pants and overalls, they were prone to bursting into flames when exposed to heat—like a fireplace where pants might be hung to dry. Among the victims was Richard Buckley, who described just such an incident and witnessed, as one research journal put it, “a string of detonations in his pants.”

Friction could apparently do the trick, too, with farmers on horseback finding that all that jostling could lead to a fiery result. Lighting a match to smoke or just to see in the dark could also be calamitous. A handful of deaths were reported, as these poor laborers were essentially turning themselves into unwitting Molotov cocktails.

Word eventually spread of sodium chlorate’s hazards and it fell out of favor. Ragwort continues to annoy the population of New Zealand.

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