Earliest wall art is found in France — dates back 37,000 years

A massive block of limestone in France contains what scientists believe are the earliest known engravings of wall art dating back some 37,000 years…

The 1.5 metric ton ceiling piece was first discovered in 2007 at Abri Castanet, a well known archeological site in southwestern France which holds some of the earliest forms of artwork, beads and pierced shells.

According to New York University anthropology professor Randall White, lead author of the paper…the art was likely meant to adorn the interior of a shelter for reindeer hunters.

“There is a whole question about how and why, and why here in this place at this particular time you begin to see people spending so much time and energy and imagination on the graphics.”

The images range from paintings of horses to “vulvar imagery” that appears to represent female sex organs, carved into the low ceiling that rose between 1.5 to two meters (yards) from the floor, within reach of the hunters.

The work is less sophisticated than the elaborate paintings of animals found in France’s Grotte Chauvet, which was more remote and difficult to access, believed to be between 30,000 and 36,000 years old.

In contrast, the engravings and paintings at Castanet, which carbon dating showed were about 37,000 years old, are rougher and more primitive in style, and were likely done by everyday people

However, even though the artwork is vastly different, archeologists believe the artists came from the same Aurignacian culture which comprised the first modern humans in Europe, replacing the Neanderthals. They lived from 40,000 years ago until about 28,000 years ago.

I don’t think any of them were named Methuselah or Noah. Who knows? Might have been Keith.

I wonder what studies are there about myths and legends carried forward from these cave paintings and engravings. You would think that oral tradition might suggest to someone a pattern to sort legends common to all cultures from some that may be unique to a region, time and people?

China discovers modular construction — just add labor, fireworks

If the video is cranky, click “YouTube” lower rh frame and watch it there
As a crane lowered a steel-and-concrete slab onto support pillars, construction workers swarmed around to bolt it down – a choreography of mad-dash steps against a backdrop of firecrackers, and a sacrificed cow, to herald China’s latest “instant building”.

The three-story structure, a workers’ cafeteria, was just a side note to a 30-story hotel built over 15 days outside this city in Hunan province in December. Both are examples of the streamlined construction being pioneered by China’s Broad Sustainable Building.

“There is an urgent need for construction security, especially energy-saving in construction, and this touches on conserving materials,” Zhang Yue, Broad Group’s founder and chairman, told Reuters in an interview at his headquarters in Changsha.

Over the last decade China has seen one of the biggest construction booms in history to house a surging urban population and an expanding industrial sector. But with that construction have come worries about environmental destruction, waste and shoddy buildings. Zhang argues that his buildings represent just the opposite…

“It’s very easy to learn the construction – all the workers need to do is fasten the bolts,” said Liu Zhijian, a 23-year-old site worker from the nearby city of Loudi. “There’s no welding, no dust, no water,” he said. “It’s not at all like traditional construction, which is all about bricks and concrete…”

The approach is relatively straightforward. Workers prefabricate flat modules at two factories in Yueyang, about 90 minutes north of the provincial capital of Changsha…

BSB estimates it produces 90 percent of its buildings in the plants.

The process also leaves little trash behind…”We have only 1 percent of construction waste at building sites,” said Shang Dayong, a worker from Ningxia province who came to learn the quick-build process to teach others back home.

Modular construction truly rocks. Even though most of the housing I worked on was custom designs, there are firms I competed against that did a stellar job with production modules built off-site and transported to fit the site. If their pre-designed packages fit the needs and taste of clients, savings of 20-30% were common.

In commercial construction — even faster and easier. There is one chain of motels that builds all of their modules as opposite rooms in the motel with a section of hall way between. They’re trucked to the job site and dropped into place floor by floor, side by side. Easy as pie. A hell of a lot less job site labor, savings on insurance, raw materials, scrap all-round.

Paying to have her eggs frozen – a present for your daughter or for yourself to be a grandparent?

At the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, a popular destination for women hoping to preserve their fertility by freezing their eggs, Dr. William Schoolcraft, the founder and medical director, has started to notice something different: more of the women are arriving with company.

“I see these patients come in, and they’re with two elderly people, and I’m like, ‘What the hey?’ ” Dr. Schoolcraft said.

The gray-haired entourages, it turns out, are the parents, tagging along to lend support — emotional and often financial — as their daughters turn to the fledgling field of egg freezing to improve their chances of having children later on, when they are ready to start a family.

The technology to freeze a woman’s delicate eggs to be used later, when the eggs being released by her ovaries may no longer be viable, has improved sharply over the past decade. There currently is no single source of data on the number of women who are choosing to freeze their eggs, but doctors in the United States say the practice is slowly growing.

The procedure remains expensive, generally costing between $8,000 and $18,000. And because it offers no guarantees and is still considered experimental by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a professional association, it can seem to some like an extravagant gamble.

But it is a gamble that many would-be grandparents are willing to take with their daughters, even if it means navigating a potentially uncomfortable conversation…

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Spain’s most indebted village pays the price of loans leveraged beyond reality

Only 2 of 100 homes are occupied

The new brick houses stand by the dozen, in neat rows which stretch across the sun-drenched hillside. Each has its own walled garden, solar panels on a terracotta tiled roof and space for two cars to park in the driveway…

There is also a silence in the streets for the simple reason that hardly anyone lives here – all but two of the development of 100 homes stand empty…

This is Pioz, the town in the Guadalajara province of Castilla-La Mancha which has now earned the unwanted distinction of being the most indebted in Spain…

Pioz has become the symbol of a crisis-hit nation where town councils have run up debts that far surpass their income, debts which threaten to derail the government’s attempt to meet strict budget deficit targets set by Brussels.

“We are crippled by debt,” explained Dionisio Torres Martinez, the spokesman of Pioz town hall. “It is impossible to exaggerate how big our problems are here. In the short term we are just struggling to find the funds each month to pay for the very minimum of services, let alone meet our debt repayments…”

At night the street lighting is not switched on, road maintenance has been halted and rubbish collection is intermittent.

The town owes 16 million euros in outstanding bills to suppliers and is one of 2,619 councils applying to the central government for help to meet repayments…

The town suffers 25 per cent unemployment, the national average, and at best estimates it could put aside 2,000 euros a year to pay outstanding debts after meeting just the bare minimum of running costs.

“Yeah, life was good here. It’s a beautiful place,” says Ignacio, a man in his 30s, who arrived in the town square on a battered old bicycle. “I had two cars, a new house, lots of work in construction and I thought it would never end. Now I’m unemployed and live with my parents again…”

The spectacular bust in 2007 of Spain’s decade long building boom has left troubled banks burdened with an estimated 185 billion euros in problem loans and assets.

Constructed in parallel to the construction boom and bust that was at the core of the same crash in the United States. I imagine many of the same lies were told. The same paper oversight that ignored fact-checking on whether or not people could afford the homes for sale, whether or not developers could cover the costs of developing the projects, whether or not banks had sufficient collateral to cover the loans – and on and on into derivative trades on a global scale all based on endless increasing sales of homes not yet paid for.

Not a lot of new laws are needed to prevent this sort of collapse. It might be nice if storefront mortgage companies were required to be licensed, receive the same oversight as banks chartered for lending. It might be nice if the excuse of states rights didn’t inhibit such oversight on a national scale.

It might be nice if the politicians we elected to serve in Congress did their jobs. It might be nice if people weren’t so gullible they actually believe populist phrase-mongering, conservative ideology, was going to make a difference – instead of electing folks with an understanding of economics, responsibility.

Ukrainian tunnel of love

A young couple walk through the ‘tunnel of love’ near the town of Klevan in Ukraine. The tunnel is a two-mile section of private railway that serves a local factory. A train runs through it three times a day.

From the GUARDIAN “Eyewitness” series of photographs