Spanish Cave Paintings Discovered to be Some of the Oldest in Europe

cave paintings
Image courtesy GipuzkoaKultura

Cave paintings at the Altxerri cave system in the Basque region of northern Spain are about 39,000 years old, making them some of the oldest in Europe, Popular Archaeology reports.

A team of French and Spanish scientists analyzed the paintings, which include images such as the bison shown here, as well as finger marks, a feline, a bear, an unidentified animal head and more abstract markings. This early dating of these images puts them in the Aurignacian Period, believed by most archaeologists to be the first flowering of modern humans in the region, although whether or not there were still Neanderthals in the area at this time is an open question.

A later set of paintings in another part of the cave system, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, date from “only” 29,000-35,000 years ago.

By comparison, the art at Cauvet Cave in France is about 31,000 years old, although it is of a much higher quality. The beautiful paintings there were the subject of Herzog’s breathtaking 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

A full report on the cave paintings can be found in the latest issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

Smithsonian Unveils Evotourism (TM) Website For People Interested In Our Evolutionary Past

Evotourism
Ever heard of Evotourism? No? That’s because the Smithsonian Institution just made it up.

This month’s issue of Smithsonian magazine is all about Evotourism, which they’ve decided to trademark so we all have to put that pesky trademark symbol after it. Not a user-friendly way to coin a new term.

As their new dedicated site says, Evotourism is the “Smithsonian’s new travel-information service that will help you find and fully enjoy the wonders of evolution. Whether it’s a city museum or suburban fossil trove, a historic scientific site overseas or a rare creature in your own backyard, we’ll direct you to places and discoveries that figure in the science of evolution or offer eye-opening evidence of the process of natural selection.”

The site lists a variety of places to learn about the evolution of life on our planet, from Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, where you and your family can pose for photos in front of a dinosaur still encased in rock, to Darwin’s home just outside London. Each destination is given a detailed treatment with an accompanying article.

There are also some general articles on subjects such as the life and work of Charles Darwin. One important piece is an interview with Christián Samper, former director of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History that clears up many of the misconceptions about evolution, such as the common misperception that belief in evolution and belief in God is an either/or proposition.

The site is organized by theme, so if you have kids in tow or are a photographer, you’ll be directed to the sites that are best for you.

It’s a good list to start with, but of course there are many more sites to visit and the folks at the Smithsonian will be adding to it. They were modest enough not to include their own Natural History Museum in Washington, DC, surely one of the best Evotourism destinations anywhere. I’d also suggest the Science Museum in London, the Natural History Museum in New York City, and the Natural History Museum in Oxford, England.

For adventure travelers who want to get to the source, there’s the National Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which has Lucy, the famous 3.2 million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, and a display of skulls from the earliest human ancestors to modern humans in chronological order to show how primate-like traits gradually gave way to a more human appearance. Other rooms show the evolution of other animals.

What other Evotourism destinations would you recommend? Tell us in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Flickr user InSapphoWeTrust]

New Galapagos travel rules help protect the islands for future visitors

New travel regulations in the Galapagos Islands will help protect the environment thereA month ago we told you about some significant changes to the rules of travel in the Galapagos Islands that will go in effect in 2012. In a nutshell, the new regulations say that a ship cannot visit the same island twice within a 14-day period, which will likely have an impact on the available itineraries that are currently being offered to visit the place. While the intent of that story was to inform travelers of these changes and how they could impact any future plans to visit the Galapagos, the article failed to mention exactly why these changes are being made.

As most travelers know, the Galapagos are a unique and very special place. Located approximately 525 miles west of Ecuador, they are home to a large number of plant and animal species, many of which aren’t found anywhere else on the planet. Those creatures include several types of sea turtles, the flightless cormorant, warm water penguins, and a marine iguana that actually dives under the ocean to capture its prey.

The Islands were famously visited by Charles Darwin, aboard the HMS Beagle, back in 1835, and his observations of the endemic plant and animal life there led to his groundbreaking work The Origin of Species. The Galapagos are like a fantastic, living laboratory, offering Darwin, and other researchers that followed, an opportunity to observe the way animals adapt to their environment in a natural setting that is unlike any other on the planet.Because of the diversity of plants and animals on the Islands, UNESCO designated the Galapagos as a World Heritage Site in 1978, and in recent years it has become a popular tourist destination. So popular in fact, that the number visitors has begun to threaten the fragile environments of the Islands, which were amongst the most pristine, well preserved wildernesses on Earth. In an effort to ensure that they stay that way, the Ecuadorian government has instituted the new travel rules to help prevent over crowding and to spread tourist traffic more evenly across the 19 islands that make up the chain.

It should be noted that while these new regulations will force tour operators to change their itineraries, and in some cases the way they do business, the announcement has been met with universal applause. By prohibiting vessels from visiting the same location twice in a two week period, they are also limiting the size of the crowds on an island on any given day. This makes the experience all that much better for the visitors, while keeping the impact on the environment to a minimum as well.

While doing some research on this topic, I corresponded with several tour operators, and it quickly became clear to me how much they loved the Galapagos. Each of them remarked about how happy they were to see these regulations put into place and how it would help preserve the Islands for future visitors to enjoy as well. This is an example of how sustainable tourism can allow us to continue to visit the spectacular places of our planet, while also protecting them from harm. As avid travelers, I’m sure that is something that we can all get behind.

Disney Dream lets adults ditch the kids, at night anyway

Disney dream adultsDisney Cruise Line’s new Disney Dream debut’s next month with all the bells and whistles one might expect from a new ship coming out these days. There’s an AquaDuck water-coaster on deck, virtual “portholes” for inside cabins and a whole lot of Disney magic for kids of all ages. Adults on this ship will receive special attention too with a new area created just for them.

Called “The District”, it is a section of the ship that caters to adults in the evening with a selection of lounges and nightclubs.

Skyline is an ever-changing cocktail bar that celebrates some of the world’s most famous cities. Tall “windows” (actually huge LCD display screens) line a wall and show guests some of the world’s most beautiful city skylines which change from day to day and transform from day to night as each day progresses.

Pink is a “chic cocktail bar” and is designed in French Art Nouveau featuring back-lit glass “bubbles” inset into the walls to create an effect of cascading Champagne.

Evolution is a trendy disco that plays contemporary hits and classic favorites. During the day, Evolution provides dance classes, bingo, and arts and crafts. At night, Evolution caters to adults only, offering dancing, games, karaoke and a full bar serving mixed drinks.

687 is the sports bar. During the day, 687 provides family games and activities in a comfortable, casual setting; after 9:00 p.m., the venue transforms into a place for adults seeking more grown-up activities and games to enjoy over a beer, wine or mixed drinks.

Adult-only time is also available all day at the Cove Pool, a multi-level pool of varying depths with the Cove Cafe close by. Signature dining venue Palo, a reservations only premium restaurant open for dinner, is also just for adults.

Ditched kids are not just left to wander the decks though. Youth programs ranging from in-cabin baby-sitting to engaging age-appropriate group care is also available.

Photos courtesy Disney Cruise Line

Oldest human footprints will soon be on public view

History buffs love to see the places where famous people walked, but how about the thrill of seeing where some of mankind’s earliest ancestors strolled by? Footprints dating back 3.6 million years were discovered at Laetoli in Tanzania by the famous paleontologist Dr. Mary Leakey back in 1976. The prints of three individuals and several animals had been pressed into a layer of ash deposited by a nearby volcano and became fossilized as more and more ash and dirt piled up and pressed the lower layers into a soft rock called tuff.

This find is of major importance to the study of human evolution but the site itself hasn’t been open to the public for 15 years. Now Tanzanian officials have announced that the footprints will again be on view. The prints are in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which already attracts about 400,000 tourists annually.

The tracks are those of three individuals walking upright. One walked in the footprints of another and all lead in the same direction. It’s unclear what hominid (early form of human) made the tracks, but several skeletons of the Australopithecus afarensis were discovered in the region and date to the same approximate period. The famous Lucy skeleton is an Australopithecus afarensis. The photo shows a reconstruction of one at the Cosmocaixa museum in Barcelona.

Scientists are currently studying how to open the site with minimal impact. They expect the process to take up to two years.

This is the latest round in a continuing controversy over how to preserve the prints. Some scientists say the entire section of rock should be removed and placed in a museum. Others say they’re much more compelling where they were found. A protective sealant was placed over the prints in 1995 and the whole area was covered with earth. While this has kept the prints in good condition, it means nobody gets to appreciate them. Hopefully Tanzanian scientists will find a way to preserve the prints while allowing visitors to enjoy this one-of-a-kind discovery.

[Photo courtesy user Esv via Wikimedia Commons]