Category Archives: Anatomy and Physiology

Zombie Apocalypse, Part 3: Emergency Preparedness and the End of Life As We Know It (We’re Not Kidding)

zombie preparednessIn Zombie Apocalypse Part 1:  The Lamentable History of Zombies and Zombie Apocalypse, Part 2: Zombies and Pop Culture, we looked at how zombies became the current phenomenon of choice. We also examined the allure of spine-tingling fear and the chemistry of why we love to be frightened.  After all, it’s a suspension of reality. It’s just great fun.

Or so you thought. Continue reading

Zombie Apocalypse, Part 2: Zombies and Pop Culture

Night of the Living DeadIn Zombie Apocalypse, Part 1: The Lamentable History of Zombies we examined the backstory of zombies and how Haitian voodoo and African mythology contributed to their embedding in religious and cultural beliefs. Today we are exploring how the zombie became a pop culture phenomenon. Continue reading

The Ancient Roots of Modern Hygiene Part 2

No Business like itIn Part 1 of our ancient hygiene post we discussed the psychology behind our need for hygiene, our long history of soap-making and even ancient cosmetics. Now, continue on this journey with us to discover more ancient efforts to fight the “yuck.” Continue reading

Maps, Part 3: Defining and Explaining our Past, Present and Future

"Gaia spacecraft" by ESA–D. Ducros, 2013

“Gaia spacecraft” by ESA–D. Ducros, 2013

In Parts 1 and 2 of Maps: Defining and Explaining our Past, Present and Future, we explored how the ancients mapped the heavens and how modern space programs capture data today. Amazingly adept we humans have been at duality, both mythologizing and demystifying the worlds around us through time. As we calculate and calibrate and chronicle, we push the boundaries of our known existences and challenge ourselves to see where the impossible can become the possible. Take a look at the Gaia Probe that will map out the Milky Way using a billion pixel camera and two telescopes. The Milky Way was the stuff of dreams for millennia. Now the Milky Way will be rendered with a precision that boggles the mind and unlocks the mysteries that have intrigued the human imagination for centuries. Continue reading

Why We Love to Be Scared: Dopamine, Genes and a 2,000 Year Old Horror Story

Image credit: Barbara on Flickr.

Image credit: Barbara on Flickr.

It’s that time of year again.  Halloween.  What is it about houses moaning with restless spirits and apparitions rising from graveyard mists that so intrigue us? Today we have movies, TV shows, video games and books regaling us with the most horror-filled scenarios. Dystopias with—name your monster—demons and vampires and zombies threatening to eradicate our species (as if we don’t do a good enough job on our own).  There are possessions, evil twins, vivified dolls and deranged clowns. We even have self-proclaimed ghost hunters with their own “reality” shows and the ad revenues, market penetration and viewer numbers demonstrating that scary stuff really can rake in the dough. Why is it we are so enthralled and terrified by the supernatural? Continue reading

Ancient Dentistry Part 2: A Mummy, A Mystery and Queen Hatshepsut’s Molar

Ancient Egyptian dentistry.

An example of ancient Egyptian dentistry.

In Ancient Dentistry Part 1: Drills, Gemstones and Toothpaste!, we looked at how dentistry was practiced millennia ago in Pakistan, Slovenia, Algeria, France, North America and Egypt. Drilling, implants and tooth bling were some long ago procedures with fascinating modern day correlations.  Ironically, despite having toothpaste and dental procedures, it seemed that the Egyptians suffered a great deal of tooth discomfort, which was apparent from the formulas for pain potions found recorded on papyrus and in the condition of the teeth of many mummies. Continue reading

Ancient Dentistry Part 1: Drills, Gemstones and Toothpaste!

dentistry-316945_640 (1)We all cringe at the thought of going to the dentist — and that’s with the comfortable recliners, the soothing music, the anesthetics and analgesics. Imagine what a visit to the dentist must have been like thousands of years ago.

In modern-day Pakistan, where the earliest evidence of dentistry has been found, Stone Age dentists were wielding drills made of flint. Nine-thousand-year-old teeth found at a Neolithic graveyard showed clear signs of drilling, but also signs that rotting gum tissue had been removed, leading researchers to consider the crude drills “surprisingly effective.”[1]

In fact, in a 2006 article for the journal Nature, researchers wrote about the “perfect,” “amazing” holes those flint drills had made.[2] The holes were about one-seventh of an inch deep, except in one case where the dentist had managed to drill a hole in the inside back end of a tooth, boring out toward the front of the mouth.[3] There is no evidence of dental fillings; however, at least one researcher believes some sort of “tarlike material or soft vegetable matter” may have been placed inside the holes.[4] Unfortunately for those early patients, it’s unlikely that the dentists used any kind of anesthetic. Continue reading

Ramadan Observance and the World Cup: A Major Decision for Muslim Athletes

soccer ramadan copyRamadan, the Muslim month of fasting that is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, begins this Saturday, June 28th. Adult Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink and sexual relations during the daylight hours and instead use the time to refocus their minds and spirits on God while practicing self-sacrifice. This is an extremely daunting task for most people, especially in today’s society where instant gratification is ferociously embraced.  However, for modern Muslim athletes, Ramadan poses an especially large challenge. With major international sporting events taking place such as the World Cup this year and the Summer Olympics in other years, how do the devout observe the month while maintaining such a high level of physical activity? Continue reading

It’s National Poetry Month! Ancient Poetry and the Created Self: From Early Epics to Afghan Women’s Landays

Marble terminal bust of Homer. Roman copy of a lost Hellenistic original of the 2nd c. BC. From Baiae, Italy. In the British Museum.

Marble terminal bust of Homer. Roman copy of a lost Hellenistic original of the 2nd c. BC. From Baiae, Italy. In the British Museum.

Throughout time, poetry has been one of the most evocative of art forms.  From ritual chanting and epic histories to love sonnets and modern free verse, poetry has represented the essence of what it is to be human.  Since April is National Poetry Month in the United States, let’s take a look at the origins of this artistic device.  As well, we’ll observe a unique poetry tradition recast with a 21st century perspective. We’ll see how poetry is giving voice to women in Afghanistan, who as with early cultures that forged their identities in verse, are tapping the extraordinary power of poetry to create their own sense of “self.” Continue reading

Music Origins: Mesopotamia, American Gospel and the Neurology of Faith, Part II

Image courtesy of Andrew Newberg, NPR.

Image courtesy of Andrew Newberg, NPR.

In Part I we looked at the importance of music in Mesopotamia and its specific role in communing with the gods. Fast forwarding nearly four millennia we found a remarkable similarity in the strains of American gospel music and the belief that the ecstasy of song enables the Holy Spirit to enter the bodies of the faithful. What is the nature of this willingness to give up one’s self to a higher being? How does music play a part? Is rapture—a potent driving force among believers—real?  Let’s look further at the reason for this music/spiritual connection by venturing inside the anatomy of the brain and as well exploring humankind’s long and precarious evolution of mind and body. Continue reading