Archive for November, 2020

Pleistocene Alcohol

November 28, 2020

Our evolutionary ancestors accidentally got drunk when they binged on fermented fruit. This still happens to modern day species of monkeys and apes dependent upon fruit for a major part of their diet. In warm tropical regions the sugar in overripe fruits naturally ferments into alcohol when airborne yeast attaches to mold growing on the fruit. Modern humans discovered the fermentation process during the Pleistocene, though evidence is scant. The oldest known evidence of humans deliberately manufacturing alcohol comes from Raqefet Cave near Haifa, Israel, and it dates to 13,000 years BP. Archaeologists actually call the site a brewery. They found traces of barley and wheat beer in stone containers. Bread is likely just a byproduct of beer-making. The euphoria from alcohol consumption is addicting and far more motivating than satisfying hunger with bread when they had plenty of fish and venison to eat and could cook grains into cereal. Archaeologists also discovered evidence of early wine-making in northern China that dates to 9,000 years ago. This wine was made with honey, rice, and grape and/or hawthorn fruit. The latter is a small apple-like fruit that grows on scrubby bushes.

Microscope World Blog: Kids Science Microscope Activity: Yeast

Natural yeast present in the atmosphere converts sugar to alcohol and also makes bread rise.

13,000-Year-Old Brewery Found in Israel | Archaeology |

Location of Raqefet Cave and photos of the actual stone mortars used 13,000 years ago to store beer.  This ancient beer tasted nothing like modern beer.  It was sour and yeasty tasting.  Hops weren’t added to beer until the Middle Ages. Image from

Humans probably discovered, forgot, then rediscovered how to make alcohol dozens of times during the Pleistocene.  Humans have independently discovered the fermentation process at multiple sites around the world just in the past 6,000 years.  However, Pleistocene humans mostly used skins or wooden containers.  Evidence from such organic materials has long since decayed into dust, and the hypothesis that humans commonly manufactured alcohol for tens of thousands of years is impossible to prove.

I think alcohol is the most wonderful all-purpose medicine ever discovered by man.  For myself I prescribe alcohol to treat depression, anxiety attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, Parkinson’s tremors, insomnia, back-ache, stomach-ache, tooth-ache, and erectile disfunction.  If I ever went to a doctor, he would prescribe 9 different drugs to treat each of these different problems.  Imagine how much that would cost.  I’d be spending half my life waiting in the pharmacy.  Oh yeah, and I also use alcohol to get high.  It’s what helps me get through the daily drudgery of my pathetic existence.


Alex, Bridget

“The Search for the World’s Oldest Alcohol”

Discovery Magazine June 2019

McGovern, P. et. al.

“Fermented Beverages of Pre-and Proto- Historic China”

PNAS December 2004



Mastodon Ranges Fluctuated with Climate Changes

November 21, 2020

When I first began my blog I was unsure of my writing, so I submitted samples to an internet forum at  One person criticized me for being redundant when I wrote about mammoths and mastodons because he wrongly assumed I was referring to the same animal.  I explained they were 2 completely different species: mastodons were a semi-aquatic animal that mostly ate leaves, twigs, and fruit; while mammoths were an upland species that mostly ate grass.  The lead author of a new study of mastodon genetics admitted he had the same misconception prior to studying the mastodon genome.  Emil Karpinski is a geneticist not a paleontologist, and his false assumption is understandable. Karpinski and his colleagues sequenced the complete genomes of 33 individual mastodon specimens and the partial genomes from an additional 12 individual specimens.  They found 5 major clades from different geographical locations including Alaska, Yukon, Alberta/Missouri, Mexico, and Virginia/Great Lakes.  A single specimen from Nova Scotia indicates the possible discovery of a 6th clade.  Genomes of mastodons from Alberta suggest a mixture of 3 different clades.  This region was a migratory corridor between the Cordilleran and Laurentide Glaciers during interglacial climate phases when Ice Sheets retreated.  Different populations came into contact here when mastodons expanded their range north during interglacials.

Image showing how mastodon ranges expanded during interglacials and contracted during Ice Ages.  Southern mastodons were more genetically diverse than northern mastodons because northern populations were extirpated during every Ice Age.  From the below reference.

Map showing location of mastodon specimens used in the genetic study.  Also from the below reference.

The genetic evidence clearly shows mastodons expanded their range into Canada and Alaska between Ice Ages, and the expansions occurred at least twice, probably more.  Spruce forests and wetlands in Alaska converted into dry grassland during Ice Ages–unsuitable habitat for a semi-aquatic species.  And of course Canada was covered with thick glacial ice–inhospitable to most life.

The authors of this paper express bafflement over why mastodons did not recolonize Alaska and Canada following the last Ice Age.  Wetlands and spruce forests expanded when glaciers retreated and left behind meltwater lakes and bogs.  The answer is obvious and no mystery at all.  Men disrupted mastodon migration routes and overhunted them to extinction.  Large areas of suitable mastodon habitat exist today all over North America, but they are devoid of these massive beasts because they could not co-exist with increasing human populations.


Karpinski, E.; et. al.

“American Mastodon Mitochondrial Genomes Suggest Multiple Dispersal Events in Response to Pleistocene Climate Oscillations”

Nature Communications 11 Article 4048 (2020)


How to Make Dirty Rice and Jambalaya

November 14, 2020

Dirty rice probably originated as a creation of slave cuisine long before the onset of the Civil War. Slave-owners gave the poorer quality cuts of meat, even pig intestines, ears, and feet, to their involuntary servants. Slaves learned how to make these discarded animal parts taste good, and today these old treats are a component of Soul Food. In Louisiana rice was plentiful and slaves combined chicken offal with their rice ration into a popular dish most call dirty rice because the browned bits of meat give the rice a dirty appearance. Cajuns, also often living in poverty, adopted this economical dish, and now it is a famous part of Cajun cuisine.

I’ve studied many recipes for dirty rice, and they vary quite a bit.  Some call for 4 stalks of celery; others use no celery at all.  Justin Wilson, the late television chef, included canned cream of mushroom soup in his version.  His dirty rice is about the only recipe in his first book that doesn’t use cayenne pepper, but dirty rice definitely needs heat from cayenne.  Another late Cajun chef, Paul Prudhomme, wrote 2 recipes for dirty rice in his Louisiana Kitchen cookbook, including a seafood dirty rice, but in the Prudhomme Family Cookbook a recipe for dirty rice is not listed, though a recipe called “greasy rice” with hamburger and bacon basically is dirty rice.  The following recipe is my version of dirty rice, and I think it represents the best elements of the herb-flavored, starchy, meaty dish.

Cook 1 and 1/2 cups of rice in 3 cups of water with plenty of butter and salt.  While the rice is cooking brown 1 pound of Jimmy Dean’s sage sausage with 1 pound of ground chicken livers in a dry skillet under high heat.  Feel free to substitute any kind of ground meat, if you don’t like liver.  Use a spatula to break apart the meat. When the meat is no longer pink, smother it with 1 bunch of chopped green onions, 1 bunch of chopped parsley, 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper, and 1 chopped stalk of celery.  Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper.  Cover and cook until the herbs and vegetables are soft.  Mix the cooked rice with the meat and vegetables and let this sit together for 30 minutes with the skillet left on warm.  Dirty rice can be served as a main dish or a side and can be stuffed into poultry or bell peppers.  Boudin is a sausage made with a filling similar to dirty rice, though ground pork and pork livers are usually used.  Ground gizzards are also commonly used in dirty rice, but I think they are chewy and tough.  To make gizzards taste delicious, roll them in seasoned flour, brown them, smother them in onions, and cook them in a crockpot with a little water for 6 hours.  They will be nice and tender.

My dirty rice.  I left out the bell pepper (always optional in my opinion) and substituted ground turkey for ground chicken livers.  I prefer the latter, but my daughter doesn’t like liver.

One day when my daughter was about 6 years old she asked what was for supper.  I told her dirty rice.  She said, “I don’t want dirty rice.  I want clean rice.”  Then she didn’t like it because she didn’t care for the taste of liver.  Ever since, I’ve substituted ground turkey, called it Cajun clean rice, and she likes it just fine.

Dirty rice comes under the category of rice dressing when cooked rice is mixed with other cooked ingredients.  Jambalaya is different.  Jambalaya is like a dry soup when raw rice is cooked with other ingredients, and the rice absorbs the flavor of the items it’s cooked with.  Jambalaya originated in southern France and northern Spain  and is very similar to a Spanish paella.  There are a great variety of jambalayas.  I make chicken and sausage jambalaya most often, and this is how I make it.

Dice 1 pound of boneless chicken thighs and roll the pieces in flour seasoned with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.  Brown the pieces in a little oil and set aside.  Chop 2 onions, 1 bell pepper, and 1 stalk of celery and sautee them in the grease the chicken was browned in.  Add 1 and 1/2 cups of raw rice and 2 crushed cloves of garlic to the vegetables and brown the rice. Season to taste with salt, red and black peppers, and thyme. Add 3 cups of chicken broth, stir the pan, scraping up the browned bits, and pour all of this in a casserole dish.  Add the chicken and 1 pound of smoked sausage such as andoullie or kielbasa cut into pieces.  Pour all this into a casserole dish.  Stir it so the rice is covered with liquid and the meats are evenly distributed.  Cover and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour.  I made this 2 weeks ago but didn’t think to take a photo of it.

I make many other types of jambalaya.  Just plain chicken jambalaya is the easiest.  Season and brown 6 chicken thighs and place them on top of the rice, vegetables, and chicken broth in a casserole dish and bake.  Double sausage jambalaya uses 2 pounds of 2 different kinds of sausage instead of chicken and sausage.  Triple sausage jambalaya uses 2 pounds of 3 different kinds of sausage instead of chicken and sausage.  Shrimp and sausage jambalaya is not hard to make either.  The shrimp doesn’t need to be browned ahead of time, and I like to add tomato paste to it, but don’t worry about overcooking the shrimp.  I’ve found that baking them with rice for an hour does not overcook them, though many chefs claim it does.  Jambalaya is a great way to jazz up leftovers.  Turkey, ham, and mushroom jambalaya can be made from holiday leftovers using broth made from the turkey carcass.  Leftover pot roast can be converted into beef and cabbage jambalaya. (I like tomatoes in this 1 too.)  And leftover leg of lamb can be turned into lamb and raisin jambalaya.

Pleistocene Bush Dogs (Speothos sp.)

November 7, 2020

Scientists occasionally discover species as fossils before they are known to still be extant. The coelacanth and the Chacoan peccary are famous examples of this. Add South American bush dogs (Speothos venaticus) to the list.  A Danish paleontologist discovered bush dog bones in a Brazilian cave during 1839 and mistakenly thought he’d found evidence of an extinct species.  However, bush dogs still exist, though I can’t determine which western scientist first realized they were not extinct.  I’m sure native Americans were aware of their existence and may have kept some of them as pets once in a while.

Bush dogs range throughout the tropics from Brazil to Costa Rica.  Science was unaware of their existence in Costa Rica until last year, and they are not included in a book I covered on my blog recently–Mammals of Costa Rica by Mark Wainright.  Bush dogs are most common in Suriname and Guyana.  They prefer lowland tropical forest, wet savannahs, brush, and pasture habitats.  They reach a length of 2 feet long and weigh up to 18 pounds.  Bush dogs hunt in packs during the day, and their favorite prey are large rodents including pacas, agoutis, and capybaras.  The former 2 are uncommon in populated areas where natives hunt them for food, and this explains why bush dogs are also uncommon.  Competition with man has likely reduced bush dog numbers over the past 14,000 years.  Bush dogs have also been reported attacking peccaries, deer, armadillos, and rheas.

Bush dogs (Speothos venaticus) are an elusive (and very cute) species of  pupper native to tropical South America! : rarepuppers

Bush dogs. They may be similar to many species of extinct primitive canids.

File:Speothos venaticus range map.png - Wikimedia Commons

Bush dog range map.  This map doesn’t include documented sightings with photos taken in Costa Rica last year.

Canids first evolved in North America and were more diverse during the Miocene over 5 million years ago.  Cats from Eurasia then invaded the Americas and caused the extinction of many dog genera by outcompeting them.  A genetic study determined bush dogs are a sister clade with African hunting dogs (Lycaon pictus).  A species of hunting dog occurred in North America during the mid-Pleistocene.  Fossils of this species were found in Texas, and it is known as Troxell’s dog (Protocyon texanus).  Troxell’s dog also had short legs and dentition that resembled that of bush dogs.  This genetic study determined the ancestor of bush dogs diverged from the ancestor of African hunting dogs about 7.5 million years ago.  Amazingly, the bush dog’s closest relative lives on the other side of the planet.  Another genetic study found bush dogs are more closely related to wolves than they are to raccoon dogs or foxes.  However, they are not closely related enough to mate with wolves or domestic dogs and produce fertile offspring.

During the Pleistocene extant bush dogs co-occurred with another species of now extinct bush dog (S. pacivorus).  The latter species was slightly larger.  More carrion from extinct megafauna supported greater populations of predators then.