Tags Posts tagged with "National Geographic"

National Geographic

Turkana Basin Institute: Richard Leakey All photos downloaded with permission from: www.flickr.com Username: turkanabasin Password: knmwt15000

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

What’s possible?

We can spend time criticizing each other, becoming nattering nabobs of negativity, as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said. We can also rue our lot in life or feel an overwhelming sense of dread about problems we can’t solve or conflicts we haven’t resolved.

Or …

Or we can get out and create a remarkable life.

That’s what happened with famed paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey.

Okay, so maybe he had a few advantages, like the fact that his parents Mary and Louis Leakey were already successful in the field and, unlike those of us who grew up on Mud Road near Gelinas Junior High School, he spent his formative years near and around fossils.

I recall digging in the back corner of my yard when I was young, convinced that I would pull up a dinosaur bone or reveal some incredible secret someone had hidden among the prickers and weeds. Yeah, no such luck.

And yet, the life of the late Richard Leakey offers exciting hope and opportunities for inspiration.

He didn’t graduate from high school, but he was successful and world-renowned.

Leakey’s life is “awe-inspiring,” demonstrating the “ability of one person to literally transform the world and leave it a better place,” Lee Berger, National Geographic Explorer in Residence, said in an interview.

National Geographic Society CEO Jill Tiefenthaler described the impact Leakey had on his home country of Kenya as “amazing” and the impact on the field as “remarkable,” particularly because he did it in a non-traditional way.

In an interview, Tiefenthaler credited the “army” of people who supported him with helping him achieve his goals.

“How do you move and get people to move with you?” Tiefenthaler said. “He was this person who saw talent. It wasn’t just about him. He would see [someone] and say ‘you’re going to do this’ and they did.”

Next generation

As for how to get the next generation to believe in themselves and to participate in the scientific process, National Geographic’s Berger and Tiefenthaler shared their vision.

Ensuring transparency in the process helps people trust the science.

“People are with us when we find those fossils, they watch us, we make sure there’s open access when they come out,” said Berger, who considered Leakey a friend and mentor. “Your child can print these things out and they can check.”

For National Geographic, which funded Leakey for decades, the goal is to “try to give people information and let them draw their own conclusions,” Tiefenthaler added.

The next generation of scientists has access to a large educational program through National Geographic, she added.

“I spent my career in higher education,” said Tiefenthaler, who was the president of Colorado College for nine years before becoming the first woman to lead National Geographic in its 135-year history. “We have got to meet them where they are: they are probably not reading the paper magazine with small, dense print.”

National Geographic is on social media and TikTok.

“We are focusing on issues they care about,” Tiefenthaler said. “We know this generation is very concerned about climate change and biodiversity loss.”

Tiefenthaler “loves how much they care about the work we do at National Geographic [Society]. They’re a little mad at [this generation] because of the predicament that we’ve left the world in for them. We made the mess and there are fewer resources to fix things.”

Still, she believes there are leaders and actors among the younger generation who will follow in Leakey’s footsteps and have an important and positive impact on the world.

“We have a generation that’s going to make major progress on this planet,” she said.

Breaking news from the Richard Leakey Memorial Conference

By Daniel Dunaief

A species of archaic humans is defying conventional wisdom about what it means to be human.

Lee Berger, National Geographic Explorer in Residence and paleoanthropologist.

Homo naledi, which were discovered in a cave about 25 miles away from Johannesburg, South Africa, had brains that were about a third the size of ours. That, previous research suggested, likely limited their ability to engage in a range of activities, like burying their dead or creating symbols.

Wrong and wrong.

In an expedition through narrow caves that required him to lose 55 pounds just to get to the site, Lee Berger, National Geographic Explorer in Residence and Lead of the Rising Star program, along with a team of other scientists, studied the remains of these humans that lived over 236,000 years ago. The bones they studied and, in some cases excavated, were buried deep in the Rising Star Cave.

Along the wall of a cave, the researchers also found symbols, including crossed lines and swirls.

“Big brains don’t explain what we thought they explain,” Agustín Fuentes, Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University and National Geographic Explorer and On-Site Biocultural Specialist, said during a press briefing announcing the discoveries. This research “takes humans off the pedestal.”

The research, which was shared at the Richard Leakey Memorial Conference at Stony Brook University on June 5, is published in the journal eLife.

Berger wanted to share his latest findings with the conference, particularly given the important role Leakey played in his career.

Berger had known Leakey for 34 years. When they met, Leakey, who was his “idol,” directed Berger to follow his dream of searching for fossils in South Africa. Leakey and Berger remained close throughout the decades.

“I owe him my entry into this field,” said Berger.

Indeed, Berger feels that Leakey was, “in some ways, responsible for the discovery” about the burials and cave drawings of Homo naledi. “I’m very personally indebted” to Leakey.

Extraordinary effort

While scientists don’t know what the lines in the dolomitic limestone walls signified, they believe Homo naledi, whose name in Sotho language means “star,” made those marks. 

Natural processes over the course of over 200,000 years wouldn’t have left such a distinctive pattern. In addition, the depth of the markings, which would have taken considerable effort and a tool to create, indicate a concerted and sustained physical effort.

The dolomite is about half as hard as a diamond, which would have taken an “extreme amount” of work, Berger said. Several of the lines suggest multiple efforts to make carvings. “These are engravings that are not done in one sitting,” he said.

During the press briefing, Berger indicated that other species of early humans didn’t leave any evidence of entering the same cave. “There’s no evidence of humans” other than the scientists who published the paper “that entered the cave,” he said.

At this point, researchers, who are trying to minimize any disturbance in the cave, haven’t pinpointed an exact date for the symbols.

“In time, we’ll likely be able to date” the symbols, said Berger. The researchers arrived at the approximate date and linked the symbols to Homo naledi through association and context, he explained.

Homo naledi are the only humans who left any evidence of their presence in the cave.

Moments after discovery, Lee Berger holds a photographic scale next to a hashtag, or crosshatched engraving in the passage between the Hill Antechamber burial chamber and the Dinaledi Burial Chamber known as Panel A. Photo by Mathabela Tsikoane, Courtesy Lee Berger and the National Geographic Society.

Researchers described the arduous process of descending through narrow passageways to arrive at the burial site, which Berger discovered in 2013.

The site is extraordinarily difficult for modern humans to navigate. In addition to losing weight to get through small openings, Berger tore his rotator cuff climbing out of the site last July. He is still recovering, but said losing weight and even sustaining an injury was worth the effort.

While modern scientists use headlamps and battery-powered lights to record their discoveries, earlier humans would have had to carry some form of portable fire with them to bring their dead to their burial sites and to make carvings in the walls.

“How they’re making that fire and the exact mechanism of transport, I think, will be established over the next several years as we study all the occurrences of it,” Berger said.

“For us to say something clearly, definitely, strongly, again as [Berger] has said, we need to go back and excavate some more and check out more areas that we might have missed because clearly we walked straight past this,” said Keneiloe Molopyane, National Geographic Explorer and Lead Excavator of Dragon’s Back Expedition.

New perspectives

As far as a DNA analysis, the team hasn’t yet found anything they can test in the fossils. They are planning to test the sediment.

The researchers have left large amounts of evidence in place, which includes multiple other burials that haven’t been excavated. Berger suggested that the images and information from this site “provide as robust evidence for burial and graves as for practically any grave ever published for humans or otherwise.” Researchers examining this information will realize that “more works needs to be done.” As for what that entails, one of the plans is to bring additional technology and specialists into the area.

Homo naledi “intensely altered this space across kilometers of underground cave systems, and I think that deserves not just the involvement of our team, but the involvement of every scientist around the world who can participate, and perhaps technologists and other people who have ideas about how/ what we do,” Berger added.

As for the implications of this research, the scientists suggested that the discovery and the analysis will continue to alter the perspectives of researchers and students of human history.

“All of us who write textbooks or major articles about this probably have to go back and shift what we said about big brains, meaning, complex meaning-making behavior, or the kind of complex experiences of grief, social community, that’s associated with mortuary and funerary practices,” Fuentes said. “It makes us think about human evolution really in a new way, and puts us back closer to a starting point, and showing again that we know a lot less than we thought we did.”


A scene from 'We Feed People' Photo courtesy of National Geographic

By Melissa Arnold

When Russia first began its major assault on Ukraine earlier this year, the whole world turned its eyes on the conflict. As days turned into weeks and scenes of destruction played out on screens everywhere, it seemed like everyone had the same questions: How will this end? What can we do?

Among them was Lyn Boland, co-director of the Port Jefferson Documentary Series (PJDS). “I must ask myself at least once a day what more I could be doing, because this situation is so heartbreaking,” she said.

A scene from ‘We Feed People’
Photo courtesy of National Geographic

Boland, co-directors Barbara Sverd and Wendy Feinberg, and board members Honey Katz, Lorie Rothstein and Lynn Rein put their heads together to create an inspiring event to support Ukrainian people in need. On Monday, May 9, they will host a screening of the film We Feed People, a family-friendly documentary about generosity, food and its power to heal.

Directed by Ron Howard, the National Geographic film tells the story of chef Jose Andres, the Spanish-born founder of World Central Kitchen. The not-for-profit organization is dedicated to feeding communities impacted by natural disasters and humanitarian crises around the globe. 

“I have found that in the most challenging moments, food is the fastest way to rebuild a sense of community,” Andres said in the film. “A humble plate of food is just the beginning … there is no limit to what we can achieve when we come together and just start cooking.”

The documentary was already completed when Ukraine was invaded, but World Central Kitchen has been on the ground there ever since, helping to provide food and other basic needs.

Boland said that a contact from National Geographic reached out to the arts council recently, offering the film for consideration in the Port Jefferson Documentary Series. The spring lineup was already planned, but Boland asked if they’d be willing to screen the film as a benefit instead. All proceeds from the screening will be sent to World Central Kitchen to provide immediate support to Ukrainians in need. 

“Getting to see Jose Andres in action, and the embrace of humanity that he has, is incredible. He has a way of pulling everyone in,” Boland said.

A scene from ‘We Feed People’
Photo courtesy of National Geographic

Andres started from the bottom in various kitchens when he arrived in America in the 1990s. Over time, he worked his way through the ranks and eventually became a restaurant owner and cookbook author with his own massive following. He founded World Central Kitchen in 2010 in response to the earthquake in Haiti, and since then, it’s been his way of giving back through his greatest passions.

We Feed People takes viewers inside planes, trucks and kitchens as Andres and his team deliver food over a 10-year period. 

Following the movie screening, there will be a live Q&A session via Zoom with the film’s producer Meredith Kaulfers and Ukrainian singer Olha Tsvyntarna, who fled her country for safety a month and a half ago. Tom Needham, host of “The Sounds of Film” on 90.1 WUSB-FM radio, will serve as moderator.

“What’s happening in Ukraine is an abomination, and the people there need the whole world to step up and help them,” said Allan Varela, chair of the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, which sponsors the Port Jefferson Documentary Series. 

“Our mission at the arts council is to bring joy to our communities and expose people to ideas and subjects they may not otherwise know about. For us, we can use our artistic mission to raise awareness, create a fundraiser and ultimately do our part to assist the Ukrainian people.”

Varela also expressed gratitude to Lori and Tom Lucki of Riverhead Toyota for covering all expenses for the screening.

We Feed People: A Fundraiser for Ukraine will be held at John F. Kennedy Middle School, 200 Jayne Blvd, Port Jefferson Station on May 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.69 per person online at www.portjeffdocumentaryseries.com ($10 from each ticket will be sent to World Central Kitchen, and the remaining $0.69 will be used to cover Paypal fees for the donation) or $10 at the door (cash only). 

For more information about this event, email to [email protected].

Pixabay image

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Virtually everyone seems to agree that when the pandemic is finally over, life will not be the same as it was pre-COVID-19. Prominent among the changes will be some degree of working remotely. Before the virus descended, requests to work from home at least part of the week were typically refused by employers. Enter “Zoom” in lock-step with the pathogen.

Technically, Zoom was among us before the virus but only a small segment of the population used the platform. Once we were restrained to our homes, we laypeople discovered how easy and useful it was “to Zoom,” and the name became a verb, much like Xerox or Google. So certainly Zooming will remain with us for a long time to come. But what are its unintended consequences?

For one, there is the phrase that has now entered the English language: Zoom fatigue. We, who are on Zoom regularly and for long periods, understand this term. According to an article in National Geographic, published this past Tuesday and written by Theresa Machemer, new research offers data on this phenomenon to confirm our perceived discomfort.

Here are some interesting bits of information. On average, women report 13.8 percent more Zoom fatigue than men. Here is more: besides long days full of calls with few breaks that are the culprits, the self-view video, the crowd of faces on the screen, the expectation to stay in view of the camera, and the lack of nonverbal cues all tax the brain. I would add to that the lag between what is said and its transmission is tiring for the eyes and frustrating to the point of encouraging us to talk louder, which too is tiring.

OK, so we can agree that remote working has its perks: “no commutes, flexibility to handle household tasks, and easy access to conferences for all workers, including those with disabilities.” To an extent, we can now live where we want to live, and we can attend class even if the school shuts down due to an emergency or natural disaster. (No more snow days, sorry.) 

So here is what the scientists who specialize in the interactions between humans and technology developed, according to National Geographic. They created a tool to measure fatigue, called the Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale, or ZEF. They then used this in large surveys to measure that fatigue, in addition to how long each person spends on Zoom and demographics. Here are four factors that affect teleworkers.

The “lack of nonverbal cues is stressful because people cannot naturally convey or interpret gestures and body language when just their colleagues’ shoulders and heads are visible.” That presents a constant struggle to the viewer for proper communication.

Here is another, perhaps surprising response. “During video calls, people report feeling trapped in one spot so they can stay within view of the webcam.” As a result, they feel stressed, according to the researchers. Further, the default window, in which users see themselves constantly, can cause “mirror anxiety,” a self-consciousness that can result in distraction and has been linked to depression. 

Finally, there is something termed “hypergaze,” in which the viewer feels that the other person or people on the call are staring at them, their faces appearing so near and so intense as to cause discomfort for the brain.

The survey confirmed that women who spend more time in meetings, with shorter breaks between them than men, reported greater mirror anxiety and felt more trapped by their video calls.

How to cope: use a standing desk to feel less trapped; an orange filter on the screen may reduce eye strain; take at least ten minute breaks between video calls; ask conferencing companies to limit the maximum display size of heads on the screen; use some form of hybrid scheduling for home-office work.

I cannot let this subject go, however, without thanking the tech companies for making it possible for me to “see” my family members during this separation of more than a year. It has kept us connected and sane.


Dr. Jane Goodall Photo courtesy of National Geographic

National Geographic commemorates Earth Day with a special screening of the new two-hour documentary Jane Goodall: The Hope on April 22 starting at 9 p.m. The film, which will air globally in 172 countries and 43 languages on National Geographic, Nat Geo WILD and Nat Geo MUNDO channels, takes viewers through chapters of Dr. Goodall’s journey, highlighting how she inspires hope for our planet, love for its animal inhabitants and actions of stewardship for this generation and those to come.

Dr. Jane Goodall and Prince Harry at Windsor Castle for the 2019 global leadership meeting of Roots & Shoots. Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Hitesh Makan

Featuring an extensive collection of photographs and footage that spans over seven decades, the special depicts the formation of the Jane Goodall Institute’s “Tacare” community-centered conservation approach and Roots & Shoots youth empowerment program, her remarkable advocacy and leadership on behalf of chimpanzees and humanity. 

“Being out in the forest of Gombe, I had a great sense of spiritual awareness; I began to realize that everything is interconnected,” says Goodall. “Since then, every day, it’s become clearer that climate change is an existential threat to our natural world, and if we destroy this world, we destroy our own future.”

Dr. Jane Goodall signing book for young girl at Esri Conference in 2019. Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Michael Haertlein

“Each day, every single person has the chance to make an impact through small, thoughtful choices, and when billions of people make the right choices, we start to transform the world,” added Goodall. “Don’t give up; there’s always a way forward.”

The documentary includes appearances by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, among others.

“The need to protect our planet has never been more urgent, and we’re using Earth Day’s 50th as an opportunity to inspire viewers through the wonders of our planet and its incredible species for viewers around the world,” said Courteney Monroe, president, National Geographic Global Television Networks. “With the Earth Day takeover across all of our networks and platforms, we are able to reach the largest audience possible to celebrate this momentous day and ensure that viewers fall in love with our planet and act to protect it.”