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The North Africa connection

New DNA results on Scots ancestry reopen a century-old theory about a North African language connection. The Scotland’s DNA project has found that no less than 1% of the Scots tested carry a genetic marker which originated in North Africa. The researchers say that the gene, common today amongst the Berber and Tuareg people, is estimated to have originated around 5,600 years ago. And for over a hundred years there have been linguists who have maintained that there is a link between the Celtic languages and those of North Africa, such as Berber and Egyptian Coptic.

The origami man

Erik Demaine never went to school very often: his longest stint there was a month in Miami Beach. He spent his young years travelling throughout the United States with his father, an artist from Halifax in Nova Scotia, who sold work at craft shows and taught his son for one hour a day from home-school instruction manuals. When Erik was seven, he wrote his first computer program. By the time he was twelve and interested in maths, his father enrolled them both in classes at Dalhousie University. By the time he was twenty, Erik was at MIT

Solway shore stories

“Criffel has vanished, blotted out by the rain that is sweeping across the Firth into our faces. We are standing in a row facing the incoming tide; there’s not much talking, just an occasional comment or joke amongst the men. Mark Messenger and I are at the seaward end of the row, and the fast-moving brown water is rising quickly, and is now well above my waist. The surge of the tide sucks the sand from beneath my feet, and my face is salty and wet from rain and spray.” That’s Ann Lingard writing about haaf-netting in

The giant snake from a lost world

It’s the stuff of nightmares – a giant snake so big that it could barely have squeezed through a modern door; as long as a bus and weighing more than a ton. It could swallow a crocodile whole, opening its jaws to almost 180 degrees. It’s thought to be a relative of the anaconda and the boa of today, and it’s been given the name titanoboa. It lived around 58 million years ago, at a time when the dinosaurs were no more, and the world had become hotter. That heat helped cold-blooded creatures like snakes. Their body temperature

Damascus swords had vanadium steel

The mystery of a legendary type of sword is gradually being unlocked by scientists and smiths. A sword of Damascus steel was said to be so sharp that it could cut through a gauze kerchief – or a steel helmet – and so flexible that it could bend through 90 degrees without breaking. But the last of them was made around two centuries ago, and no one could work out the secret of their manufacture – even with samples available to study. Now, however, clues have been emerging, and one of the keys is the source

Notes and neurons

Some lively musical events have come out of a collaboration between two remarkable men. One is Bobby McFerrin, the son of two opera singers, who has a four-octave voice and the ability to produce any sound, from a bass guitar to a church congregation or a passing motorcycle. He started playing jazz piano, then trained as a conductor with Leonard Bernstein and others, before deciding to focus on singing. He took part in the World Science Festival in New York in a discussion on the nature of music and its links with the human brain, and was

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