1th Semester - 2005
One almost universal claim that can be safely made is that no one can resist the temptation of gathering shells on the shore. Everybody has always done it, both adults and children.
To ask why is rather like asking what is the meaning of beauty. Moreover, shells offer the pleasure of discovering, touching and possessing beautiful things. Human beings have been gathering shells for at least 75,000 years, as is demonstrated by a small necklace found a couple of years ago during excavations of a Palaeolithic cave in South Africa. It is the oldest evidence of our enigmatic attraction to shells, as well as the earliest proof of the human predilection for wearing jewels. Having said this, it is easy to understand why we decided to include a long article on shells in this issue. To do so we called in two specialists: Osvaldo Negra and Giovanna Zobele Lipparini - both collaborate with the Tridentino Natural Science Museum, Trento - to discuss shells and especially our complicated relationship with such splendid objects of desire. Last December the devastation wreaked by the tsunami on the Indian Ocean coasts also focused world interest on four tribes of Pygmy Negritos living on the Andaman Islands. The most difficult to approach are the Sentinelese (50-250 individuals) living on the tiny Sentinel Island, since they will not let outsiders near them. Thirty-five years ago a photographer tried to land and photograph them, but he only managed to take a few shots before having to escape a shower of arrows. In the days after the tsunami, a well-meaning rescue helicopter was given a similar reception: all
that the pilot brought back was a photo of a pygmy bending his bow ready to shoot. This image was almost identical to the photo from thirty-five years earlier, and symbolises this tiny people determined to defend its prehistoric way of life. Since a physical close encounter was not possible, I tried to enter the world of the Sentinelese and the other Andaman tribes through studying anthropological documents. And they turned out to be much richer than I expected.
From prehistory to the future. Several countries are now preparing to launch out into space in the pursuit of increasingly ambitious objectives. Not only in the search for valuable rninerals or water reserves (scientists are now certain they will find some), but also to discover new forms of life. While the improbable Martians have definitively been written off as sci-fi, the scientists are now
claiming we must seek forms of life completely different from anything we have previously imagined.
Giovanni Caprara, an expert on space exploration, describes what is being prepared for the launch pads, while the celebrated astrophysicist Margherita Hack helps us imagine what we might find up there.
Jane Goodall arrived in Africa many years ago and soon realised that she would devote her life to studying chimpanzees. She managed to be accepted as one of the family and so studied them from the "inside", to explore their relationships, emotions, the kind of alliances they formed, and their hierarchies. In this way she charted just how far they are like us and we like them. And as a consequence, "Jane of the chimps" became world famous and was given a place on the front page of all the major newspapers and magazines. Here the American zoologist tells us how she managed to build a bridge between two worlds, once separated by ignorance and violence.
In the Early Jurassic, from 238 to 160 rnillion years ago, the oceans had submerged almost all the continents. That is why it is difficult to find dinosaurs from this geological age. A few years ago, however, an expedition - promoted by the Ligabue Study and Research Centre and led by Philippe Taquet - discovered a strip of land that had not been submerged in the slopes of the Moroccan Atlas Mountains.
The ancient mountain layers yielded the remains of a new dinosaur: the Tazoudasaurus naimi, a primitive herbivorous
sauropod, almost ten metres long. According to Taquet, the new arrival will provide great insight into a previously obscure chapter in the evolutionary history of the great saurians.
Venice has such a rich history that all kinds of stories can be told about the lagoon city. Bruno Berti, a keen scholar of things Venetian, has hunted through the archives of the 16th-century tribunals to gather documents on a number of trials which ended with a sentence of capital punishment.
These tragic stories reveal how the formidable Council of Ten administrated justice without being over-influenced by the social standing of the accused. The law was harsh, but basically equal for all.
Lastly, two mini-articles deal with a terracotta tanga worn by Brazilian women a thousand years ago and some fossils which may have inspired the Ancient Greeks' images of the awesome monsters in their mythology.