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Experiment of the first bamboo raft, IRA 1.

A bamboo raft designed to evoke prehistoric craft was too heavy and unwieldy for its crew to control during a test voyage off the coast of Taiwan. Credit: Yousuke Kaifu/Antiquity Publications Ltd

Archaeology

On a model ancient raft, seafarers are up the current without a paddle

A bamboo craft built to resemble prehistoric boats proves unfit for a sea voyage.

A failed voyage in a replica of a Stone Age boat shows that Asian mariners had better watercraft than once thought, archaeologists suggest.

Signs of human occupation across the islands of southeast Asia and Australia suggest that Homo sapiens embarked on long-distance sea crossings before 47,000 years ago. Researchers had assumed that these voyages were made on crude bamboo rafts. A team led by Yousuke Kaifu, at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, Japan, tested this theory by building a 10.5-metre-long bamboo raft with the help of stone tools.

On 11 June 2017, a crew of 5 professional and near-professional kayakers attempted to sail the craft from Taiwan to cross the strong Kuroshio ocean current, which must have been traversed by Palaeolithic voyagers who settled the Ryukyu island chain roughly 30,000 years ago. After paddling 80 kilometres in 14 hours, the kayakers abandoned the journey because of strong ocean currents and damage to the raft.

Prehistoric humans must have made such voyages in sturdier boats, say the researchers, who succeeded in making the crossing in 2019 in a boat carved from a large log.

More Research Highlights...

Plastic and other debris floats underwater in blue water

Plastic detritus from snacks and meals floats in the Red Sea. Marine sampling shows that food waste accounts for nearly 90% of plastic pollution at some locales. Credit: Andrey Nekrasov/Barcroft Media/Getty

Ocean sciences

Humanity’s fast-food habit is filling the ocean with plastic

Food bags, drink bottles and similar items account for the biggest share of plastic waste near the shore.
Conceptual artwork of a pair of entangled quantum particles.

An artist’s impression of ‘entangled’ particles, which share properties even at a distance. Entangled photons can be used to help secure a multi-party video meeting. Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library

Quantum information

Quantum keys dial up tamper-proof conference calls

A new experiment efficiently distributes the highly secure keys to four parties instead of the typical two.
Farmers harvest pineapples in a field.

Workers harvest pineapples in Lingao County, China. Less than one-third of the money spent on food eaten at home reaches farmers. Credit: Yuan Chen/VCG/Getty

Economics

Poor harvest: farmers earn a pitiful fraction of the money spent on food

The bulk of consumer food spending around the world ends up in the coffers of distributors, processors and other parties beyond the farm gate.
A woman wearing a protective face mask splashes her hands in a jet of water

A pedestrian seeks relief from searing temperatures in Spain, where a high proportion of heat-related deaths have been linked to climate change. Credit: SALAS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Climate change

More than one-third of heat deaths blamed on climate change

Warming resulting from human activities accounts for a high percentage of heat-related deaths, especially in southern Asia and South America.
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