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Tobacco for adults, cocoa for kids

I was interested in the report of cacao-beverage use by people of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico as early as A.D. 1000 (“Hot chocolate, with foam please,” SN: 2/28/09, p. 14). In the late ’50s, I and others at the Philip Morris Research Center looked at pipe samples from the Four Corners area (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah) dating from about A.D. 900. The pipes were submitted by archaeologists from the University of Arizona who wanted to know if tobacco had been used.

Initially, microscopy showed plant structures similar to tobacco and also possibly corn silk. Having seen physical evidence for tobacco, we proceeded chemically by extracting, back extracting and looking for evidence of nicotine. Paper chromatographic examination showed nicotine in some but not all samples and we published a short note in Science (Gager, F.L.; Johnson, V.C.; Holmes, J.C. Science. October 14, 1960). Over a period of years, we looked at additional materials using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry.

Years ago, we wondered whether men smoked the tobacco and children smoked corn silk. Perhaps adults smoked tobacco (and other things) and the children drank cocoa!
Forrest L. Gager, Jr., Lynchburg, Va.

First words

The article by Laura Sanders about the correlation between early gesturing and vocabulary (“Kids’ gestures foretell better vocabularies,” SN: 3/14/09, p. 17) really struck me.

Humans do a lot of gesturing in response to music. Evolutionary pressure must have driven protohumans to be able to produce a wide array of sounds from high to low. Melody surely was in us very early on and is in us still. Tunes stick in our minds, serve as excellent mnemonic devices and eloquently express our feelings.

Whales, birds and people sing. Is it not plausible since speech doesn’t require much pitch change, that singing — lullabies, love songs, territorial assertions, joy and sadness — predated language? Surely it was at least a part of language development. Does singing to a tiny baby aid in learning to speak?
P.M. deLaubenfels, Corvallis, Ore.

Researchers have indeed found that human songs share properties with the songs of whales and birds, including the “call and response” format, melody retention with key changes and harmonic relationships. The deeply rooted ability to sing suggests that songs may have been around before human speech, but unfortunately, theories about the origins of music rely heavily on guesswork.

Some researchers think music might be a by-product of language, while others think that music arose from social needs, such as establishing group cohesion or territory. Several of the same brain regions important for speech are also important for music, so it’s plausible that strengthening one brain region by singing or speaking might also enhance the other. Studies on the role of music in speech development remain preliminary, but more is sure to come soon.—Laura Sanders


Drugs that don’t mix

Nathan Seppa’s article on the untoward effects of proton pump inhibitors on the blood thinner clopidogrel (“Popular acid blockers don’t mix with anticlotting medication,” SN: 3/28/09, p. 11) raises the question: Does the study suggest anything about the effect of PPIs on a daily dose of aspirin (81 milligrams)— also a blood thinner?
Tom Yount, Nashville, Tenn.

The authors of this study didn’t investigate the effect of heartburn drugs (PPIs such as Prilosec or Nexium) on aspirin’s anticlotting action. Various small studies have failed to show a clear diminution of aspirin’s anticlotting effect from the use of a PPI, though the results are somewhat mixed and that work is ongoing. On the other hand, most studies testing the effect of PPIs in people taking aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs have shown that PPIs can prevent or ameliorate the gastric bleeding and ulcers that are common side effects of aspirin.—Nathan Seppa

Hubble first?

Regarding “New eyes on the cosmos” (SN: 5/23/09, p. 30): The Hubble Space Telescope was not the first optical telescope in space. See, for example, the earlier Orbiting Astronomical Observatory satellites.
Bobby Baum, Bethesda, Md.

The reader is correct that some U.S. space-based instruments that detected light in the visible wavelengths did precede the Hubble’s launch in 1990. According to HST senior scientist David Leckrone, these instruments trained their eyes downward for reconnaissance, earth science and weather observations.

So, Leckrone writes in an e-mail, “Hubble is the first major astronomical optical telescope in space.” And, he continues, “is definitely the first astronomical telescope to take full advantage of the observing environment in vacuum, above the distortions produced by the Earth’s atmosphere.”

The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory satellites, launched from 1966 to 1972, included four missions. Two failed because of power and mechanical troubles. The remaining two carried ultraviolet and X-ray telescopes, spectrometers and photometers but did not collect optical data for visual images.

— Rachel Zelkowitz

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