Readers react to Neandertal diets and impressionist art

A song for the (stone) ages

People have long eaten putrid foods, forcing scientists to rethink the diets of Neandertals and other hominids, Bruce Bower reported in “Stone Age cuisine” (SN: 3/25/23, p. 16).

Reader Maria Reidelbach asked Google’s AI chatbot to write a song inspired by the story, in the style of musician Tom Waits:

Deep in the cave, the Neandertals eat
Putrid meat, their only treat
They gnaw on the bones, they chew on the skin
And they don’t give a damn if it’s been in

Putrid meat, putrid meat
It’s all they’ve got, it’s all they eat
Putrid meat, putrid meat
It’s the only thing that keeps them going

The Neandertals are a tough bunch
They’ve been through a lot, they’ve seen a lot
But they’re still here, they’re still alive
And they’re still eating putrid meat

(Repeat chorus)

Some people say the Neandertals are extinct
But I know they’re not, I’ve seen them
They’re out there, somewhere, eating putrid meat

(Repeat chorus)

So if you’re ever feeling down
And you think your life is tough
Just remember the Neandertals
And their putrid meat diet
They’re still here, they’re still alive
And they’re still eating putrid meat

Making an impression

Air pollution from the Industrial Revolution may have helped give rise to 19th century impressionist art, Bas den Hond reported in “Smog influenced impressionism’s dreamy style” (SN: 3/25/23, p. 4).

Reader Bill Clendenen asked if pollutants trapped in impressionist paintings could reveal increasing levels of air pollution during this time.

Paints can trap environmental elements. Vincent van Gogh’s 1882 painting “Beach at Scheveningen in Stormy Weather” contains sand from the beach where it was made. But analyzing paints for pollutants would be challenging. The chemicals that make up pigments and varnishes would need to be carefully controlled for, say climate physicist Anna Lea Albright of the Laboratory of Dynamic Meteorology, Sorbonne University and École Normale Supérieure in Paris and climatologist Peter Huybers of Harvard University. “Looking at other materials from that time [like outdoor sculptures] might be easier,” they say.