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Researchers Trace the Origins of Thousands of Ancient European Megaliths

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pentre ifan megalith

Pentre Ifan, a megalith in Wales dated to around 5300 B.C. (Credit: Hartmut Albert)

(Inside Science) – New research suggests that megaliths — monuments such as Stonehenge created from large rocks during the Stone and Copper Ages in Europe — owe their origins to a mysterious culture from northwest France with advanced seafaring technology.

Roughly 35,000 megaliths are known throughout Europe, including standing stones, stone circles and megalithic tombs. Most megaliths date from 4500 to 2500 B.C., are concentrated in coastal areas along the Atlantic and Mediterranean and share similar or even identical architectural features, said archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The origins of megaliths have proven controversial for more than a century. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, archaeologists believed the practice may have originated at a single point in the Near East, and then spread westward through migrant priests or prospectors. Later, the rise of radiocarbon dating led to the currently dominant argument that the concept of megaliths arose independently multiple times across Europe.

Schulz Paulsson’s new study reviewed data from 11 different languages that analyzed 2,410 radiocarbon dates for megalithic sites and related areas throughout Europe to better understand the way megaliths spread across the continent.

She found that the earliest predecessors of megalithic sites were only seen in northwest France, with one example in the Paris Basin dating between 5061 and 4858 B.C. The most ancient megalithic graves — structures of stone slabs built above-ground and covered by a round or long mound of earth or stone — later emerged during a 200- to 300-year span in the early 4000s B.C. in northwest France, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Thousands of megaliths were then built in France, the British Isles and the Iberian Peninsula during the late 3000s B.C. and in Scandinavia during the early 3000s B.C.

Although Stonehenge is located about 60 kilometers (about 37 miles) away from the coast, Schulz Paulsson noted it was built near the end of the megalithic age, when the concept had time to spread from the coasts. Moreover, these societies could readily overcome large distances — Schulz Paulsson said that Stonehenge’s components were quarried more than 250 kilometers away.

This sequence of events and the placement of the sites suggests the concept of megaliths spread over sea routes originating from northwest France in three main phases over the course of a millennium, Schulz Paulsson said.

She added that maritime technology and seafaring during the megalithic age were probably more advanced than previously thought.

Future research will examine DNA and strontium isotopes from human bones from these sites to learn more about who built these megaliths, Schulz Paulsson said. She detailed her findings online Feb. 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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Ecology

That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ecology

Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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