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Pi master relates
secrets of recall
By Bruce Bower
All it took was intensive practice and a
knack for storytelling for a Chinese man
to figure out how to have his pi and recite
it, too — beyond 60,000 decimals.
The man who set a world’s record in
2005 by reciting 67,890 decimals of pi
learned to associate number pairs with
images of people and objects, scientists
report in the June Cognitive Psychology.
From those images, 23-year-old Chao
Lu concocted stories that corresponded
asked the pi master to describe his think-
ing as he memorized 100- and 300-digit
lists. His recall immediately afterward
ranged from 95 percent to 100 percent.
Jordanian huts date to Stone Age
Hunter-gatherers built shelters before rise of farming villages
By Bruce Bower
The remains of a couple of
nearly 20,000-year-old huts,
excavated in a Jordanian desert basin, add to evidence
that hunter-gatherers built
long-term dwellings 10,000
years before farming villages
debuted in the Middle East.
These discoveries come from
a period of social transition,
when mobile hunter-gatherers
hunkered down for months at a
time in spots with rivers, lakes
and plentiful game, say archaeologist Lisa Maher of the University of
California, Berkeley and her colleagues.
Discoveries in and around hut remnants
at a Stone Age site called Kharaneh IV
include hearths, animal bones, caches of
pierced seashells and other apparently
ritual items, Maher’s team reports online
February 15 in PLoS ONE.
Remains of almost 20,000-year-old huts (dot-
ted lines) suggest that Middle Eastern hunter-
gatherers built long-term dwellings 10,000 years
before farming villages appeared.
were previously excavated beneath what
have now been identified as hut floors
covered by burned wood and shrubs that
once served as walls.
Maher expects evidence of additional
four- to five-person huts to turn up at the
site, about the size of four U.S. football
fields. Over a millennium, groups totaling
between 50 and 100 people spent about
half of each year at Kharaneh IV, she says.
“This type of attachment to one place
by ancient hunter-gatherers may have
been similar to early farmers’ perceptions
of their villages,” Maher says.
Ancient huts at Kharaneh IV join
a handful of other Stone Age hunter-gatherer structures excavated in the
Middle East. Remains of six brushwood
huts at Israel’s Ohalo II site, along the
shore of the Sea of Galilee, date to as
early as 23,000 years ago. Those ancient
huts were probably occupied year-round,
based on plant and animal finds at that
site, says Harvard archaeologist Ofer
Bar-Yosef. In his view, those huts — but
not the Kharaneh IV huts — were precursors of 14,500-year-old oval structures
with stone foundations built at several
Middle Eastern sites by the Natufians,
the first foraging society known to
inhabit permanent settlements.
New Kharaneh IV finds show that,
by 20,000 years ago, “perishable brush
huts were common from the lush Sea
of Galilee basin into now-arid plains
to the east,” says archaeologist Dani
Nadel of the University of Haifa in Israel,
who directs Ohalo II excavations.
L. MAHER, EFAP ARCHIVE