Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Renaissance


The collapse of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) stocks throughout North-Western Europe is generally ascribed to large-scale river regulation, water pollution and over-fishing in the 19(th) and 20(th) century. However, other causes have rarely been quantified, especially those acting before the 19(th) century. By analysing historical fishery, market and tax statistics, independently confirmed by archaeozoological records, we demonstrate that populations declined by up to 90% during the transitional period between the Early Middle Ages (c. 450-900 AD) and Early Modern Times (c. 1600 AD). These dramatic declines coincided with improvements in watermill technology and their geographical expansion across Europe. Our extrapolations suggest that historical Atlantic salmon runs must have once been very abundant indeed. The historical perspective presented here contributes to a better understanding of the primary factors that led to major declines in salmon populations. Such understanding provides an essential basis for the effective ecological rehabilitation of freshwater ecosystems.

Concepts: Middle Ages, Europe, Salmon, Modern history, Atlantic salmon, Salmo, Renaissance, Age of Discovery


Medieval European urbanization presents a line of continuity between earlier cities and modern European urban systems. Yet, many of the spatial, political and economic features of medieval European cities were particular to the Middle Ages, and subsequently changed over the Early Modern Period and Industrial Revolution. There is a long tradition of demographic studies estimating the population sizes of medieval European cities, and comparative analyses of these data have shed much light on the long-term evolution of urban systems. However, the next step-to systematically relate the population size of these cities to their spatial and socioeconomic characteristics-has seldom been taken. This raises a series of interesting questions, as both modern and ancient cities have been observed to obey area-population relationships predicted by settlement scaling theory. To address these questions, we analyze a new dataset for the settled area and population of 173 European cities from the early fourteenth century to determine the relationship between population and settled area. To interpret this data, we develop two related models that lead to differing predictions regarding the quantitative form of the population-area relationship, depending on the level of social mixing present in these cities. Our empirical estimates of model parameters show a strong densification of cities with city population size, consistent with patterns in contemporary cities. Although social life in medieval Europe was orchestrated by hierarchical institutions (e.g., guilds, church, municipal organizations), our results show no statistically significant influence of these institutions on agglomeration effects. The similarities between the empirical patterns of settlement relating area to population observed here support the hypothesis that cities throughout history share common principles of organization that self-consistently relate their socioeconomic networks to structured urban spaces.

Concepts: Scientific method, Middle Ages, Europe, Italy, Renaissance, Dark Ages, Age of Discovery, Cannon


The evolution of funeral practices from the Middle Ages through the Modern era in Europe is generally seen as a process of secularization. The study, through imaging and autopsy, of two mummies, five lead urns containing hearts, and more than six hundred skeletons of nobles and clergymen from a Renaissance convent in Brittany has led us to reject this view. In addition to exceptional embalming, we observed instances in which hearts alone had been extracted, a phenomenon that had never before been described, and brains alone as well, and instances in which each spouse’s heart had been placed on the other’s coffin. In some identified cases we were able to establish links between the religious attitudes of given individuals and either ancient Medieval practices or more modern ones generated by the Council of Trent. All of these practices, which were a function of social status, were rooted in religion. They offer no evidence of secularization whatsoever.

Concepts: Middle Ages, Europe, Religion, Italy, Renaissance, French Revolution, Burial, Age of Discovery


Leprosy was endemic in Europe until the Middle Ages. Using DNA array capture, we have obtained genome sequences of Mycobacterium leprae from skeletons of five medieval leprosy cases from the UK, Sweden, and Denmark. In one case, the DNA was so well preserved that full de novo assembly of the ancient bacterial genome could be achieved through shotgun sequencing alone. The ancient M. leprae sequences were compared with those of 11 modern strains, representing diverse genotypes and geographic origins. The comparisons revealed remarkable genomic conservation during the past 1000 years, a European origin for leprosy in the Americas, and the presence of an M. leprae genotype in medieval Europe now commonly associated with the Middle East. The exceptional preservation of M. leprae biomarkers, both DNA and mycolic acids, in ancient skeletons has major implications for palaeomicrobiology and human pathogen evolution.

Concepts: DNA, Middle Ages, Islamic Golden Age, Europe, Islam, Italy, Renaissance, Leprosy


Contemporary data of extra-pair paternity (EPP) in human populations may be biased by the use of modern contraceptives. Studies have now estimated historical EPP rates in several human populations. The observed low EPP rates challenge the idea that women routinely ‘shop around’ for good genes by engaging in extra-pair copulations.

Concepts: Marriage, Primate, Anthropology, Modern history, Mother, Historiography, World population, Renaissance


Interest in vegetarian diets is growing in Italy and elsewhere, as government agencies and health/nutrition organizations are emphasizing that regular consumption of plant foods may provide health benefits and help prevent certain diseases.

Concepts: Health, Nutrition, Renaissance, Democracy, Health sciences


Retrospective analysis of archived tissue samples from bird deaths in the Tuscany region of Italy in 1996 identified Usutu virus. Partial sequencing confirmed identity with the 2001 Vienna strain and provided evidence for a much earlier introduction of this virus into Europe than previously assumed.

Concepts: Italy, Austria, Renaissance, Tuscany, Florence, Regions of Italy, Marche, Piedmont


During archaeological excavation, carried out in the S. Francesco Monastery at Lucca (Tuscany, Italy), a golden dental appliance was discovered. The prosthesis was found, together with commingled human remains, in the collective tomb of the aristocratic family of the Guinigi, a powerful family who governed Lucca from 1392 until 1429. The exact archaeological dating of the prosthesis was not possible, but some elements suggest a dating to the beginning of the 17th century.

Concepts: Modern history, Renaissance, Archaeology, Tuscany, Florence, Early modern Europe, Early modern period


A growing number of studies are investigating the way that aesthetic experiences are generated across different media. Empathy with a perceived human artist has been suggested as a common mechanism [1]. In this study, people heard 30 s excerpts of ambiguous music and poetry preceded by neutral, positively valenced, or negatively valenced information about the composer’s or author’s intent. The information influenced their perception of the excerpts-excerpts paired with positive intent information were perceived as happier and excerpts paired with negative intent information were perceived as sadder (although across intent conditions, musical excerpts were perceived as happier than poetry excerpts). Moreover, the information modulated the aesthetic experience of the excerpts in different ways for the different excerpt types: positive intent information increased enjoyment and the degree to which people found the musical excerpts to be moving, but negative intent information increased these qualities for poetry. Additionally, positive intent information was judged to better match musical excerpts and negative intent information to better match poetic excerpts. These results suggest that empathy with a perceived human artist is indeed an important shared factor across experiences of music and poetry, but that other mechanisms distinguish the generation of aesthetic appreciation between these two media.

Concepts: Greek loanwords, Perception, Information, Positive psychology, Music, Art, Aesthetics, Renaissance


The debate on the food-drug continuum could benefit from a historical dimension. This study aims at showing this through one case: the food-drug continuum in Greece in the fifth- and fourth-century BCE. I suggest that at the time the boundary between food and drug - and that between dietetics and pharmacology - was rather blurred.

Concepts: Nutrition, Spacetime, Ancient Egypt, Renaissance, Ancient Rome, Alexander the Great, Achaemenid Empire, British Museum