“But wait – what is Dark Extropianism anyway, m1k3y?”
Short version: clone Ray Kurzweil, feed this clone only LSD-laced Soylent for a year. Initiate this clone into a secret eternal mystic order – which totally isn’t an asteroid death cult – then sit him on a mountain top with a stack of cyberpunk novels, spy craft manuals, esoteric texts, crackly recordings of Terence McKenna lectures, high resolution astrobiology conference videos, legitimately acquired ecological academic papers, printouts of rewilding pamphlets, de-extinction manifestos and a never-ending background soundtrack of witch haus and dark ambient musics. Behind him the whole time sits a resurrected Mammoth. And the whole thing is rendered in that western anime Korra/Ang universe style. How’s that for a scatter map to project onto?

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The uncovering of the engraving, in 1864, was the handiwork of a joint British-French archaeological expedition and it provided the first, unambiguous evidence that human beings had once shared this planet with long-extinct animals such as the mammoth. Its discovery was also an act of extraordinary good fortune, it transpires.

“The site has since lent its name to a period known as the Magdalenian era, which thrived across Europe between 12,000 and 16,000 years ago, and which we now appreciate was a time of incredible artistic creativity,” says Professor Chris Stringer, curator of the Natural History Museum exhibition.

The site has certainly produced many wonders, but in terms of their sheer scientific importance none can match the splintered mammoth figurine that was spotted by Lartet and Falconer on that day in May 1864. In their hands lay fragments, freshly dug from the earth, of a beautiful engraving of a mammoth, with its distinctive domed head, that was, for good measure, made of mammoth ivory.

“You couldn’t really top that in terms of proving that humans had lived at the same time as mammoths,” says Stringer. “Indeed, when you examine the piece you can see details of the mammoth’s anatomy that we only know about today from the frozen mammoth carcasses that we have found in Siberia.”

In other words, only an artist who had shared that ancient landscape (the Madeleine mammoth was carved about 14,000 years ago) with these creatures would have been able to record one with such precision and flair – and on a piece of the animal’s own ivory.

***HAPPY 150TH BIRTHDAY, DEEP TIME!***

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These species were not just ornaments of the natural world. The new work presented at the conference suggests that they shaped the rest of the ecosystem. In Britain during the last interglacial period, elephants, rhinos and other great beasts maintained a mosaic of habitats: a mixture of closed canopy forest, open forest, glade and sward. In Australia, the sudden flush of vegetation that followed the loss of large herbivores caused stacks of leaf litter to build up, which became the rainforests’ pyre: fires (natural or manmade) soon transformed these lush places into dry forest and scrub.

In the Amazon and other regions, large herbivores moved nutrients from rich soils to poor ones, radically altering plant growth. One controversial paper suggests that the eradication of the monsters of the Americas caused such a sharp loss of atmospheric methane (generated in their guts) that it could have triggered the short ice age which began about 12,800 years ago, called the Younger Dryas.

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