UMaine discovery spices up ancient menus
Ancient food remains discovered in Peru by University of Maine
anthropologist Dan Sandweiss are helping not only to push back the
frontiers of agriculture in the Americas, but to further our
understanding of how humans ate as much as 6,000 years ago.
Cutting-edge microfossil analysis performed by Smithsonian
archeobiologist Linda Perry and her team on samples collected by
Sandweiss and his students at Waynuna, a dig site near Alca, Peru
suggest that ancient cultures were growing chili peppers, in addition to
corn and other staples, to spice up their diets thousands of years ago.
A study by Perry, Sandweiss and others, recently published in the
journal Science, traces the history of the cultivated pepper through
seven archeological sites in the Americas. Sandweiss' samples from Peru
were the spark that inspired the project, and were the only hot peppers
in the study that could be identified to the species level.
Sandweiss has made microfossil collection an important part of his
research since the late 1990s, working closely with Delores Piperno and
Linda Perry of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History to
unravel the often complex microscopic record hidden in ancient middens
and the pores of grinding tools. His collaborative, multidisciplinary
approach has led to several important discoveries related to early
agriculture in the Americas, helping scientists and historians better
understand the roles played by peppers, gourds and corn in world
Nationalism and nuclear weapons
With the election of ultraconservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president
of Iran in 2005, the country started championing nationalism ahead of
Islamic interests, and nowhere is that more visible than in promotion of
its nuclear program, according to a University of Maine political
scientist and expert on Iran.
"Iranians tend to support the nuclear program as a matter of national
pride, something that is not likely to change as long as they do not
believe the program threatens their security or impinges on their
standard of living," says Bahman Baktiari, writing in the January issue
of Current History. "Through the state media, Iran's leadership has
popularized the idea that the nation's nuclear program is about much
more than nuclear weapons."
Government propaganda portrays the country's nuclear activities as a
remedy to Iranians' historical dissatisfactions and as a source of hope
for the future. Ahmadinejad and other conservatives in Iran's government
are successfully using the nuclear issue as a means to cement their own
power through nationalist fervor. In this, they have been unwittingly
assisted by President Bush, Baktiari says.
"No one has benefited more from American blunders in the Middle East
than the conservatives in Iran who now control all the power centers,"
For years, Iranian leaders promoted Islamic interests ahead of national
interests. But since the Iraq invasion, they reverted to the nationalist
approach promoted three decades ago by Mohammad Reza Shah.
Trust in medicine is traditionally viewed as a one-way street of getting
patients to trust their healthcare providers. What's often overlooked is
the significance of physicians' trust or distrust of their patients.
"Trusting another person involves being or making oneself vulnerable in
some way to her, and expecting that she will respond appropriately and
benevolently to that vulnerability," says University of Maine bioethicist and philosophy professor Jessica Miller, writing in the
"Frequently, this involves a return of vulnerability and trust, creating
a dynamic, mutually supporting bond of trust."
In a trusting physician-patient relationship, doctors see their patients
as moral, not manipulating for ill-gotten or undeserved gain, or
misrepresenting themselves or their illnesses. Mutual trust helps ensure
physician and patient are working together for a common good the
Physician trust in patients is particularly pertinent when treatment
involves pain medications like the synthetic opioid OxyContin and other
drugs implicated in abuse. A physician must be aware that his or her
attitudes of distrust and trust can influence interpretations of actions
In addition, multiple factors intersect to create attitudes of trust and
distrust toward particular patients. Among them: the tendency in modern
Western medicine to undertreat pain; increased scrutiny by local, state
and federal authorities; institutional context, such as a recent rash of
scams; and social attitudes toward marginalized subgroups of patients.
Listening to family members share stories about the work they do,
including how they make a living, can reveal subtle clues about cultural
identity, values and family boundaries, according to two University of
Maine communication researchers.
Professors Kristin Langellier and Eric Peterson study family
storytelling performance of narrative communication to better
understand how class, race, ethnicity, culture, generation, gender and
sexuality mark differences and create complexities in negotiating
Family storytelling about work often involves give-and-take among
participants that shapes, interprets and contests meanings and
identities. It is the dynamic struggle over meanings and the logistics
of material sustenance internal and external boundaries that
contribute to family formation and cultural survival, according to
Langellier and Peterson, who published their findings in Communication
Medieval water quality
In the Middle Ages, some of the world's most advanced hydraulic
engineering and environmental policymaking occurred in the lowlands of
Holland, where inhabitants faced a constant struggle to keep the sea out
and inland wetlands drained.
The introduction of hydraulic engineering the use of dikes, dams,
sluices and drainage canals was a turning point in the history of
water management in The Netherlands. The innovations replaced small,
shallow ditches that were highly susceptible to flooding.
Then, as now, Dutch water boards governed the complex water control
networks. Hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland, a water board near Amsterdam
and The Hague that traces its roots in the late 12th century, is the
oldest still in existence.
University of Maine Professor of History William TeBrake, whose research
focuses on the social and environmental history of Europe, has spent the
past three decades studying the medieval bylaws of Rijnland's water
board that were so essential to rural life.
In archives in Holland and from microfiche loaned from the University of
California-Berkeley, TeBrake spent years transcribing, editing and
indexing the bylaws and decisions of the board trustees from 12531564.
The result is a Web-based publication complete with summaries in English
of the medieval transcriptions, an extensive database of key words and a
glossary of terms, providing insight into the region's water-related
activities from shipping tolls and fishing regulations to measures to
preserve water quality.
Snakes on the Brain
Got a fear of snakes?
Chances are the more you try and not think about the slithering
reptiles, the more snake-related thoughts you'll have, according to
psychology researchers at the University of Maine.
In a study of more than 70 people with and without a fear of snakes,
UMaine researchers found evidence of a causal relationship between
thought suppression and attentional bias in those fearing snakes.
In the past, anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive and
post-traumatic stress have been linked to thought suppression a
deliberate attempt to avoid thinking about certain subjects and
attentional bias or focus. But only one other study has explored the
possibility that thought suppression could cause hypervigilance typical
of anxiety disorders, including phobias.
Thought suppression and attentional biases are important processes in
understanding the development and maintenance of clinical disorders,
according to UMaine Professor of Psychology Jeff Hecker and graduate
students Tamer Fawzy and James Clark, who published their study in a
recent issue of the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. That's why it's
important that future research seek to understand how people with nonclinical levels of anxiety can override a tendency to focus on
The relationship between cognitive avoidance and attentional bias for
snake-related thoughts was the subject of a master's thesis by Fawzy,
who is now in the clinical psychology graduate program at the University
Additional depth in marine science
A unique arrangement with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in
Portland, Maine, is helping further develop the University of Maine's
reputation as a leader in marine ecosystem science by attracting two
world-class marine scientists to the state.
Researchers Andrew Pershing and Jeffery Runge recently joined UMaine's
School of Marine Sciences as joint appointments with GMRI, applying
their considerable expertise in ecosystem modeling and zooplankton
research toward a better understanding of the complex interactions that
drive Maine's marine environments.
Pershing's research focuses on marine ecosystem modeling. He is widely
recognized as a leader in the use of computer modeling and visualization
techniques to better understand how the dynamics of the ocean
environment influence fish and mammal populations over time. Runge's
work examines how zooplankton populations are affected by temperature,
wind, currents and other factors in cold-water ecosystems. Their work
promises to help improve fisheries management practices and preserve the
health of marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine.
Working at GMRI's state-of-the-art facility on Portland's working
waterfront, Pershing and Runge will teach UMaine courses and advise
graduate students. In addition, the research they conduct will provide
students with an opportunity to benefit from the facilities and
expertise available at both institutions.
Up to 30 students could be enrolled at the University of Maine this fall
in a new two-year, prepharmacy program as part of a College of Pharmacy
recently established by the University of New England in partnership
with UMaine and four Maine hospitals.
The College of Pharmacy, located on UNE's Portland campus, will offer
the subsequent four years of professional programming for students,
leading to a Pharm D degree and careers as pharmacists or pharmaceutical
The college will emphasize biomedical research and address the state's
crucial shortage of pharmacists.
The partnership between the two educational institutions and hospitals
in Portland, Waterville, Augusta and Biddeford will allow UMaine's
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to expand its teaching and
research in pharmacology, metabolism, medicinal and natural product
This spring, members of the University of Maine student chapter of the
Wildlife Society field tested cell phone-based technology to see if they
could "call" owls to determine how many there are and their whereabouts.
The students, most of them wildlife ecology majors, are among the
volunteers who participated in the 2007 Maine Owl Monitoring Program (MOMP),
an annual statewide survey coordinated by Maine Audubon and the Maine
Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. This year, March 9April
16, from 14 a.m., they monitored three routes in Orono, Hudson and
Brewer. Along each, the volunteers stop repeatedly to play taped calls
of barred, long eared and great horned owls, and to record any responses
from the nocturnal birds.
In addition, the UMaine students also tested high-tech devices developed
by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Laboratory for
Maine Audubon. The cellular devices have the ability to play recorded
calls and listen for hours, recording responses in a database.
One of the questions volunteers and engineers hope to answer is whether
owls hear calls made miles away and, in essence, tire of responding when
volunteer monitors near their locations, thereby biasing the data.
UMaine Wildlife Society members have participated in MOMP since 2002, a
year after Maine Audubon's owl census started.