To mark the European year of cultural heritage, Horizon explores how science is helping to uncover more about our past and to preserve our art, landscapes, buildings and ways of life for the future. We discover why prehistoric humans chose to paint rock art where they did, and how farming techniques from hundreds of years ago could help fight climate change today. Plus, we learn how cultural heritage feeds into European identities and what can be done to prevent the destruction of historical sites during wartime.
The act of confronting a troublesome past can be challenging by itself, and the Germans even have a word for it — Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Roughly one-third of current EU Member States spent decades behind the Iron Curtain, and many experienced one-party government for decades, but researchers see confronting uncomfortable history as part of a new common European identity — a shared experience that can bring people closer together.
People can inadvertently destroy cultural heritage for a second time when cleaning up conflict sites after a war ends, according to archaeologist Dr Margarete van Ess, who says that databases and education are the best basis for safeguarding sites for the future.
High technology is being deployed to uncover long-forgotten irrigation systems and other features concealed in landscapes that farmers developed hundreds of years ago to nurture their land.
The acoustic qualities of a rock shelter may have been a key factor in its selection as a site for rock art and indicate a spiritual significance to the practice, according to a recent study, while scientists are also looking into whether some caves were chosen as artistic sites because of the view.
In August, Horizon looks at one of the features that makes Earth unique and habitable: plate tectonics. We explore what we know – and still don’t know – about how the shifting plates beneath our feet shape our planet. We speak to researcher Dr Kate Rychert, who wants to understand what makes a plate plate-like, and delve into one of the outstanding mysteries in the subject – how and why plate tectonics began. We find out about the link between mountain formation, erosion and climate change, and we look at what moonquakes and marsquakes can reveal about tectonic activity elsewhere.
As commutes dropped during coronavirus lockdowns, many of Europe’s city-dwellers breathed cleaner air. In July, Horizon takes a look closer look at our air pollution problem, what it is, how it affects human health and whether now is the time to make the move to greener transport. We spoke to social epidemiologist Dr Basile Chaix about what it will take to capitalise on the post-coronavirus calls for greener cities to really change our urban spaces – and transport habits. We dissect the properties of particulate matter to understand how characteristics such as particle size or number relate to toxicity, and what they do to human cells. With wildfires known to strike particularly in the summer, we look at how scientists are tracking this lesser-known source of air pollution to better understand the impact on human health. And we find out how a soybean-related asthma outbreak in 1980s Spain is influencing air pollution research today.
Eavesdropping on the shudders and groans echoing deep inside alien worlds like Mars and the moon is revealing what lies far beneath their surfaces and could teach us more about how our own planet formed.
More than six months into the coronavirus crisis, data show that not just age, but also biological sex plays a pivotal role in the manifestation and response to Covid-19, with more men dying from acute infections versus women in the short term. This discrepancy has shined a spotlight on a key theme that has gained traction in recent years: is enough being done to account for sex and gender in disease and medicine? Not enough, says Dr Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, the chair of sex and gender-sensitive medicine at Radboud University in the Netherlands and a member of the European Commission’s expert group on gendered innovations.
Earth is not the only place in our solar system that shakes with seismic activity.
Dr Sabine Oertelt-Prigione on a ‘moment of awakening’ for medical research.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.