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.
More than 30% of car journeys in Europe are under 3km long and could potentially be swapped for different, greener, forms of transport. In February, we look at alternative ways of getting people and goods around cities - a challenge known in the industry as the problem of the ‘last mile’. We speak to Karen Vancluysen of cities network POLIS, who says that cities may have to introduce some unpopular measures to change the way people move around, and we look at how soon commuters will be able to rely on automated shuttles to ferry them from door to door. We delve into the environmental problems caused by unsuccessful home deliveries and what can be done about them, and the new technologies that could change the way goods are delivered.
In January, we examine how the cryosphere - ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice and other frozen parts of the planet - is changing and what this means for our planet. Earth’s cryosphere reflects the sun’s heat, regulating climate. But as the cryosphere melts, sea levels are rising and there are other impacts too – such as glacier collapse, which can generate massive avalanches. We speak to glacier expert Professor Andreas Kääb about the current state of the planet’s ice and snow and how better satellite measurements can help us understand the impacts of melting. We look at Earth’s so-called 'third pole’ of the Tibetan plateau and how ice melt will affect the millions who live in the mountains and those who depend on its run-off for water. We look at a project drilling in the Antarctic for what could be the world’s oldest ice (1.5 million years old) to see what it can reveal about climate history. And we speak to sea ice scientist Polona Itkin to get a glimpse into a day in her life aboard German icebreaker Polarstern, currently carrying out the largest Arctic expedition in history.
In the zero-carbon cities of the future, commuting to work may take the form of hailing a driverless shuttle through an app which ferries you from your door to the nearest public transport terminal. In fact, autonomous shuttles have been in development in restricted areas for the past few years. So what will it take to make them part of our daily commute?
Male seahorses not only become pregnant and give birth, but do so in ways that take different forms, which make them unique research subjects to understand the evolution of pregnancy, according to Dr Olivia Roth from the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR) in Germany.
Demonstrating safety and changes to city regulations are needed to integrate autonomous shuttles with current systems, say researchers.
Dr Olivia Roth talks about her research on the evolution of male pregnancy.
Prof. J Murray Roberts is carrying out a health check on the Atlantic.