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World Briefs II

Finding Sheds Light on Prehistoric Farming in Americas

Los Angeles Times

Researchers have discovered a surprisingly large farming village in northwestern Mexico that was inhabited at least 3,000 years ago - 2,000 years earlier than any other site of such scale in the region - the scientists announced Thursday.

The archeological evidence from the site, called Cerro Juanaquena, supports a new view of how humans first adopted farming as a way of life in Central and North America, experts said.

The research, published Friday in Science, strongly suggests that these ancient people of the Southwest had settled into large, well-constructed communities to till a variety of crops, at a time when scholars previously had thought that only small roving bands of hunters held sway in the region.

Moreover, it appears that these prehistoric people pursued farming well before the introduction of maize or squash, which were key crops in the ancient Americas.

Bruce D. Smith, an authority on early agriculture at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, called it "the latest in a decade-long string of surprises" about prehistoric farming in Mexico and the Southwest United States.

"The thing that stands out the most is the scale of the settlement," Smith said. "More than resolving questions, it opens up a whole new area for agricultural research."

Worldwide Celebrations of Pi Will Go On and On, More or Less

Los Angeles Times

This Saturday, thousands of people around the world will unite to sing songs, recite poetry, perform bizarre rites and eat ritual food in honor of their favorite number.

The number is pi, 3.1415926535 ad infinitum. It's the number you get when you divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter, and it can't be expressed as a fraction. It goes on forever.

Such so-called "irrational" numbers seemed so offensive when they were first discovered by the early Greeks, according to some accounts, that people were actually murdered for letting out the secret of their existence.

The variety of celebratory modes is almost as long as pi itself, with dozens of Web sites devoted to the number's devotees - or piets, as they are called. Posted, along with formulas for calculating pi, are pi carols, poems and other utterly useless bits of pi trivia for honoring the day. At the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco, the faithful usually gather around the "pi shrine," a small brass plate (a pi plate, you might call it) engraved with pi to a hundred digits along with other obscure mystical symbols.

"We circumambulate the shrine 3.14 times," said Exploratorium scientist Ron Hipschman.