Best of CH 2021: Link About It

Historic reparations, a poetic robot, underwater art galleries and more of our favorite discoveries from the year

As we publish original articles throughout the day, we also share thoughtful and important stories, research and videos from publications we respect. In doing so, we aim to support fellow reporters, writers and sites (whose pieces are crucial in our growth as writers, readers and learners) while also compiling a useful resource for our readers in our ever evolving Link About It section. The following are our favorite pieces from the year that span all topics: mathematical discoveries, milestones in physics, historic reparations, steps toward decolonization and beyond.

Indigenous Traditional Owners Take Back World’s Oldest Rainforest

In north Queensland, Australia, the heritage-listed Daintree—the world’s oldest rainforest—has been reclaimed by the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, the Indigenous traditional owners. In a historic deal with the state government, the Daintree along with Ngalba Bulal, Kalkajaka and Hope Islands national parks will be handed back and the traditional custodians will manage them with assistance from the government for some time, but the goal is for it to be solely run by the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people. In 1988 the park became UNESCO-listed, but regarding environmental—rather than cultural—significance. As Chrissy Grant (traditional owner and the incoming chair of the Wet Tropics Management Authority board) says, “There was no consultation with Aboriginal people and no recognition of the values of the… oldest rainforest in the world, being continuously occupied by Aboriginal people. Wherever you go there are communities within the tropical rainforest.” The Daintree joins a hopefully growing list of sites taken back by Indigenous groups, along with Uluru and Kakadu. Read more at The Guardian.

Image courtesy of Kerry Trapnell/Queensland Conservation Council

New Evidence Suggests Neanderthals Might Have Made Art

It’s a long-held belief that Neanderthals (extinct humans who existed some 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) were “unable to express symbolism through art,” but a group of researchers have just found what they believe is art that dates back 51,000 years ago. The object—found in Germany’s “Unicorn Cave”—is a prehistoric deer’s toe bone that has lines carved into it. The purpose or meaning is unclear, as it’s (so far) a unique finding. Researchers believe the carving could represent a woman, landscape, or any number of things. The study’s co-author Thomas Terberger says, “It’s clearly a decoration with a kind of symbolic character…You might even call it the initial start of art, something which was not done by accident, but with a clear plan in mind.” Read more, and see a rendering of the bone, at The Week.

Image courtesy of V. Minkus/Leder et al., Nature Ecology and Evolution, 2021

Lizzo Traces Twerking’s Black History + How it Became a Spiritual Practice

In her first TED Talk, three-time Grammy-winner Lizzo traces the history of twerking to a West African dance called mapouka, traditionally performed by women to celebrate joy, marriage or as religious worship. When it was transported to America by Black women during the transatlantic slave trade, its ties to Black culture were erased and co-opted. But in Black communities around the US, big butts continued to stay in vogue. When icons like Beyonce twerked on stage yet still received praise, it gave Lizzo permission to love her own body, and to discover how twerking is “a deep, soulful, spiritual practice.” The singer says, “It’s contributing to the liberation of women and people around the world” and it will continue to do so. Find out how in Lizzo’s empowering TED Talk.

Image courtesy of TED

Jason deCaires Taylor’s Underwater Gallery in Cyprus

Named the Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa, British artist Jason deCaires Taylor’s submerged sculpture park in Cyprus is the first underwater gallery in the Mediterranean. Located just off Pernera Beach in Ayia Napa (on the southeast coast of Cyprus), the museum consists of 93 artworks, all of which appear as trees, people or a hybrid of the two—exploring “the relationship between man and nature.” Not only do the artworks aim to draw attention to the depletion of marine life, but they will also provide food and shelter for animals. Read and see more at The Guardian.

Image courtesy of Jason deCaires Taylor/Musan

Scientists Directly Manipulate Antimatter For The First Time

Antimatter, the mysterious antiparticles that exist with a hypothetical charge opposite that of matter (the building block of the known universe), has finally been directly manipulated by scientists. According to a paper published in the journal Nature, the Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus (ALPHA) project, based at CERN in Geneva, slowed antihydrogen particles down by laser-cooling them toward absolute zero. This is a shocking breakthrough because of the volatility and unpredictability of antimatter and the implications will lead to questions about the very composition of reality. Read more on this development, and what it means regarding our future understanding of the universe, at Vice.

Image courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Decolonizing Chinese Typography With New Font “Ku Mincho”

Hong Kong native Julius Hui is on a mission to build a new typeface that traces the lineage of the Chinese language, a font he calls Ku Mincho. In China, typography has a sordid history of colonialism and political standardization—first, calligraphy styles were dictated by the whims of emperors, then by Japanese imperialism and then by the boom of digital media which introduced “fat and blocky” styles. Hui’s goal is to distill characters to get back to a Mingti type that is inherently and historically Chinese yet commercially viable. Already, his crowdfunding campaign has raised over $70,000 USD and he’s just getting started. “Typography is a tool but not just for displaying words. Type reflects culture and influences it,” he tells Brian Ng at Rest of World, where you can read more about Hui’s work on decolonizing fonts.

Image courtesy of Ku MinCho Project

First-Ever Realistic Humanoid Robot Writes Dante-Inspired Poems

Last week at the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, Aidan Miller unveiled the world’s first highly-realistic humanoid robot artist, Ai-Da, who wrote poetry inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. Using algorithms programmed with Dante’s epic, the robot integrated his speech patterns alongside her lexicon of vocabulary to produce her own deeply moving work. The poetry debuted in conjunction with Eyes Wide Shut, an exhibit on surveillance, which was created by the robot as a response to an incident in Egypt when Ai-Da was detained by security. “The Ai-Da project was developed to address the debate over the ethics of further developing AI to imitate humans and human behavior,” Miller says. But in this undertaking, the creator realized that the project isn’t about finding the human in AI so much as locating how robotic humans are. He continues, “Ai-Da allows us to gain a new insight into our own patterns and our own habits, as we see her imitate them right in front of us.” Read more about this enlightening project at CNN.

Image courtesy of Sima Diab/Getty Images

Benevolence Farm Opens Pathways For Formerly Incarcerated Women

On 13 acres in North Carolina, Benevolence Farm—founded by Tanya Jisa—exists as an employment and residency program that helps recently incarcerated women adjust to life after prison. Through fair wages, housing and a connection to nature, this initiative provides residents with a system of support that the criminal justice system fails to supply. While it’s creating pathways toward a sustainable, employed future for residents—and has already lowered the rate of recidivism for their employees down to 5% (a rate lower than the national average of 40%)—the farm’s goals are much bigger. Staff at Benevolence also advocate for larger systemic upheaval, helping women who are currently in prison and organizing for a fairer society where prisons don’t exist at all. Learn more about the farm and its inspiring work at Civil Eats.

Image courtesy of Keia Blount/Civil Eats

The Golden Ratio’s African Origins

The golden ratio (aka the divine ratio)—which formed the foundation for modern Swiss design—was long believed to have originated in Ancient Greece, but evidence suggests it was actually invented in Africa, where the golden ratio, rectangle and spiral were commonly used in almost every imaginable artistic medium. Whether on Kente cloth in Ghana or architecture in Cameroon, diverse sources support this claim. (Additionally, empirical measurements do not support the Greek origins, and “no Greek sources use the phrase ‘golden rectangle’ or suggest its use in design.) The most probable theory now is that 13th-century mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, who studied in North Africa, brought the golden ratio back to Europe. Read the full story on The Conversation.

Image courtesy of Pbroks13/Wiki Commons

Reporters Without Borders’ Uncensored Library in Minecraft

The non-profit Reporters Without Borders and creative advertising agency DDB have assembled a virtual repository for freedom of the press, aptly named The Uncensored Library, inside the game Minecraft. Thanks to blockchain technology, governments are unable to surveil or censor any of the content within, which aims to provide gamers with otherwise banned articles. The entire library can be downloaded as an offline map for gamers to read. In conjunction with design studio BlockWorks, and informed by the design of the New York Public Library, 24 people from 16 countries used 12.5 million “digital Lego blocks” to construct the virtual destination. Read more about the library’s contents and mission at Dezeen.

Last image and hero image courtesy of Minecraft