Archive for the 'Homo habilis' Category

26
Sep
13

The How and Why of Early Man

So many questions about our past are debated because of the lack of  written records. Before man put proverbial pen to paper, we had only bones and teeth, soil contents, paleo-geology and -geography and -climate, to intuit what might have been.

This, despite the fact that we know for a fact that written records are always from the writer’s perspective. They are only trustworthy to the point we trust the writer–like a Leakey, Donald Johansson, Chris Beard, Jane Goodall. These interpretations–albeit highly trained–of primary sources (Earth’s record) are given more credibility than the primary source itself (an action I’m sure discouraged by Leakey’s and Johnasson’s and Beard’s and Goodall’s teachers as they pursued their research). Why? The reason is simple: It takes a PhD to interpret Earth’s story. Continue reading ‘The How and Why of Early Man’

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15
May
13

Book Review: Singing Neanderthals

The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and BodyThe Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body

by Steven Mithen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have avoided this book in the past because my personal interest extends to an earlier time than Neanderthals, but I shouldn’t have. The title is misleading in that he extends to man’s earliest Homo habilis days, not those relatively-modern Homo neanderthalensis times. He explains the importance of music to man’s ability to use symbols, to express ideas without the vast lexicon we currently possess. He shares his definition of music as ‘human sound communication outside the scope of language’ (borrowed from Bruno Nettl) and describes a believable scenario for the co-evolution of music and language. All in all, a well thought-out book with lots of factually-based opinions.

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06
Mar
13

Should You Worry About Asteroids?

During Lyta‘s time (the Plio-Pleistocene, around 1.8 mya), Nature was more violent than today. Africa’s volcanics were more common and more violent. Mt. Ngorongoro was still alive and belching smoke, as were its many neighbors, possibly due to the growing Great African Rift (the same one we predict will eventually tear the continent in two). Thanks to the triptych of faults (East Africa sits at a rare intersection of three tectonic plates), Earthquakes shook her terrain. The land was cooling, shedding the rainforests her ancestors enjoyed and adopting the grassy savannas still prevalent today.

And, unfortunately for Lyta, an asteroid hit Earth at the same moment a monstrous volcano erupted. Modern

Is this the asteroid that will hit earth?

Is this the asteroid that will hit earth?

scientists agree there is no imminent threat of Earth being bombarded by an asteroid like the one they suspect killed the dinosaurs 65 mya. They also agree we will eventually be hit. The average: about every 100,000 years, we get a bad one. Scientists also agree we have no reliable method of stopping them. Lasers. Nuclear weapons. Nudging them out of the way. They all have their problems.

Lyta lived 1.8 mya. It was her bad luck it was during that once-in-a-hundred thousand years year, and more bad luck–during a volcanic eruption. This confluence of bad luck challenged her nascient human problem-solving skills: She was separated from her infant son, her mate and on the run from that vicious future human, Homo erectus. You can see why I kept Otto focused on her life. Did mankind have the skills as the earliest of the Homo species to solve this sort of multi-problem?

As background for you, I copied this from NASA, to give you an idea how seriously we take potential asteroid impacts:

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are space rocks larger than approximately 100m that can come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU. None of the known PHAs is on a collision course with our planet, although astronomers are finding new ones all the time.
Continue reading ‘Should You Worry About Asteroids?’
14
Jan
13

Tool Use and Man

I had to post this. It’s not that the impact of tool use on the brain surprises me, it’s the extent:

Tool use alters brain’s map of body

Posted by Elie Dolgin

Researchers claim to have the first direct evidence of a century-old idea that using tools changes the way the human brain perceives the size and configuration of our body parts, according to a study published in the June 23 issue of Current Biology.

Holding the tool at an elongated
arm’s length

Image: Lucilla Cardinali

“To be accurate in doing an action with a tool, you need to make the tool become a part of your body,” the study’s first author Lucilla Cardinali of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bron and Claude Bernard University in Lyon told The Scientist. “Your brain needs to take into account that the action is performed with something added to your body part.”

In 1911, British neurologists Henry Head and Gordon Holmes introduced the theory that body image is mutable. Our brains are constantly processing visual and tactile feedback about the position of our bodies to work out where our limbs are at any given moment, they argued. The brain sifts through all this information to create a unified representation of body position and shape called the “body schema.” Although the concept has been widely accepted in the hundred years since it was first proposed, and many researchers have demonstrated adjustments to how we sense our body’s position in space after using a tool, no one had ever shown empirically that the body’s self-framing itself can be directly manipulated.

“This is the first time it has been shown in humans that the use of tools can change the pattern of movement because the body schema has changed,” said Angelo Maravita, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Milan-Bicocca in Italy who was not involved in the study.

Cardinali, a graduate student with INSERM’s Alessandro Farnè, gave people a mechanical grabber that extended their reach and found that people with the arm-elongating tool took longer to grasp and point to an object after the gizmo was taken away compared to before they held the tool. They then showed that this delayed reaction time is a normal response of people with naturally longer arms, thus indicating that tool users judge their arms to be longer than they truly are. The researchers also asked blindfolded participants to touch specific landmarks on their arm — the elbow, wrist and middle fingertip — and showed that people perceived these spots as further along the limb after having played with the gadget arm. “It’s really suggestive of the fact that your arm is coded as longer,” said Maravita.

All these subtle and dynamic mental move-arounds occur at a subconscious level to help us function with our workaday widgets, the authors say. “[Tool users] don’t think, ‘Oh my god, my arm is longer,'” said Cardinali. “They act as if the arm was longer.” In fact, Cardinali added, the long arm of the mind is something we experience every day — for example, when you grasp a toothbrush. “You don’t need to look at yourself in the mirror,” she said. “You are able to do this without bumping into your teeth or hurting yourself, and you don’t need to pay attention because the toothbrush is incorporated” into the body’s perception of the arm.

Michael Arbib, a University of Southern California neurobiologist and computer scientist who did not contribute to the research findings, said that the study “has an interesting result, but it doesn’t justify their claim.” He argued that the slowness experienced by tool users could arise because they had just completed an awkward task that involved not just a greater reach but also different angles of rotation of the arm muscles. After ditching the tool, “it’s a less confident motion,” Arbib said, “and the less confident you are the slower you go.”

Cardinali, however, said that the movement was fairly straightforward. Participants were pros at it right off the bat without any learning involved, she said. Maravita noted that the study subjects were quite precise and that only the key parameters linked to arm size changed after tool use. “I think it’s quite a robust result,” he said.

Arbib also said that the authors’ “bold claim” was unfounded because they might have mistaken cause for effect. For example, in the arm touching experiment, tool users could have pointed to a modified space rather than an altered body representation if they mentally positioned themselves relative to the extended tool and then worked backwards, instead of directly perceiving an elongated body part. These two interpretations are “functionally equivalent,” Arbib said, and so the authors’ findings might only confirm the previous results of the last hundred years. Cardinali disagreed. She argued against a mental frameshift in space because the arm pointing test was performed with bent arms — a posture that had never been encountered before. Thus, tool users could not be orienting themselves relative to any physical object in space, she said.

Continue reading ‘Tool Use and Man’

11
Jan
13

Homo habilis vs. Homo erectus

Homo erectus--note the width of the skull and the less-protruding snout


Homo erectus–note the width of the skull and the less-protruding snout

My passion is studying early man, specifically how we became who we are. Is our violence an aberration or part and parcel of survival? No other mammal kills their own, but maybe–as the alpha on the planet–our greatest threat to our survival is our own species, so we’re forced to destroy each other.

What was lacking in H. Habilis that led to their extinction, to be replaced by the big-brained, scrawny Homo erectus? Habilis was preyed upon by species with bigger claws, sharper teeth and thicker skin. Habilis (and my friend Lyta) scavenged their left-overs, in between hiding from the imposing mammals that dominated the Plio-Pleistocene African savanna. But, eventually hiding wasn’t enough and H. erectus took over (we don’t know if they fought with each other or if habilis left ‘with a whimper’).

H. erectus, with his longer lower limbs for running and walking efficiency, his bigger brain especially in the areas for planning and forethought (and speech depending upon whose research you’re reading) was tall, thin, and barrel-chested, hardly daunting in a world of sabertooth cats, mammoth and giant sloths. Yet , it is he who spread from Africa to China, India, the Middle East, Java. It is he–not predator cats or alligators–who developed a highly adaptable culture allowing him to survive a wide range of climates and habitats.

That is the first of their firsts. Want more?

  • first appearance of systematic hunting.
  • first use of fire (though arguably no control of it)
  • first indication of extended childhood (thanks to the helplessness of their infants)
  • first indication of the ability to lead a more complex life (their Acheulian tools were sophisticated, their hunting was planned)
  • first to wear clothing (how else to survive Georgia and China)
  • first to create complex tools and weapons

Continue reading ‘Homo habilis vs. Homo erectus’

09
Mar
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part IX

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Here’s Part 9:

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part IX’

20
Feb
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part VII

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic  saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis. Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today. 

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecus skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Here’s Part 7:

Chapter  3–Part 1

Changes

When it is darkest, men see the stars.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

“She is strong.” Wisps of their words floated back to Lucy. They never asked if she was tired. Why would they? If she needed rest, she would stop, and they would stop.

But Lucy worried about Baad. Sun had traveled a hand’s length further up the invisible-mountain-in-the-sky. They must be far beyond whatever danger worried Raza, and still he sprinted. Every time Baad passed her to talk with Raza, she smelled his trail of sweat and exhaustion and fear, but he never fell behind and never forced the younger male to slow.    

A herd of Hipparion, elegant heads high, mirrored their path until they veered off, toward a water pocket formed where the river they followed jogged around a copse of aspen trees. Their chests heaved and sweat glistened on their lustrous coats as they slowed and stopped.

This must be the area watering hole. There, a Chalicothere, with its combination of rhinoceros body and equine head, tore vegetation from the branches of an acacia with its clawed toes and stuffed it into its wide mouth. A few steps away, a short necked paleo-hartebeest, its palmate horns more antelope than giraffe, splayed its squatty legs to reach the cool water.

“Crocodylus.” Lucy stared at a smooth stretch of water, where only bulging eyes hinted at the reptile below. Once, when she was a child, Crocodylus had grabbed a child of her group, thrashed his hapless body through the water before diving and carrying him into the murky black depths. All that remained had been a trail of pink and white bubbles. Raza pointed out the distinctive claw marks bisected by the sweeping tail, showed its entry into the water.

And raced onward. Why he wouldn’t stop here, where shade and water were offered, was a mystery to Lucy, but she didn’t ask, simply snagged handfuls of succulents for hydration and stuffed them into her neck sack to eat later.

She’d made this carry sack from Hipparion’s stomach, swished it through water to remove the ungulate’s last meal and rubbed it with pond mud to tamp down the scent that attracted Snarling-dog. Then, she had strung a white tendon, separated from the fibrous sinew that connected Gazelle’s leg to hip, through the top and around her neck. It had confused Raza at first, but after he watched her store travel food and her cutting tool, leaving her hands free, he now expected her to carry as much as both he and Baad combined.

The trio jogged onward in the windless air and the baking Sun, past sag ponds plopped amidst crenulated plateaus, and through debris collected at the base of volcanic hills. They dodged boulders and bounded over outthrow scattered incongruously across the flatlands. A gale came out of nowhere, kicking up a thick billowing cloud of sand and debris and almost knocking Lucy off her feet. She barked to Raza, but the wind carried her words away. She searched franticly for shelter. On one side of their traveling trail was the endless expanse of grasslands. When she turned the opposite direction, hoping to find a baobab or boulder or even a patch of scrub to huddle under, she found a towering wall of dust and dirt spiraling toward her.

She gasped and froze. This monstrous behemoth stood taller than the trees of her homeland and extended as far as her eye could see along the horizon. It roared like mammoth thundering across the plains, and billowed like Smoking Mountain when it spit fire and smoke.

Where did that come from? It licked at Sun’s base one moment and then without warning, turned light into dark like the blackest of the clouds that brought rain on a sunny day. Ahead, she could just make out Raza as he stopped. She tried to go forward to him, but the tempest blew her back, and then the wall of brown fog was upon her. It was all she could do to hold her balance as its swirling force beat at her from all directions. She dropped her head, coughing and spitting grit and then cupped her hands over her mouth. That seemed to work better, so she panted shallow breaths while the storm raged around her. All she could hear was the beating of great wings on all sides, mixed with the taste of dust and dirt and her own fear.

When she forced her head up, she could no longer see Raza or Baad through the murky soot. She shouted, but the storm was so loud, her voice blew back into her face. Grit and sand stung her face and made her slit her eyes, grating in her teeth and leaving its scent in her nostrils. A tree branch caught in the tempest slashed by within a hand’s width of Lucy’s head. She screamed and suddenly Raza had her hand. He motioned to his side and there stood Baad, buffeted by the winds but stumbling forward. If they could get to a tree, they could huddle around its trunk until the windstorm abated. Heads down, they pushed forward. Lucy walked blind. It was better than the stabbing pain of sand against her eyes.

A rabbit slammed into her side as it tumbled through the raging storm. She lost her balance and collapsed onto the gritty ground. Both males followed, and there they huddled in a tight mass, too tired to rise. They tucked their heads as mammoth did during a rainstorm as wave after wave of debris washed over them. At least here, she could breathe.

The dust storm passed as quickly as it started, in a rolling wall of dust and dirt, leaving them coughing and tearing. Dust hung like a fog, blocking all but feeble rays from Sun. Raza tugged them sideways, toward a lone boulder. Baad fell into a deep sleep while Raza walked to the bluff of a nearby berm and sat. Darkness settled around him until he became just a dark-grey shape among the spindled trees limned against Night Sun’s horizon.

Unable to still her mind, Lucy glanced toward Night Sun. It had already lost the shape of her tight fist. Now, it curved as though her stone chopper had sliced a piece from its edge. Lucy wondered who did that, time after time. Sometimes, it disappeared completely. Tonight, it had lost a finger-width of the size it started with when they set out. She hoped Night Sun would visit her new home.

She studied the sparkles of light filling the dark void around Night Sun. There were so many, like the grains of sand sprinkled over the barren ground. Garv had taught her how to read their trails as she read animal trails. They

Click to be notified when Lucy: A Biography is available

migrated from side to side across the sky as the rains came and went. By watching their steps, she could tell how far she had traveled.

She found a group of the brightest specks that crossed each other as her arms did to indicate danger. Despite the full day of travel, they hadn’t moved far. When the days became dryer, they disappeared entirely, reappearing with the rains when the animals grew fat with babies.

She had once thought the tiny lights were flames burning the blackness, but they never got larger than the seed from a wildflower, nor did they burn themselves out like the grass fires. Garv had told her they were openings into another land.

The memories returned. That was the day Garv had beat on a bee hive until the insects burst out and followed his bellowing form. With the hive empty, Lucy had stuck her arms in up to her elbows and scooped big handfuls of honey onto a leaf. That done, she’d shouted to Garv as she scrambled up into the forest canopy. When he arrived, they sucked and chewed the leaf sponges she’d created until they finished every bit.

Then they’d sat, satiated, surrounded by layer upon layer of verdure. He had tilted her head upward until she gazed at the rich green leaves, so close she could touch them. They barely covered the next layer of darker shaded blades and buds, which in turn shrouded the plants above them, and so on. She followed the limbs and their lush growth upward until the canopy blurred into a black-green haziness so thick that only the rare shaft of light broke through the gloom, appearing as a bright light bounded by the darkness of the jungle.

“Maybe night is like this. Maybe the bright white holes are small because we are far away, as we are from the forest’s roof,” Garv breathed to her across the boundaries of time.

“That would make sense, Garv,” Lucy whispered silently.

She relaxed with the familiarity of the conversation and then rubbed her breasts and stomach with the juice from the same root bundle she’d shared with Baad, wondering what she had done that made them ache and swell.

She still couldn’t sleep. She would construct a bag for Raza—not as sturdy as one made from a stomach or bladder, but useful. She extracted a large leaf from her neck sack, smoothed it and perforated the top with her cutting tool, creating large holes spaced along the leaf’s veins. Then she selected a tendon from the collection around her neck. This one from the leg of Hipparion was long enough to encircle Raza’s thick neck and shoulders. She separated a shred as she would a section of stringy grass shoot, softened it by running it quickly from hand to hand, and strung it through the holes she’d made in the blade.

 

Part VIII next week…

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and author of two technology training books for middle school. She wrote Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a tech columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for ISTE’s Journal for Computing TeachersIMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write AnythingCurrently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.




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Discover the sizzle in science. It's not that stuff that's always for the smart kids. It's the need to know. The passion for understanding. The absolute belief that for every problem, there is a solution. The creative mind seeking truth in a world of mystery. The quest for the Holy Grail.

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Assembling California
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
The Forest People
Geology Underfoot in Southern California
The Land's Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest William, and James Galvin
My Life with the Chimpanzees
Naked Earth: The New Geophysics
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
Sand Rivers
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
The Tree Where Man Was Born
The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animal and Plants of the Region
The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior: An Autobiography


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RSS Fact and Fiction about Early Man

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    author: GHR von Koenigswald name: Jacqui average rating: 4.00 book published: 1492 rating: 5 read at: 2014/10/04 date added: 2014/10/04 shelves: early-man review: Meeting Prehistoric Man by GHR Von Koenigswald is a journey throughout the world in discovery of early man as paleoanthropologists understood him during VonKoenigswald's time, circa 1950' […]
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  • Letters from the Field, 1925-1975 September 13, 2014
    author: Margaret Mead name: Jacqui average rating: 4.17 book published: 1977 rating: 5 read at: 2014/09/13 date added: 2014/09/13 shelves: early-man review: If you didn't read my last week's post, you may wonder why I am so excited about Margaret Mead's eye-opening book, Letters From the Field. Even if you read me last week, you may wonder--I […]
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  • The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention January 12, 2014
    author: Guy Deutscher name: Jacqui average rating: 4.17 book published: 2005 rating: 3 read at: date added: 2014/01/12 shelves: early-man, research review: Dr. Deutscher has done a scholarly, thorough discussion on the roots of language, but I believe he started too late in time. I'm of the persuasion that language involves more than the spoken word. I […]
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  • She Who remembers November 3, 2013
    author: Linda Lay Shuler name: Jacqui average rating: 4.11 book published: 1988 rating: 4 read at: date added: 2013/11/03 shelves: early-man review: […]
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  • The Runaway Brain: The Evolution Of Human Uniqueness July 25, 2011
    author: Christopher Wills name: Jacqui average rating: 4.12 book published: 1993 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: science, early-man review: In my lifelong effort to understand what makes us human, I long ago arrived at the lynchpin to that discussion: our brain. Even though bipedalism preceded big brains, and we couldn't be who we are […]
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  • The Origin Of Humankind July 25, 2011
    author: Richard E. Leakey name: Jacqui average rating: 3.97 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, history review: If you're interested in man's roots, there are several authors you must read: Birute Galdikas Dian Fosse Donald Johanson GHR Von Koenigsman Glen Isaacs Jared Diamond Ian Tattersell Lev Vygots […]
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  • Lucy: the beginnings of humankind July 24, 2011
    author: Donald C. Johanson name: Jacqui average rating: 4.11 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I read this book when I was writing a paleo-historic drama of the life of earliest man. My characters were Homo habilines, but they cohabited Africa with Australopithecines, so to understand the co-st […]
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