Just over 200 years ago in 1809, Charles Darwin was born. Fifty years later, in 1859, he published The Origin of the Species. It was book that contained ideas which provoked both hostility and great interest throughout the world. Darwin's theories questioned many received truths which went to the heart of society's beliefs about religion, society and biology. It even affected the way they thought of their own bodies, and perhaps even their souls.

Charles Darwin's central idea is now well-known and pretty much universally accepted. Every species in the world has evolved over generations through a process of natural selection, which allows the strongest to survive. It has shaped our thinking about ourselves ever since, and is not challenged by anyone working in mainstream science, although some from a religious background do so.

Darwin's theory established the initial idea, but it has since been added to in ways that Darwin himself could never have dreamed of. We now know about genes and how they replicate, and how DNA produces the codes of our existence. It is very difficult to imagine how or what we would think today about how we got here without Darwin's ideas. So, with so much having changed since Darwin was around, and with his theories having become orthodoxy, have we still anything to learn from Darwin? It seems that we do. His work continues to have influence today, in both scientific and other fields.

Technological Evolution

Darwin's ideas can easily be applied to modern developments in technology. Today's technology is fast moving, and ever changing. It works to Darwinian principles and can be better understood using them. His ideas are applied today by scientists carrying out research in all sorts of fields which have nothing to do with biology. They can be used by programmers developing an algorithm for delivering a snow report, or by researchers designing jet engines. What Darwin's theories help these researchers to do is to think about how to test theories against a particular set of constraints and see which it adapts best to. Darwinism works against the kind of linear thinking which acts as a brake on creativity and discovery, and can be applied to almost anything. Darwin's theory has even been applied, rather fittingly, to the development of the universe:something called 'cosmic variance'. This is the idea that there are multiple universes, each of which has its own set of parameters, and in each of which things develop differently as a result. That would explain the unexplainable about our universe, as it would make unlikely developments seem more sane.


One of the most common ways in which Darwin's ideas can be seen to have influence today is in the concept of social Darwinism. This rests on the concept of 'survival of the fittest'. That is, that the strongest in society will survive economically and socially. That the most talented will be the ones who 'win' in a competitive world. The term 'Darwinian economics' is also used. For its supporters, social and economic Darwinism is seen as a way of ensuring that those who prosper and who wield the power in society are those who are best able to take on those roles. The most talented are rewarded the most. It is a theory which supports laissez-faire economics which have gained mainstream currency in many parts of the west since the 1980s.

Darwin's theory can be applied to anything which changes and develops. And that is pretty much anything. While its most obvious applications are to science and the development of societies, it can be used to help us understand other things too. For example, there is Darwinian literary criticism, which seeks to apply Darwin's ideas to the interpretation of literature. They hold that because the mind develops and adapts biologically, and literature is developed from the mind, it reflects our adaptations. So, the issues and problems presented in literature reflect those faced by us (and our minds) in society.

Darwin's theories can be found just about everywhere today, and can be both a way of generating new ideas, and a highly useful analytical tool. His theories are so powerful that that they could not be ignored when they were published, and continue to be compelling today.

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DINOSAUR: Did Pterosaurs hang upside down?

I am not a paleontologist or even a biologist. I do have a science degree, but it is in an entirely unrelated subject. However there is something about how pterosaurs have been portrayed in the media that has bugged me for years. Ever since their cinematic characterisation in Jurassic Park 3 and subsequent 'natural history' depiction in the landmark BBC series 'Walking with Dinosaurs', there has been a  widespread belief by the scientific community that when Pterosaurs are not expending valuable energy flying around, they spent their lives using a horribly ungainly quadrupedal system of walking in order to get around.

On the whole, this is fine - but I have a question.  While I will accept that walking around like a decrepit old man on crutches will give you effective mobility, surely this slow, cumbersome method will make you incredibly vulnerable to attack by predators? And while I'll accept that they can fly off when danger arises, don't forget that the pterosaur family accounted for the largest creatures ever to fly.

Consider the mute swan and the great bustard. These are two of the heaviest flying birds in the world today - approximately 25 kg for an adult male, and both of these birds require substantial run-ups to launch themselves into flight.

The largest pterosaur so far discovered is the Quetzalcoatlus. With a 30 ft wingspan and weighing in at 200lbs, the scientific community is split in its opinion of whether it flew or instead  led an entirely terrestrial existence. In answer to this question, David Attenborough's recent 3D documentary on this subject takes the view that it flew, and puts forth a theory of dynamic thrust motion by the pterosaur in order to provide lift at the initial flight phase in order to provide a springboard for flight.

Be that as it may, there were plenty of pterosaur species that fit between the heaviest weight of today's flying birds and the gigantic Quetzalcoatlus. However, the likelihood of these animals being able to run fast enough using their 'quadrupedal system of walking' to achieve the critical speed for achieving powered flight is extremely low. However, if you look at the nearest contemporary flying creature that uses a quadrupedal system of walking - the bat - there is another answer to how large pterosaurs managed to obtain the initial thrust required to achieve powered flight. They amble over to the nearest tree and climb up as far as they deem necessary before jumping off! That way, gravity provides the initial acceleration necessary to instigate flight.

Of course, climbing trees with large flappy wings and tiny finger claws is extremely hard work. It is also time consuming and leaves you at a considerable risk of being predated. However, bats have an answer to this problem and that is to avoid landing on the ground and stay back in the tree when you are not flying.

Now back to my original question - did pterosaurs hang upside down in trees? Well of course,  in such a large and varied family the chances are that some of pterosaur species spent part of their lives in trees is already accepted by the scientific community. But look at the 'top heavy' pterosaur physiology and compare the skeletons of a typical bat - see left - to a typical pterosaur - see above left. A pterosaur has a large head combined with a long neck on a comparatively stubby body, supported on a branch with typically small feet. Would a pterosaur be able to comfortably stand upright on a branch with this shape of body? I believe that it would not and I would go as far to say that like a bat - the pterosaurs most similar living creature - it would hang upside down. They even have the grabby 'tree climbing' fingers that would help them climb back up if they fell out.

To conclude, I just need to say that this was all off the top of my head with no real research involved whatsoever. So I fully expect that my views on this subject will be shot down by someone who knows what they are talking about. If not, let it be known that this was my idea first, it was original, and the date of this published article will confirm that I came to this conclusion before anyone else unless proved otherwise. Any comments you wish to make can be made below.

For related articles click onto he following links:
DINOSAUR: Archaeopteryx
DINOSAUR: Did Pterosaurs hang upside down?
DINOSAUR: The Pterodactyl
TERRA NOVA - Dinosaur trailer


Inside every seed is a miracle of biological engineering. Weighing anywhere from 1/35000000 (one 35 millionth) of an ounce for an orchid seed, and up to as much as 18 kg for the enormous Coco de Mer seed, all living seeds contain the complete genetic blueprint of its parents which they can use to replicate themselves to a similar design.

They are protected by a specialised seed coat – or testa - which allows the seed to germinate at the most optimum time of the year – it can also help to keep the seed viable for hundreds, and in rare cases, thousands of years! Furthermore, they contain enough energy to allow the seed to anchor itself into the ground using a juvenile root system as well as to produce its first true leaves. This will then set the seedling on the road to photosynthesis and a life of taking full advantage of free energy from the sun. This in turn will allow it to continue growing, and mature to a point where it will produce seed of its own.

Without seeds the vast majority of the world’s plant species would simply die out. Shortly after, life on earth will begin to follow. Without plants there would be no food to eat or timber for use as tools and shelter, so understanding how to grow plants from seeds is paramount to human existence.

Whenever you are trying to grow plants from seed there is always a delay from sowing the seed until the time it germinates. This is because certain environmental factors are required to trigger the germination process - usually, a combination of light, warmth and moisture. Depending on the seed, this can range from a few days right up until a few years. The reason behind this delay is something called seed dormancy and is all to do with the complex design of seed coats.

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In the animal world, a fully-grown African elephant, or Loxodonta Africana to give it its scientific name, is the animal kingdom's equivalent to a double decker bus. It’s the biggest living land mammal and dwarfs almost any other creature. Both male and female elephants have tusks, and like human beings they're either right or left tusked which means one tusk gets worn down quicker than the other. Tusks are also particular to the elephant, varying in shape, size and angle so that researchers can use them to identify what elephant they came from. In a way, this is kind of similar to our own fingerprints.

Aside from the tusks, the other standout feature we all notice, is the elephant’s trunk. And it’s a feature that serves many purposes for the elephant as it is used to smell things, to grab things, to aid balance, to signal to other elephants and to collect food, siphon water, to dust and also to dig.


An elephant's diet is pretty varied although it is purely vegetarian, and every single day they need to eat around 5% of their body mass. Things they eat include leaves, twigs, fruit, seed pods and grass. Aside from food, they also need to take in a whopping 30-50 gallons of water. Elephants drink water by using their trunks to siphon off water from a pool, for instance, and then pouring it into their mouths.


Elephants are social creatures and prefer the company of other elephants to living solo. They tend to live in small family units with an older male elephant at the helm and younger related elephants further down the pecking order.

Different family units can co-exist together in one particular area and get along fine. Like humans, elephants will happily greet each other when they come into contact at places like watering holes. Often, older male elephants will visit different family units to see if there are female elephants who are at the right stage to mate with.

Elephants are very caring creatures and female elephants look after their babies for many years. This ensures that their offspring learns skills like drinking water and so on. Baby elephants drink their mother’s milk until its tusks are around five to six inches long. At this point they start to cause a problem for the mother so she gradually weans her offspring and they go onto solid foods.


Because they're so big, African elephants don't have any animal predators. Sadly, it’s just humans who threaten them and it’s all because of their beautiful ivory tusks.

Calves (young and baby elephants) can fall prey to other animals such as lions, crocodiles and other carnivorous animals.


Elephants make deep growling noises to communicate with each other and they're often so low that they can't be heard by the human ear. However, other elephants are able to hear them up to five or six miles away.

If an elephant is in distress or senses danger close by, it may emit a loud blast. This almost deafening call will cause the other elephants in the group to form a protective barricade around younger elephants in order to keep them safe from potential harm.

Interesting Elephant Facts

• Elephants like to touch each other. They use their trunks to stroke and caress each other and two elephants can often be seen entwining their trunks together

• Elephants are highly intelligent creatures, hence the saying ‘an elephant never forgets’

• Elephants have a complex social structure and demonstrate interesting and advanced methods of communication

• A fully-grown African elephant’s trunk is around two meters long

• An elephant can drink around two gallons of water in one go!

• When elephants wade in deep water they use their trunks as snorkels

• The classic elephant trumpeting sound is a warning sound an elephant makes if it senses danger

• Like human babies that suck their thumb or a dummy, a baby elephant will often suck its trunk.

• An elephant has the longest pregnancy of all animals – a female elephant carries its baby in the womb for a whopping 22 months.

• Elephants can live to around 70 years old

• An African elephant can weigh more than six tons

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I will always remember the mince pies that my Nana used to make. Dusted with icing, each and every one of the were filled to the brim with succulent mincemeat. The trouble is that they were always surrounded by an awful, dry and misshapen pastry case - absolutely horrible! So I only ate them when I was really hungry. The trouble is that as a child I was always hungry.

Luckily, this is a recipe that ticks all the boxes, and maybe a bit too well because when you get a mince pie that tastes just right I have a habit of chucking far to many down my petite, yet very manly gob.

So here it is, my recipe for traditional, Christmas, English mince pies.

Mince Pie Ingredients
1¼ lb (560 g) mincemeat
12 oz (350 g) plain flour
3 oz (75 g) lard
3 oz (75 g) butter
pinch of salt

and as a light topping:
a little milk
icing sugar

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C).

How to Make Mince Pies

To make up the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and rub both the lard and butter into it until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Then add just enough cold water to form your mix into a dough. You will know when it is ready as the dough will contain all of the mix leaving the bowl clean - your pastry is now ready.

Leave the pastry to rest in a polythene bag in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes, then roll half of it out as thinly as possible and cut it into two dozen 3 inch (7.5 cm) rounds. To get the most out of your pastry do forget to gather up the scraps and rerolling. Then do the same with the other half of the pastry, this time using the 2½ inch (6 cm) cutter.

Now grease your small cakes tins lightly and line them with the larger rounds. Fill these with mincemeat to the level of the edges of the pastry (this is the point at which a sneaky shot of brandy/rum into the mincemeat - but not too much as the mix will end up sloppy).

Now dampen the edges of the smaller rounds of pastry with water and press them lightly into position to form lids, sealing the edges. Brush each one with milk and make three snips in the tops with a pair of scissors. Bake near the top of the oven for 25-30 minutes until light golden brown. Cool on a wire tray and sprinkle with icing sugar. When cool, store in an airtight container.

Once cool, your Christmas mince pies are ready to serve with cream, custard or on their own.

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How to grow roses from seed
How to grow roses from seed

Growing roses from seed is not the quickest way to propagate roses but it can be the most rewarding. It is also the best way to hybridise roses in order to create brand new varieties. Of course there will be disappointments as some of your seed won't germinate at all, and annoyingly you will always lose a certain percentage of  seedlings to damping off disease.

Unfortunately, once you get your seedlings to a size where they will bloom you will need to prepare yourself for yet more disappointment. Why? Because some of your creations will be as ugly as sin, while others will be just plain boring! However the point of all your work will become as clear as a lead crystal goblet as one of your rose seedlings may turned out to be something quite special!

When do you harvest rose hips?

How to grow roses from seed
Ripe rose hips
Once the fruit (rosehip) has fully formed, wait four months before harvesting the seed. Some rose hips would have turned orange, red or yellow to prove that they are indeed ripe, but others can stay green even when over ripe.

You can open the rose hips as soon as they have been collected or you can store in a fridge for  up to four weeks before opening.

To open, slice the rose hips in half with a knife, then remove the seeds. the pulp and outer shell can be thrown away

Growing Roses from seed

Once your rose seed has been collected, soak them overnight. Then in the morning, discard any seeds that are floating as these will produce either weak seedlings or not germinate at all. Strain the seeds of and then - wait for it - place into a blender with some more fresh water. Turn the blender on to LOW and whizz for a few seconds in order to remove most of what is left of the pulp. You may lose a few seeds here but you can always skip this step - especially if you are short of seed.

How to grow roses from seed
Dried rose hips
Alternatively you can clean the pulp from your rose seeds by spreading them out on a clean cloth or towel and scrubbing over them with a suitable brush. Be aware that this can end up being quite a lot of work.

From this point, professional rose grows tend to chill their seeds from between six to ten weeks before planting as this will encourage germination. If you leave them in any longer, is has been known for rose seeds to germinate in the fridge!

The most popular method of refrigeration to place your clean, seeds onto a piece of good quality, damp paper towel. Fold the paper towel over a couple of times and then place into a sealable plastic bag. This can now be left in the salad compartment of your fridge.

When and how to plant rose seeds

Rose seeds collected as late as November - and possibly as late as December and January in warmer climates - can be planted as soon as they are retrieved. However, if they have been chilled then they can be sown in early spring. If there is a risk of frost then this will need to be done under protection.

How to grow roses from seed
Rose seedlings
Using a compost mix of 1:1 John Innes 'Seed and Potting' compost and horticultural grit or perlite, plant your rose seeds 1/2 inch deep into small, individual pots or a large shallow seed tray. Now water in with a soluble seedling fungicide such as Benlate.

Allow the soil to drain off then move the pots/tray into a warm and sunny position. Place a clear cover - such as a sheet of glass or perspex - over the the pot or the pots/tray and place in a cool yet sunny position. If there is no risk of frosts then the containers can be placed outside into a cold frame.

Keep the soil moist and after six weeks or so your rose seeds should begin to germinate. As soon as you seed the seedlings emerge, remove their clear cover. If the seedlings are in a cold frame then the lid can be left open during the day - don't forget to shut it at night. The seedlings will continue to sprout while the weather is cool but growth can be arrested if the young plants get to warm!

Once the rose seedlings are a few inches tall then can be potted on either into 3/4 inch pots, or if you are feeling brave then can be planted directly into a prepared bed outside. From there it will take just three years to reach maturity.

For related articles click onto the following links:

ATHENS: The Temple of Zeus

The erection of this enormous temple was begun by Peisistratos - grandson of the tyrant  Deucalion - in 515 BC on the site of an earlier temple. However, the design and construction of the Temple of Zeus is credited to the architect Libon, with carved metopes and triglyph friezes, topped by pediments filled with sculptures in the Severe Style.

It was also one of the largest Temples of the ancient world, comprising of 20 columns on the sides and three rows of columns at the end. Overall it measured 110 meters long and 44 meters wide

The Temple of Zeus also housed the renowned statue of Zeus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Chryselephantine statue was approximately 13 m (43 ft) high and was made by the sculptor Phidias in his workshop on the site at Olympia. He took about twelve years to complete it.

On his head was a sculpted wreath of olive sprays. In his right hand he held a figure of Nike, the goddess of victory, also made from ivory and gold, and in his left hand, a scepter made with many kinds of metal, with an eagle perched on the top. His sandals were made of gold and so was his robe. His garments were carved with animals and with lilies. The throne was decorated with gold, precious stones, ebony, and ivory. In its day, this statue was the most famous artistic work in the whole of Greece!

The main structure of the building was of a local limestone that was unattractive and of poor quality, and so it was coated with a thin layer of stucco to give it an appearance of marble. All the sculptural decoration on the temple was made of Parian marble, and the roof tiles were of the same Pentelic marble used to build the Parthenon at Athens.

In 426 CE, Theodosius II ordered the destruction of the sanctuary, and earthquakes in 522 and 551 devastated the ruins and left the Temple of Zeus partially buried. The site of the ancient sanctuary, long forgotten under landslides and flood siltation, was identified in 1766. In 1829 a French team partially excavated the Temple of Zeus, taking several fragments of the pediments to the Musée du Louvre. Systematic excavation began in 1875, under the direction the German Archaeological Institute, and has continued, with some interruptions, to the present time.

Of the original 104 columns only 16 managed to survive intact. That was until 1852 when a terrible storm toppled one over where it has remained on this incredible site till this day. Luckily, early engravings exist which show all 16 columns still in place.

For related articles click onto the following links:
ATHENS: The Caryatids
ATHENS: The Temple of Zeus
ATHENS: Tower of the Winds

ATHENS: The Caryatids

Looming in quiet splendour over modern Athens is the awe inspiring Acropolis. Best known for housing the iconic Parthenon, it is also home to another mysterious and beautiful temple called the Erechtheum. The Erechtheum was completed in 406 BC, reputedly on the spot where Athena and Poseidon battled for control over Athens. The structure actually unites two separate temples. First the east porch which once sheltered an olive wood statue of Athena, while the second is the west porch which held a statue of Poseidon. Of course, the most famous feature of the Erechtheum is the south porch which is held up by six columns in the shape of voluptuous, drapery-clad maidens.

These beautifully carved stone maidens are collectively known as the Caryatids, possibly named after the woman of Caryae, who were famed for their beauty and served as Athenian slaves. It was probably for this reason alone that inspired the Ottoman commanders to convert the Erechtheum temple into a hareem during their occupation!

Although the six Caryatids are of the same height, build, and similarly attired and coiffed, they are in fact are not the same. Their faces, stance, draping, and hair have all been carved uniquely. The three on the left stand on their right knee, while the three on the right stand on their left knee.

And if you were wondering why they have such large 'French plaits', it is because their bulky, intricately arranged hairstyles serve the crucial purpose of providing static support to their necks. Otherwise this section of the statue be the thinnest and therefore structurally weak.

Unfortunately, the six Caryatids the you see on the south porch today are only copies, but the originals still exist. Five are being restored while on display at the new Acropolis Museum, while the sixth was removed by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and is currently housed in the British Museum in London.

The Acropolis housed Caryatids currently stand on a special balcony that allows visitors to view them from all sides. The pedestal for the Caryatid that was removed to London remains empty.

The Romans also copied the Erechtheion caryatids, installing copies in the Forum of Augustus and the Pantheon in Rome, and at Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli.

For related articles click onto the following links.
ATHENS: The Caryatids
ATHENS: The Temple of Zeus
ATHENS: Tower of the Winds


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ATHENS: Tower of the Winds

Tower of the WInds
Tower of the WInds

Situated within the crumbling walls of Athens ancient Roman Agora is the sumptuous eight sided Tower of the Winds. Built around 50 BC by Syrian astronomer Andronikos Kyrrhestas, this stunning feature was created to combine the functions of a sundial, weather vane and water clock. In the process Kyrrhestas managed to design a building unlike any other in the ancient world.

Tower of the WInds
Tower of the WInds
Also known as the 'Horologion of Kyrrhestos' the Tower of the Winds is an octagonal tower made from Pentelic marble, standing on a base of three steps.

The tower comprises of a conical roof, a cylindrical annex on the south side and two propyl.

There would have originally been an bronze weather vane on the roof, but this has not survived the ravages of time.

However, the personifications of the winds which it would have indicated are still carved in relief at the top of each of the eight sides.

Tower of the WInds
Tower of the WInds
Their names are inscribed beneath the cornice:


The rays of the sundials are carved on each of the sides, beneath the scenes of the winds.

Inside the tower are the remains of the water clock - no longer working - which was operated by spring waters running down from the Acropolis.

Tower of the WInds
Tower of the WInds
In the early Christian period the Tower of the Winds - also known as the Horologion of Kyrrhestos - was used as a church, and in the 18th century it was a Dervish Monastery.

Now it stands as a masterpiece of ancient architecture.

For related articles click onto the following links:
ATHENS: The Caryatids
ATHENS: The Temple of Zeus
ATHENS: Tower of the Winds