National Geographic : 1990 Nov
Koko at Play Outdoors: She Needs Her Space Koko, the world's most famous "talking" gorilla, still is gabbing away. And she has a new outdoor enclosure that gives her more room to roam and provides her with more con trol over her life. According to Francine (Penny) Pat terson, Koko's mentor and conver sationalist, the 19-year-old lowland gorilla has an 800-word vocabulary in American Sign Language (GEO GRAPHIC, October 1978). The new enclosure was built by the Gorilla Foundation of Woodside, California, where Koko lives. Now she can choose when she wants to be with her male companion, Michael, says Patterson. "The female controls the mating process. In the wild the female would decide when she wanted to be in prox imity to the male," Patterson explains. "We're trying to give Koko the same control she would have in the natural state." But, to Patterson's disappoint ment, Koko and Michael haven't mated in the 14 years they've been together. "They appear to have a sib ling relationship rather than a mating relationship," she reports. "She is extremely jealous of him." Koko still has an affection for cats. Her newest "soft cat" is Smoky, a half sister of the late, lamented All Ball (GEOGRAPHIC, January 1985), killed by a car. "Smoky and Koko get along wonderfully," says Patterson, "but no cat could ever replace All Ball." Celestial Rock Group Has a Place in the Sky The Beatles long were rock stars of the highest magnitude. Now they're asteroids as well. Brian A. Skiff and Edward Bowell of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, discovered four new aster oids-small, rocky planets that orbit the sun between Mars and Jupiter- during a long-term photographic sur vey of the asteroid belt. After confirm ing their orbits and having them Oldest Known Maya: Not Quite So Old he oldest known Maya turns out to be younger than archaeologists originally believed. The remains of a woman found below a layered platform at a site called Cuello in northern Belize had been thought to be more than 4,000 years old (GEOGRAPHIC, July 1982). As a result of new dating methods, about a thousand officially numbered by the Interna tional Astronomical Union, Skiff and Bowell named them after the four Liverpudlians: Asteroid 4147 became Lennon, 4148 McCartney, 4149 Harri son, and 4150 Starr. They range from five to ten miles in diameter. "It is the right of the discoverer to give asteroids a name," says Bowell, who is from London. "Comets are named after their discoverers, stars and galaxies al most always get num bers, craters and other features on planets and their satellites can be named only after dead persons. Because we had four numbers in a row, a colleague sug RDTHOMPSONgested we name them after the Beatles." This is not the first time the Beatles have been immortalized in science. Lucy, the famous hominid skeleton (GEOGRAPHIC, December 1976), was named for their song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." RONALDH. COHN,THE GORILLAFOUNDATION years have been trimmed from the chronology. Norman Hammond of Boston University, who began digging at Cuello in the 1970s, says the remains now are believed to be from about 1200 B.C., still earlier than any other known Maya settlement. The accelerator mass spectrometer allows scientists to analyze the bones of the ancient Maya without severely NORMANHAMMOND damaging them. The new technique can date carbon samples weighing only a few milligrams; a specimen the size of a match head will do. Excavations this year have revealed many more burials at Cuello from a lat er period, 700 B.c . to 500 B.C . Among the remains were children with rich adornments, including hundreds of white and red shell beads. The red shell came from a species of spiny oyster treasured by the Maya for its blood-like color. Tiny jade beads (above), origi nating in central Guatemala, are the earliest known from the Maya area. Shell scraps show that craftsmen practiced their skills at Cuello. The lav ish child burials suggest that the Maya passed along social rank and wealth through inheritance, Hammond says.