Pierre Antoine

Earthworms left behind calcite crystals (essentially their feces) and they may be the most precise way to measure climate conditions during the last Ice Age in northern Europe.

In a new study, researchers turned to these crystals — which were ever-present in the top layers of soil and just a few inches below the permafrost for tens of thousands of years — as the basis of radiocarbon dating and uncovered new information about the climate in ancient times.

Why it matters: Scientists continue to argue about why and how Neanderthals died out in northern Europe some 40,000 years ago as modern humans moved into their territory. Climate conditions almost certainly played in the transition, but anthropologists and paleo-climatologists have struggled to define the climate during and immediately after the Ice Age began to retreat because there is a scarcity of organic remains like wood, charcoal and bone to test.

What they found: With the help of more precise dating from the earthworm crystals, researchers found that there was greater climate variability between the mid- and high-latitude regions of Northern Europe between 47,000 and 20,000 years ago; that permafrost was more permeable at certain times and some regions were more arid than had previously been understood. The researchers found radiocarbon dating using earthworm crystals had a substantially lower margin of error (as much as two-thirds) compared to other methods using sparse organic material.

How it works: The ratio of different forms of oxygen in the calcite crystals depends on the temperature as the worm moves through the soil. By analyzing those proportions, the researchers get a measure of the climate at the time.

Fun fact: Charles Darwin was the first to discover that earthworms leave behind calcite crystals as they make their way through the soil. He was fascinated with worms and now, nearly 150 years later, his finding may help us understand what happened to the Neanderthals.

Go deeper

Media prepares to fact check debates in real time

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

From live blogs to video chyrons and tweets, media companies are introducing new ways to fact check the presidential debates in real time this year.

Between the lines: The debates themselves are likely to leave less room for live fact-checking from moderators than a traditional news interview would.

Life after Roe v. Wade

The future seems clear to both parties: The Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade in the next few years, either gradually or in one fell swoop, and the abortion wars will move to a state-by-state battle over freedom and restrictions. 

What's new: Two of the leading activists on opposite sides of the abortion debate outlined for “Axios on HBO” the next frontiers in a post-Roe v. Wade world as the balance on the Supreme Court prepares to shift.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Jerome Powell, Trump's re-election MVP

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Getty Images photos: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP and Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket

President Trump trails Joe Biden in most polls, has generally lower approval ratings and is behind in trust on most issues. Yet polls consistently give him an edge on the economy, which remains a top priority among voters.

Why it matters: If Trump wins re-election, it will largely be because Americans see him as the force rallying a still-strong U.S. economy, a narrative girded by skyrocketing stock prices and consistently climbing U.S. home values — but the man behind booming U.S. asset prices is really Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell.