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Hank Green interviews Scishow's Chief Editor Blake de Pastino who explains his interest in writing about science, paleontology & anthropology. Special guest Jessi Knudsen CastaƱeda brings corn snakes for everyone to play with.
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 (00:00) to (02:00)

(SciShow Intro plays)

Hank: Hello and welcome to the SciShow Talk Show, a day on SciShow where we talk to interesting people about interesting things. Today's interesting person is Blake de Pastino. 

Blake: Now I have to be interesting.

Hank: I'm sorry that I did that to you.

Blake: That's great.

Hank: Blake is the chief editor of SciShow. He sees every word that happens on SciShow before it happens.

Blake: And some words that don't--you don't see.

Hank: That's--lots of those as well.

Blake: Yeah.

Hank: Lots of those as well. So, Blake, in your spare time, not only do you do like, SciShow, write about science all the time, then, you go home and you write more about science.

Blake: Yeah, cause I get home, and I'm like, I kind of feel like I miss writing about science.

Hank: Yeah. You don't get to do that enough.

Blake: Yeah. Yeah. So, I have this other side project called Western Digs that I started a couple years ago, and it's about archaeology and paleontology in the American west. So, I couldn't figure out why I was doing both of those things at once, or as a sort of backstory to it, I used to--before I met you, which as all meaningful relationships, began with a Craigslist ad. Before I met you, I was working for National Geographic's website and their daily news service, and I covered archaeology for them, but I don't have any training in archaeology or paleontology, it's just that everyone else I worked with wanted to work with animals or space, and I couldn't blame them, but all these interesting story leads kept coming through and I just gravitated to those things, and once I started working for you, I just sort of missed writing about it, and I realized that basically, if it's dead, it's more interesting to me.

Hank: Oh, you like dead things.

Blake: Or another way of looking at it, which is how I prefer to put it, is I think they're both really interesting ways of using science to understand history and those are both things I'm really interested in.

 (02:00) to (04:00)

Hank: I mean, it's very--you know, we, we spend more time thinking about the life that is currently on the planet. Which is good, 'cause we have to--we have to know about that life and understand it, but there's been much more life so far than there is currently. 

Blake: Yes.

Hank: So there is in many ways much more to learn by looking at societies that happened before recorded history and also biology that happened before, you know, bones. Like, non--non-mineralized bones.

Blake: Yeah, because in a way, they're both about context, if you understand what's come before you, then you understand how we got to where we are as a culture or as an organism or civilization, and then you--just the way I put it is that once you have a better understanding of history, scientifically, I think it makes us better equipped to make--to understand our place in the present better and maybe make better decisions, more informed decisions about the future. 

Hank: So, we should point out, as we do on SciShow, that archaeology and paleontology are not the same thing at all.

Blake: Yes. 

Hank: What are the differences?

Blake: Both ways of using science to understand history that both use stratigraphy, which is the sort of layering of the Earth to figure out the, for like, the farther back--the farther down you go, the farther back in time you go, but archaeology is really a division of anthropology, so if you want to become an archaeologist, you have to degree in anthropology to figure out how you think about your own culture and how you think about other cultures, and then investigate them, and then you get into the field work, whereas paleontologists usually study biology and then geology also, so they can similarly read the Earth to figure out what they're seeing once they find animal remains. But a lot of paleontology is actually taxonomy. 

Hank: Right.

Blake: And so there--lots of arguing over fossils and what really belongs where in the tree of life.

Hank: Hard to do.

Blake: Mhmm.

Hank: --a genome sequence on a piece of rock that--

Blake: Yes.

Hank: So you have more--you have Utah on the news for us.

 (04:00) to (06:00)

Blake: See, on my vacation time, when I'm not working for you, my idea of a vacation is going to archaeology conferences. And so I interviewed some archaeologists at the SAA, the Society of American Archaeology conference just last month, and learned about what is probably going to turn out to be the largest deposit of gambling--prehistoric gambling artifacts ever found in North America. 

Hank: Hmm. How--

Blake: And it was found in--

Hank: I'm super interested in like, in old games and like, 'cause people have always played games and the things that we--yeah.

Blake: One of the things I learned, actually, in talking to these guys is the difference between gaming and gambling, because people use one as sort of a euphemism for another, I thought they did, and gaming is just like, sort of the history of playing games, and then gambling is when you wager on it. And it was the--so these artifacts actually seemed to cover different gaming traditions throughout the American West, and they think that's because the people who settled in this cave who lived there for just for a short span, about 20-40 years in the late 1200s, were migrants from sub-Arctic Canada, and so they had spent a generation or two getting to where they were in the Great Basin, and their population either included or was informed by all the other populations that they had traveled through, so they have a cane--like--your--the most common artifacts were cane dice, dice made of dried cane, and they're marked on one side and unmarked on the other.

Hank: What is cane? Cane?

Blake: Like reed, something that grows in the water. And, they dry it and mark it and then they cut it into pieces and they can throw it in hand-fulls of three to eight, and then depending on how many of what kind show face up, that's your score, and then whoever reaches the fi--the predetermined score wins. What's interesting is that gaming according to like, ethnographers and people who have done historic accounts of a lot of indigenous cultures in the American West, dice games tended to be played almost exclusively by women. 

 (06:00) to (08:00)

Blake: And what the archaeologists think was going on in this cave was that women were gaming and the men were gambling. So they would gamble on who was winning the--the contests. And in this particular time in this area in this part of history in the late 1200s is when a lot of the Southwest was suffering a really severe drought that shaped a lot of Western Ameri--like, Western American pre-history, and the people who lived in this cave, they're generally called the Promontory culture, just because they were called the Promontory Caves, were doing very well. They were almost like plain-style bison hunters, huge piles of bones of bison pronged horn and elk and a couple kilometers away, there are the Fremont people who come from a different culture who had given up on farming by this point because the climate had gotten too arid, and they were foraging, but they live almost within sight of each other, and there are indications that the cultures eventually mingled, and what the archaeologists think is going on in this cave is that they kind of brokered their relationships through gaming and gambling, and so there is one really affluent group of people who lived in the caves, and people who lived--the Fremont, who lived farther away, they knew each other, they communicated with each other, and they had to broker some kind of relationship where they could share the same space but the people who the Promontory felt safe with their resources, and the Fremont knew that the Promontory would help them out if they needed to, and so they figured that out by gambling for whatever reasons, part of it might have to do with the fact that it's just inherently random, like the outcome is random, so it's competitive but it's not violent, and there's an element of--that neither side can control, and so it seems more fair that way, and they--

Hank: So they were actually able to determine how the game worked based on the game pieces? 

Blake: Based on historic accounts--

Hank: Okay.

Blake:--of like, you know, the Crowe tribe, and how they--how they do dice games, and the dice were very similar. 

 (08:00) to (10:00)

Blake: But the thing is, they found thousands and thousands, I mean, they stopped counting after a while, so just sort of did an analysis of--based on what they have excavated, which was just a couple of hundred, they think there are probably 10,000-18,000 dice, just in that cave. In the same way that there are probably hundreds of kilograms worth of butchered bones in there, and I'd written about the same cave last year because they had found 200, more than 200 moccasins abandoned in that cave, and they were almost all children's moccasins.

Hank: Ooh, that's creepy. 

Blake: It is--it kind of is creepy, but what the archaeologists concluded was that this was another sign of the Promontory peoples' sort of relative affluence, because they had a really large young population, so again, they were really well-fed, they had like the time and resources so they could invest in families, whereas other people who lived nearby didn't have those resources and so they weren't as successful. So, really interesting stories in everything that's in the ground. 

Hank: Yeah.

Blake: Whether it's human history or natural history, and it makes me think that, you know, we someday archaeologists will be digging us--digging up us or maybe--

Hank: Maybe not us.

Blake: --laptops or phones.

Hank: Laptops.

Blake: And I don't know what kind of archaeological record our work is going to result in, but every day, everybody is making history, literally.

Hank: Well, I hope that--I hope that future archaeologists will just be able to read our blog posts and watch SciShow videos to learn about our culture.

Blake: That's true. Yeah.

Hank: Let's hope that the Internet remains a thing, though.

Blake: I think it's a fad.

Hank: You think it's a fad?

Blake: Yeah.

Hank: You think it's headed out?

Blake: I give it six months. 

Hank: I am worried about your job if that's the case.

Blake: Yeah. I just hope I leave a good looking fossil.

Hank: Well, you know, you've got the pins in your leg, they'll be interested in that.

 (10:00) to (12:00)

Blake: Yes. Yeah, let them figure that out. (they laugh) You have to buy me a beer sometime and tell you all about it. 

Hank: Cool. Um, do you want to meet an animal?

Blake: I would love to!

Hank: Okay. Alright, we have two Tupperwares down here. Oh, there's prettiness happening inside. 

Blake: Ohh, so pretty. 

Jessi: Here is CS. CS is a corn snake and she's very friendly, you can hold her. 

Hank: Oh, you feel like a snake. 

Jessi: She's a snake.

Hank: Well, I hadn't hold a lot of snak--I hadn't held a lot of snakes before SciShow Talk Show started happening.

Jessi: Yeah, that's right.

Hank: And now, I'm like, oh, this is what snakes feel like.

Jessi: Yeah.

Hank: They're cold and they're strong and they grab you and--

Jessi: Not slimy. Dry, smooth.

Hank: No, not slimy, dry, yeah.

Jessi: Yeah. Yeah, she's really calm, easygoing. 

Hank: The main thing is cold. Just like-- they're always-- They always feel so--

Jessi: They always feel so cold. Yeah.

Hank: Where you goin'? Where you goin'?

Jessi: Yeah, just put your hand under her chin. Perfect. Yeah, so these guys are mostly terrestrial. Corn snakes are found in the south eastern United States and then down into Central America a little bit. So in the wild, they don't quite look like this. They have similar colors, except their pattern is different. Check--take a look at her pattern. See how she has spots--

Hank: Little circle-- dots.

Jessi: --down, yeah, and then her belly is just white, completely white? So the normal color is going to be more of this blotchier, and then underneath, on their belly, they're gonna have a checkered pattern, black and white checkered pattern, so this is actually a color--pattern face called--a pattern face?--this is actually a pattern called motley, so we as humans have artificially selected for unique colors and interesting patterns on them. So--

Blake: Oh, so this isn't--where does she come from?

Jessi: Animal Wonders.

Hank: Yeah, was born there.

Blake: I see.

Jessi: Was born at Animal Wonders, yeah, we--

Hank: I think I saw CS like the day she was born.

Jessi: Yeah. She's grown, hasn't she?

Hank: Yeah. 

Jessi: She's about four years old. We rescued two corn snakes, and they had eggs, and they--

Blake: And they were bred for these traits?

Hank: They had eggs.

 (12:00) to (14:00)

Jessi: They had eggs.

Hank: Is that what it's called?

Jessi: They had eggs. 

Hank: (Makes weird noises)

Jessi: And uh, this is the color that we got stuck--

Hank: Oh, she's got me now.

Jessi: --You're stuck there, like, behave, human. 

Hank: Stop moving around. I'm gonna stick my tail down your shirt. 

Jessi: So, this--these are her parents, Blake, are you ready to hold a snake? 

Blake: Yes.

Jessi: Okay. 

Blake: Born ready.

Jessi: Alright! Alright, so, this is her dad. He moves around a little bit more than CS does.

Blake: Beautiful.

Jessi: So, he's a little more squiggly--

Blake: I mean handsome.

Jessi:--a little--handsome, yeah. But notice, look at his color pattern. 

Blake: It's pretty similar.

Hank: Similar.

Jessi: The spots. But a little bit darker, has a little bit more black in there. So she's hypomel- they're both hypomelanistic. You're doin' good, yeah, he just does his thing, I know, he's a little bit more unwieldy. Bigger. Bigger, he's about eight years old. This is CS's mother. Different colors, right?

Blake: Oh, wow. Different. So she takes after her father, looks like? 

Jessi: Well, yeah, I mean, sh--the genes in there, you know, who knows what kind of young she will have, so who knows what genes she's got going in there, but this is an anerythristic, so we've gotten rid of all of the red pigments in there, and as they get older, they get a little bit of their yellow back, but they mostly, they look these different grey colors there. Alright.

Hank: Ooh, that's pretty. 

Jessi: So now we have Saffron. And Saffron is what they would call a butter corn snake, but take a look at his pattern.

Hank: Yeah. Well, that's--that's different.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Hank: But it's--

Jessi: Different colors, but look at the pattern, the pattern is different, so this is the normal pattern.

Hank: Okay.

Jessi: So if he had all the same pigments as these guys, which he doesn't, then he would be a normal looking corn snake. 

 (14:00) to (16:00)

Jessi: Normal. But he is a normal pattern with what they call a butter corn snake. Butter corn. Get it? Get it?

Hank: Butter corn.

Jessi: Yeah. 

Hank: It's--it looks like buttered corn. Also, Saffron is an apt name. You're getting another snake added to your collection.

Jessi: Hi. Whoo! 

Blake: Why are they called corn snakes? 

Jessi: Good question! Alright.

Hank; Do they live in corn fields?

Jessi: They live in corn fields, good job. Now, in the past, the farmers actually thought that they were eating their corn, for a very short time, and so they actually eradicated the snakes and--

Hank: Oh, come on. What--have you--have you ever met a snake?

Jessi: --they lost so much of their corn.

Hank: Have you ever met a snake? Do snakes eat corn? What do snakes eat, you guys? 

Jessi: Old wives tale, and not science, so you know, we hold up science here, but uh, they didn't, they went off myths.

Hank: I love that idea, of like imagining a co--a snake just like, eating a whole ear of corn, like--

Jessi: Oh, like that? Just thinking they would take one kernel at a time. Rah-rah-rah-rah.

Hank: Also ludicrous. 

Jessi: So yeah, the corn fields were not good after they got rid of all the snakes because they were helping out--

Hank: Right.

Jessi:--eating all the mice and rats and other rodents that were eating the corn. These guys, I learned them as Elaphe guttatus, which, that was their scientific name, where they've just recently been reclassified as pantheo- pan-- Pantherophis guttatus, and that's because Elaphe, Elaphidaes, Elaphe was paraphyletic which means that, it's like convergent evolution, where there's--there's different histories, they look very similar, but they came from different places. They originated from different places, so these guys, they're in a new group, um, they are more closely related to King Snakes than they are to the old world rat snakes, so I just--I find that's really interesting. There are some rat snakes down in Central United States, Southern Central United States that are part of the same group as these guys, even though they're called rat snakes, they're not really. 

 (16:00) to (17:37)

Jessi: Not related to the old world ones, but I think that's really neat--

Hank: Yeah.

Jessi:--how we're goin' back and we're doing genome studies and realizing that--

Hank: Finding out how wrong we were.

Jessi: Exactly. So wrong.

Hank: Uh, Domino and CS and Saffron and oh shoot--

Jessi: Phineas!

Hank: --Phineas! Thanks for joining us on SciShow Talk Show. Jessi, thank you for joining us. 

Jessi: Thank you!

Hank: You can find Jessi's exploits at her animal--her wonderful animal wonderful place of animal wonders at AnimalWonders Montana on YouTube, and Blake, you can see a ton of his work right here on SciShow, but also at, where he talks about Western paleontology and archaeology, 'cause he doesn't have enough to do. 

Blake: Too many hours in a day. 

Hank: And they both have new merch at, well you have for a while, but Blake we just added some of your stuff for Western Digs. T. Wrecks, available now.

Blake: Not historically accurate. 

Hank: No. 

Blake: Or anatomically.

Hank: And thank--thanks everyone who's watching for watching. We love to make SciShow Talk Shows for you because we get to play with snakes. If you want to continue getting smarter with us, learning about the world and seeing cool stuff, you can go to and subscribe.