Lessons Learned from the Dead

Crows May Learn Lessons From Death


Not every animal pays attention to its dead. The club is fairly exclusive. After the crows and us there are chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins and relatives of crows known as scrub jays.

In their report, Wild American crows gather around their dead to learn about danger, appearing In the November issue of Animal Behavior, Ms. Swift and Dr. Marzluff propose that crows pay careful attention to their dead as a way to gather information about threats to their own safety. “It’s a long-term learning opportunity,” said Ms. Swift. “Knowing that you need to be wary in a particular place — that’s valuable.”


Then in today’s Times, in an article entitled , Italian Lab Battles ‘Not to Lose the Dead’ From Migrant Ships, there is this picture, of young people gathered around the bones of the dead, not to avoid a danger themselves, but to learn who they were.

Fabio Bucciarelli for The New York Times
Fabio Bucciarelli for The New York Times

Are they learning from the dead? In the picture above students at the University of Milan are examining human remains, trying to identify migrants who died trying to cross to Europe. In particular the 368 migrants who died when their boat capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa two years ago this month as they tried to make their way to Europe.

Is this crow-like behavior? Why are the investigators doing this? Well the families, or course, want to know the fate of their own, and sure why not try to help. The findings will in some cases anyway allow the investigators at least to let the distraught family member know for sure that their son, daughter, wife, husband, sister, brother … was among the drowned.

Once more, Learning from the Dead

Scientists Hope to Learn How Pompeians Lived, Before the Big Day


OCT. 5, 2015

Plaster casts of people who died in Pompeii, Italy, after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Credit Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

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