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Top stories: Ancient psychoactive drugs, smart cats, and a new drug for Huntington disease

Archaeologists find richest cache of ancient mind-altering drugs in South America

Researchers have discovered a 1000-year-old bag containing the most varied combination of psychoactive compounds found at an ancient South American site, including cocaine and the primary ingredients in a hallucinogenic tea called ayahuasca. The contents suggest the users were well versed in the psychoactive properties of the substances, and also that they sourced their goods from well-established trade routes.

Cats rival dogs on many tests of social smarts. But is anyone brave enough to study them?

Labs studying feline social cognition are popping up around the globe, and a small but growing number of studies is showing that cats match dogs in many tests of social smarts. The new body of work could transform the widespread image of cats as aloof or untamed, and it may eventually offer insight into how domestication transformed these wild animals into some of our best friends.

Experimental Huntington disease drug reduces toxic protein, newly published data confirm

A drug that blocks the production of a mutant protein that causes brain damage in people with Huntington disease—an inherited and ultimately fatal neurological disorder—was officially declared safe this week in its first round of clinical trials. The New England Journal of Medicine study gives new hope to patients—and an official imprimatur to news that first electrified the community of patients with the disease 17 months ago.

This 5000-year-old mass grave hides a family tragedy

The 15 men, women, and children discovered in a 5000-year-old mass grave near the southern Polish village of Koszyce must have suffered brutal deaths: Each was killed by blows to the head. Yet the tidy, systematic nature of their burial suggests they were laid to rest with care. Now, new genetic analyses reveal the dead all belonged to a single extended family, offering an intimate glimpse of a Bronze Age tragedy.

Landmark analysis documents the alarming global decline of nature

The state of global biodiversity and ecosystems is at its most perilous point in human history, and the decline is accelerating, warns a landmark assessment released this week. But the hope is that the bleak assessment—crafted by hundreds of scientists and historic in its depth and breadth—will finally persuade governments and others of the need to change course and prevent further harm to the ecological systems that provide for human well-being.