Since its discovery in 1990, La Sima de los Huesos, an underground cave in Northern Spain’s Atapuerca Mountains, has yielded more than 6,000 fossils from 28 individual ancient human ancestors, making it Europe’s most significant site for the study of ancient humans. But despite years of analysis, the exact age and even the species to which these individuals belonged has been in doubt.
Now, though, an international group of scientists has extracted and sequenced DNA from the fossilized femur of one of these individuals for the first time. The resulting data—which represent the oldest genetic material ever sequenced from a hominin, or ancient human ancestor—finally give us an idea of the age and lineage of these mysterious individuals, and it’s not what many scientists expected.
The fossilized bone tested, a femur, is roughly 400,000 years old. But the big surprise is that, although scientists had previously believed the fossils belonged to Neanderthals because of their anatomical appearance, the DNA analysis actually shows they’re more closely related to Denisovans, a recently-discovered third lineage of human ancestors known only from DNA isolated from a few fossils found in Siberia in 2010. The findings, published today in Nature, will force anthropologists to further reconsider how the Denisovans, Neanderthals and the direct ancestors of modern-day humans fit together in a complicated family tree.
The oldest known stone-tipped projectiles have been discovered in Ethiopia. The javelins are roughly 280,000 years old and predate the earliest known fossils of our species, Homo sapiens, by about 80,000 years.
These javelins are some 200,000 years older than previous examples of similar weapons, suggesting that modern humans and their extinct relatives had the know-how to create these sorts of complex thrown projectiles much earlier than often thought.
Scientists investigated stone tools unearthed at the Gademotta Formation on the flanks of an ancient, large collapsed volcanic crater in central Ethiopia’s Rift Valley….
"We were only interested in testing the hypothesis that these tools were definitely used to tip spears," Sahle said. "The eureka came much later as we did the analysis and found out that the features we were dealing with were the result of throwing impact, not thrusting."
When pointed artifacts are used as weapons, V-shaped fractures, called fracture wings, can form at the moment of impact; the apexes mark where the cracks started. Past experiments in materials such as obsidian have shown that the narrower the V-shapes of fracture wings, the higher the speed of the fracturing that created them.
The researchers discovered that the fracture wings seen in a dozen of these obsidian points suggest that the fracture cracking sped faster than 1,820 miles an hour (2,930 kilometers an hour). In experiments with thrusting spears, that’s the maximum velocity seen in fracturing. And some of these artifacts apparently developed fractures after impact at speeds of up to 3,345 miles an hour (5,385 kilometers an hour), close to the maximum velocity seen with fracturing in thrown spears.
A number of these artifacts are among the oldest at the site, suggesting that javelins were used as early as 279,000 years ago. Such weapons are considered signs of complex behavior and were pivotal to the spread of modern humans.
"The implication is that certain behavioral traits that are considered complex and mostly only the domains of anatomically modern humans—such as the capacity to make and use projectiles—were not only incorporated into the technological repertoire of the African early Homo sapiens, but also had earlier roots and were present in populations ancestral to Homo sapiens,” Sahle said.
“ 'Yes: the gods took Enkidu's life.
But man’s life is short, at any moment
it can be snapped, like a reed in a canebrake.
The handsome young man, the lovely young woman-
in their prime, death comes and drags them away.
Though no one has seen death’s face or heard
death’s voice, suddenly, savagely, death
destroys us, all of us, old or young.’ ”
Gilgamesh Book X, translated by Stephen Mitchell (via thequietassyrian)
They weren’t expecting to find the ancient water, estimated to be 100 to 145 million years old, while boring a hole 1.1 miles (1.8 kilometers) deep into the massive crater, located under the Chesapeake Bay.
The crater was formed about 35 million years ago when a large rock or chunk of ice slammed into what’s now the mouth of the bay, off Cape Charles, Virginia, hollowing out a 56-mile-wide (90-kilometer-wide) hole in the floor of the North Atlantic Ocean….
The seawater trapped deep underground is now in an area roughly the size of a large lake—about 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) across.
Finding this unprecedented time capsule of Cretaceous seawater “was a little bit mind-blowing,” Sanford said.
Sanford and his colleagues drilled into the crater in 2005 during a joint project with the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program, but it took several years to gather additional data that could determine the water’s age.
In the new research, a team led by evolutionary geneticist Olaf Thalmann of Finland’s University of Turku used DNA analysis techniques to determine the origins of the first tamed wolves.
The scientists collected DNA from 18 mostly European ancient canid samples, eight of which were classified as doglike and ten that were wolflike. They compared the ancient DNA to samples gathered from 77 dogs from a wide variety of breeds; 49 modern wolves from Europe, Asia, and elsewhere; and four coyotes….
The researchers found that the DNA of modern dogs most closely matched that of ancient wolves from Europe, indicating that dog domestication began there. They also concluded that dogs are descended from a population of ancient European wolves that are now extinct.
"We found that instead of recent wolves being closest to domestic dogs, ancient European wolves were directly related to them," Wayne said.
"This brings the genetic record into agreement with the archaeological record. Europe is where the oldest dogs are found."
The dog fossils used in the study are dated to 19,000 to 32,000 years ago, around the time that hunter-gatherers were living in Europe.
Women made most of the oldest-known cave art paintings, suggests a new analysis of ancient handprints. Most scholars had assumed these ancient artists were predominantly men, so the finding overturns decades of archaeological dogma.
Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University analyzed hand stencils found in eight cave sites in France and Spain. By comparing the relative lengths of certain fingers, Snow determined that three-quarters of the handprints were female….
Snow’s study began more than a decade ago when he came across the work of John Manning, a British biologist who had found that men and women differ in the relative lengths of their fingers: Women tend to have ring and index fingers of about the same length, whereas men’s ring fingers tend to be longer than their index fingers….
For the new study, out this week in the journal American Antiquity, Snow examined hundreds of stencils in European caves, but most were too faint or smudged to use in the analysis. The study includes measurements from 32 stencils, including 16 from the cave of El Castillo in Spain, 6 from the caves of Gargas in France, and 5 from Pech Merle.
Snow ran the numbers through an algorithm that he had created based on a reference set of hands from people of European descent who lived near his university. Using several measurements—such as the length of the fingers, the length of the hand, the ratio of ring to index finger, and the ratio of index finger to little finger—the algorithm could predict whether a given handprint was male or female. Because there is a lot of overlap between men and women, however, the algorithm wasn’t especially precise: It predicted the sex of Snow’s modern sample with about 60 percent accuracy.
Luckily for Snow, that wasn’t a problem for the analysis of the prehistoric handprints. As it turned out—much to his surprise—the hands in the caves were much more sexually dimorphic than modern hands, meaning that there was little overlap in the various hand measurements….
Snow’s analysis determined that 24 of the 32 hands—75 percent—were female.
Some experts are skeptical. Several years ago, evolutionary biologist R. Dale Guthrie performed a similar analysis of Paleolithic handprints. His work—based mostly on differences in the width of the palm and the thumb—found that the vast majority of handprints came from adolescent boys.
Protective eyes of Horus adorn bracelets found on Pharaoh Sheshonq II’s mummy, Treasures of Tanis (via artemisdreaming)
[W]hat exactly makes honey such a special food?
The answer is ascomplex as honey’s flavor–you don’t get a food source with no expiration date without a whole slew of factors working in perfect harmony.
The first comes from the chemical make-up of honey itself. Honey is, first and foremost, a sugar. Sugars are hygroscopic, a term that means they contain very little water in their natural state but can readily suck in moisture if left unsealed. As Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at Univeristy of California, Davis explains, “Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially.” What Harris points out represents an important feature of honey’s longevity: for honey to spoil, there needs to be something inside of it that can spoil. With such an inhospitable environment, organisms can’t survive long enough within the jar of honey to have the chance to spoil.
It was a stunning discovery: the first unlooted imperial tomb of the Wari, the ancient civilization that built South America’s earliest empire between 700 and 1000 A.D…. [Milosz] Giersz and project co-director Roberto Pimentel Nita kept their discovery secret. Digging quietly for months in one of the burial chambers, the archaeologists collected more than a thousand artifacts, including sophisticated gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes, and gold tools, along with the bodies of three Wari queens and 60 other individuals, some of whom were probably human sacrifices….
The Wari lords have long been overshadowed by the later Inca, whose achievements were extensively documented by their Spanish conquerors. But in the 8th and 9th centuries A.D., the Wari built an empire that spanned much of present-day Peru. Their Andean capital, Huari, became one of the world’s great cities. At its zenith, Huari boasted a population conservatively estimated at about 40,000 people. Paris, by comparison, had just 25,000 residents at the time.
Just how the Wari forged this empire, whether by conquest or persuasion, is a long-standing archaeological mystery….
As the archaeologists carefully removed the fill, they discovered rows of human bodies buried in a seated position and wrapped in poorly preserved textiles. Nearby, in three small side chambers, were the remains of three Wari queens and many of their prized possessions, including weaving tools made of gold. “So what were these first ladies doing at the imperial court? They were weaving cloth with gold instruments,” says Makowski.
Mourners had also interred many other treasures in the room: inlaid gold and silver ear-ornaments, silver bowls, bronze ritual axes, a rare alabaster drinking cup, knives, coca leaf containers, brilliantly painted ceramics from many parts of the Andean world, and other precious objects.
Researchers from the University of Chicago and several international institutions found that several groups of genes in humans and dogs—including those related to diet and digestion, neurological processes, and disease—have been evolving in parallel for thousands of years.
This parallel evolution was likely driven by the shared environments of humans and dogs, wrote the authors in a study published May 14 in the journalNature Communications.
"As domestication is often associated with large increases in population density and crowded living conditions, these ‘unfavorable’ environments might be the selective pressure that drove the rewiring of both species," the authors surmise…. The study authors suggest that dogs were domesticated 32,000 years ago; that’s much earlier than current estimates, which place domestication at around 15,000 to 16,000 years ago.
View from atop the Great Pyramid at Giza (via Mail Online)
The first Australians thus arrived about 45,000 years ago. After that, it took until 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip, RN, turned up in Sydney Cove with a cargo of ne’er-do-wells to found the colony of New South Wales, for gene flow between Australia and the rest of the world to be resumed.
This storyline was called into question a few years ago by the discovery, in some aboriginal Australian men, of Y chromosomes that looked as though they had come from India. But the details were unclear. Now a study by Irina Pugach of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, and her colleagues, which has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has sorted the matter out. About 4,000 years before Captain Phillip and his merry men arrived to turn the aboriginals’ world upside down, it seems that a group of Indian adventurers chose to call the place home. Unlike their European successors, these earlier settlers were assimilated by the locals. And they brought with them both technological improvements and one of Australia’s most iconic animals.
In the fourth century A.D., a bishop named Nicholas transformed the city of Myra, on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey, into a Christian capital…. After some 800 years as an important pilgrimage site in the Byzantine Empire it vanished — buried under 18 feet of mud from the rampaging Myros River. All that remained was the Church of St. Nicholas, parts of a Roman amphitheater and tombs cut into the rocky hills.
But now, 700 years later, Myra is reappearing.
Archaeologists first detected the ancient city in 2009 using ground-penetrating radar that revealed anomalies whose shape and size suggested walls and buildings. Over the next two years they excavated a small, stunning 13th-century chapel sealed in an uncanny state of preservation. Carved out of one wall is a cross that, when sunlit, beams its shape onto the altar. Inside is a vibrant fresco that is highly unusual for Turkey.
The chapel’s structural integrity suggests that Myra may be largely intact underground. “This means we can find the original city, like Pompeii,” said Nevzat Cevik, an archaeologist at Akdeniz University who is director of the excavations at Myra, beneath the modern town of Demre.
Mark Jackson, a Byzantine archaeologist at Newcastle University in England, who was not involved in the research, called the site “fantastic,” and added,“This level of preservation under such deep layers of mud suggests an extremely well-preserved archive of information.”
Occupied since at least the fourth century B.C., Myra was one of the most powerful cities in Lycia, with a native culture that had roots in the Bronze Age. It was invaded by Persians, Hellenized by Greeks, and eventually controlled by Romans.