Neanderthals' strong-arm tactics revealed

10:24 21 November 02

Exclusive from New Scientist Print Edition


Neanderthals and early humans knew how to make spears - but did not know how to throw them. Instead, they had a limited hunting strategy, and used their spears merely to stab animals they had already trapped or ambushed.

This finding by a team of anthropologists provides an important insight into a defining moment in our ancestors' development, when early humans evolved from hunters who killed at close-quarters to sophisticated killers capable of bringing down large beasts from a distance.

The first direct evidence of thrown spears dates back to about 19,000 years ago. That is the age of the first known atlatl, or spear thrower - a device that allows a long, flexible dart to be thrown accurately at a range of 35 metres or more. Stone points that look like they were designed to be used with thrown spears date back to about 35,000 years ago.

But other evidence seemed to support the idea that spear throwing evolved much earlier. Analysis of the arm bones of Neanderthals, who lived between 230,000 and 30,000 years ago, and early humans living at the same time show that both were much stronger in one arm than the other; the difference is as great as that seen in professional tennis players today. That suggests they threw spears, rather than using both arms to thrust them.


But Steven Churchill at Duke University in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, thinks this reasoning is flawed. A two-handed spear thrust will put far more stress on the dominant arm holding the back end of the spear than the front arm, he says. This would explain the differences in strength found in fossil bones.

To test this idea, Churchill and his colleagues Daniel Schmitt and William Hylander initially measured the dimensions of a number of Neanderthal humerus (upper arm) bones. This showed they are thicker front to back than side to side, which is what would be expected if the bones had adapted to cope with an asymmetric force.

Later humans who were known to have used spears had rounder humeri, which suggests that throwing a spear distributes force relatively evenly along the bones.


To find out exactly what forces are involved in thrusting a spear - rather than throwing one - the researchers fitted an aluminium pole with two sets of sensors, one at the front and another at the back. They then asked student volunteers to thrust the pole into a pad, and measured the forces that this generated.

On average, the volunteers generated 70 per cent more force with the dominant back arm than with the front arm. In extreme cases, the force on one arm was six times that on the other. Each volunteer also oriented their humerus in a way consistent with the thickening measured in Neanderthal arms.

Churchill says that using the thrusting technique just once a week would probably be enough to produce the bone deformities seen in Neanderthals. Some models suggest that Neanderthals would have had to kill their favoured prey - reindeer, elk, horse and bison - several times a week to support a family.

Journal reference: Journal of Archaeological Science (vol 30, p 103)


Kurt Kleiner

This story published on Wed, Nov 13, 2002


Prehistoric forest discovered off Key West -- on sea bed





Research divers and marine archaeologists expect to find shells, rocks and remnants of shipwrecks when they excavate areas of the ocean bottom.

But pine cones, tree branches and charred limbs -- thought to be about 8,400 years old -- were an unexpected and intriguing treasure awaiting archaeologist Corey Malcom, who spent much of the summer underwater in search of the remains of the Henrietta Marie, a British slave ship that sank 35 miles off Key West in 1700.

In August, Malcom, who is director of archaeology at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, was joined underwater by George Robb, founder of RPM Nautical Foundation and financial supporter of the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society.

Robb was diving in about 40 feet of water as the search for the remaining cannons and other parts of the Henrietta Marie continued. The divers had previously surveyed various sites with electronic equipment able to locate objects that lie covered in sand on the ocean floor.

As RPM and museum divers checked out several "hits" that came from the equipment, they were particularly interested in one that was strong and a bit unusual. Upon first entering the water, nothing but sand was visible to them, so Malcom received permission from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to begin excavating the area. Previous permits only allowed surveying and examination.

Divers cleared a 2-by-3-meter area on the ocean floor and carefully began sifting through a thick mud that replaces sand underneath the water. About 10 inches down, they found a few small, glass beads that led them to believe they were close to more Henrietta Marie ruins, as hundreds of similar glass beads have been found at the main wreck site.

As the divers continued to work, they laid aside black and gray rocks, thinking they could be ballast rocks from the ship, and still hoped for large pieces of the shipwreck.

"Then George Robb found a piece of pine that still smelled like pine," Malcom said, explaining that the workers initially thought the charred wood had been used as firewood on board the ship. "But as we continued to explore, it didn't feel like a shipwreck anymore."

The divers had wandered into a section of prehistoric Florida that had once been dry land during the last Ice Age, Malcom said.

When the Ice Age ended, the ocean levels rose sharply for thousands of years, covering much of the land in seawater and burying pine forests under about five feet of sand and sediment and more than 40 feet of water.

Radiocarbon analysis showed the pine cones and burnt wood to be about 8,400 years old, but the burnt characteristic remained a mystery until it was learned that the black and gray rocks also had been burnt and were identified by sanctuary scientist Harold Hudson as fire-altered limestone.

Hudson's theory was confirmed by geologist Eugene Shinn, leading the researchers to believe that a forest fire had, at some point, swept through the prehistoric forest.

While no signs of humanity were revealed in the initial findings, Malcom is not ruling out the possibility of finding some.

In the meantime, he is hoping to continue to work in cooperation with geologists and paleo-ecologists, who are more familiar with the underwater findings.

Representatives from the sanctuary also are interested in learning more about the land mass that once stretched more than 30 miles away from the shores that are now Florida.

"It's pretty incredible that the sea level rose that much, and definitely leads to some interesting questions that we hope people will pursue," said Dave Score, who works for the sanctuary and often deals with submerged cultural resources.

"Obviously, our focus is on shipwrecks, but I also think our mission was to discover, and we've certainly done that," Malcom said, carefully wrapping a pine cone in a saltwater-soaked paper towel until it could be properly conserved


Studies Seek Origin of Domestic Dogs

Thursday November 21, 2002 7:30 PM



Domesticated dogs originated from wolves in East Asia nearly 15,000 years ago, then traveled with humans through Europe and across the Bering Strait to America, according to a pair of studies presented Thursday.

Swedish and Chinese scientists analyzed the DNA of 654 dogs from Europe, Asia, Africa and North America and found that almost all dogs shared a common gene pool.

A higher genetic diversity among East Asian dogs suggested that people there were the first to domesticate dogs from wolves, the scientists said in a study presented in the new issue of the journal Science.

``Most earlier guesses have focused on the Middle East as the place of origin for dogs, based on few known facts - a small amount of archaeological evidence from the region, and the fact that several other animals were domesticated there,'' lead researcher Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm said.

A separate study by researchers in the United States, Latin America and Sweden said dogs with DNA linked to Eurasian wolves were present in the Americas before the arrival of European explorers in the 15th century. That suggests the first settlers in America, believed to have crossed the Bering Strait from Asia 12,000-14,000 years ago, brought domesticated dogs with them, the study said.

Uppsala University researcher Carles Vila said the presence of dogs might explain why the settlers spread through the Americas relatively quickly.

``If dogs somehow helped in the hunt, then that could be much more efficient. The humans were in a new environment, they didn't know what species they would find,'' Vila said.

The two studies disagreed on when people first started domesticating dogs from wolves. The earliest remains of a dog is a jawbone from Germany that is 14,000 years old. The Swedish-Chinese research team said DNA analyses, coupled with archaeological finds, pointed to a point of origin about 15,000 years ago.

But Vila said his findings that dogs arrived with the first settlers in America indicated humans and dogs probably lived together in Asia long before.

The close interaction with humans has made dogs smarter than other animals, according to a third study also presented in Science.

Researchers in the United States and Germany said dogs were much better than wolves and chimpanzees at finding food hidden in one of two containers using social cues from humans.

Experimenters reached toward, gazed at or marked a food container with a wooden block. The dogs - even puppies - outperformed the other animals, indicating the domestication process had made them more skilled at understanding human communication, the study said.


Ancient dwelling found in quarry may be 4000 years old



THE earliest known house in Scotland is understood to have been unearthed in Dunbar, East Lothian.

Archaeologists believe the remains of the house on the site of a limestone quarry dates from the Mesolithic era of the hunter-gatherers between 8000BC and 4000BC.

The site could pre-date the Skara Brae settlement in Orkney which is from around 2000BC in the Neolithic Age.

But the substantial structure might never have been found had planners not insisted the site be surveyed by archaeologists before Lefarge Cement could begin quarrying.

The discovery of holes to take wooden posts for a teepee-like structure, suggest for the first time that the hunter-gatherers built semi-permanent structures from which to roam the shore and countryside in search of food.

Previous sites dating from the Mesolithic era have been found, including shell middens on the west coast of Scotland. A number of small hunting camps scattered with stone tools have also been found.

However no other sites apart from Mount Sandal in Northern Ireland show evidence of serious construction methods.

First indications of the site's age emerged with the discovery of thousands of flint shards, the remnants of stone tool manufacture, the tools themselves and burned hazelnut shells.

But significantly the discovery of the inward-sloping 8in diameter post holes indicated that the partially natural hollow around which they had been sunk was more than an overnight shelter, according to John Gooder, the project manager for the Edinburgh-based AOC Archaeology.

He said: "Considerable effort was involved in building this round house so perhaps our Mesolithic family spent a relatively lengthy stay in the area, or perhaps returned to the house at particular times of the year over a lengthy period.

"This contrasts strongly with the prevailing view of Mesolithic settlements as little more than temporary camps scattered over a hunting territory."

Dr Alan Savile, curator of archaeology at the National Museums of Scotland, described the find as "extremely significant" and added: "We may well be looking at Scotland's earliest house."

Hunter-gatherers were the original environmentalists. They knew how to burn a stretch of moorland to improve hunting or stimulate the re-growth of edible plants in much the same way grouse moors are burned today to encourage the growth of fresh heather. It is still unknown why or how they managed to turn to farming as a way of life.


Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Thursday, November 21, 2002

China's Boat-building Dates Back 7,500 Years: Archaeologists

Chinese archaeologists have unearthed a wooden boat dating back at least 7,500 years in Xiaoshan City of east China's Zhejiang Province. It is the most ancient boat ever discovered in China.


"The discovery of a boat this ancient is a rare event in the archaeological history of the world," said Jiang Leping, a researcher with the Zhejiang Institute of Cultural Relic Archaeology.


Great Britain discovered a wooden oar used 7,500 years ago, but failed to find any boat remains.


The dugout canoe, two meters long and 70 centimeters broad at its widest place with a 15-centimeter-deep hold, has two spiles, or wooden pegs, shaped like tree stumps on each side.


Mao Zhaoxi, a professor in the History Department of Zhejiang University, considers that the canoe is quite valuable for research on the history of boat-building used by human beings in the Neolithic Age.


According to this historian, a boat dating back about 5,000 years was excavated earlier this year in Suzhou City, in east China's Jiangsu Province. However, the newly-discovered canoe confirms that the country's boat-building history extends back an additional 2,000 years.


A four meter-wide ravine, once a silt-filled river, was also excavated near the site where the canoe was found. In view of the fact that several oars and some wood have been found in the ravine, experts believe that ancient people used to build boats along the river.


The canoe excavation site, also known as the Kuahuqiao ruins, contains the most ancient neolithic cultural relics in Zhejiang. Over the past decade, numerous pieces of precious pottery, stoneware and jade articles dating back 7,000 to 8,000 years have been discovered there.


Ballard Charts Course In Search Of Ancient Shipwrecks

Mystic-Based Exploration Crews Heads To Egyptian Coast

POSTED: 3:18 p.m. EST November 15, 2002

UPDATED: 3:24 p.m. EST November 15, 2002



Undersea explorer Robert Ballard's next adventure will take him to the coast of Egypt in search of 2,000-year-old shipwrecks.

Ballard said the expedition, scheduled for the summer, will take him around Alexandria, Egypt, and the mouth of the Nile River, up through the Black Sea and parts of the Mediterranean. Alexandria was a popular trading destination in ancient times, and Ballard said that ships from various cultures might have sunk there.

"We're going to the oldest port in hopes of finding the oldest ships. Whoever had something to trade would have traded with the Egyptians," Ballard said.


Ballard is president of the Mystic-based Institute for Exploration at the Mystic Aquarium. Exhibits and live broadcasts at the aquarium will track Ballard's travels.

The work came about through National Geographic, which has sponsored many of Ballard's trips. He will team up for the project with Egyptologist Zahi Hawass.

Ballard said that while he has received tentative approval for the work, he is waiting for the necessary approvals from Egypt and the U.S. State Department.

On previous trips, he used remotely operated vehicles equipped with sonar and cameras to locate and explore wrecks. On this trip, Ballard plans to use an underwater excavation vehicle called Hercules, designed and built at the Institute for Exploration specifically for deep-water archaeology.

Ballard will work aboard the Navy research vessel Knorr, which he used to find the Titanic and many other wrecks.

Ballard also plans to explore a Byzantine-era ship in the Black Sea and a third-century B.C. Greek ship he found last summer off the coast of Bulgaria. He plans to travel to the ancient Mediterranean port city of Ashkelon in search of Phoenician ships.

"With this many projects we'll hit a home run somewhere," Ballard said. "The question is, can we hit five home runs?"


For the latest news and updates on this story, stay tuned to NBC 30 Connecticut News and NBC30.com



2,000 year-old terra-cotta warriors unearthed in eastern China

Story Filed: Thursday, November 14, 2002 10:51 PM EST

NANJING, Nov 15, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX)


Chinese archaeologists have unearthed 196 terra-cotta warriors dating back to the Han Dynasty 206 BC-AD220) in Xuzhou City of east China's Jiangsu Province.

"This is the largest discovery since 1984," said an archaeologist who took part in the excavation.

More than 2,000 terra-cotta warriors were unearthed from four pits at Shizi Mountain in Xuzhou in 1984. A museum was then built on the site.

Thirty-odd terra-cotta warriors were found last July, which led to further excavation, said Qiu Yongsheng, in charge of the administration of ancient tombs at Shizi Mountain.

He said most of the 196 warriors are well-preserved and feature similar dress, with a long skirt and protective padding on the legs. The head, neckline, shoulders and the lower hem of the skirt of some of the warriors are rough and vermilion in color, a typical artistic style of the Han Dynasty.

Some warriors had their hair up in a knot, a hairstyle rarely seen on previously-discovered terra-cotta warriors. The warriors measure 43 cm in height and feature three gestures, as if holding three different kinds of weaponry.

The newly-unearthed terra-cotta warriors are facing in a different direction from those discovered previously, leading scientists to believe that they were observing a special funeral ritual, Qiu said.

Copyright 2002 XINHUA NEWS AGENCY.

Copyright 2002, Xinhua News Agency, all rights reserved.


Coins found at Ein Gedi cave refer to Simon Bar-Kochba

By Dalia Shehori

From correspondents in Jerusalem, Israel

November 19, 2002


A cave survey in Israel's Judean Desert has found papyrus scrolls, coins and arrow heads from the time of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans in the second century, archaeologists said.


The scrolls, while believed to be less significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the region in 1947, will shed light on the time of the revolt led by Simon Bar Kochba, said Zvika Tzuk, an archaeologist for the National Parks Authority.

The artifacts were found in the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, near the Dead Sea, by a team of archaeologists headed by Professor Hanan Eshel from Bar Ilan University and Amos Frumkin of Jerusalem's Hebrew University.

Historians believe the rebels fled to the desert after the Romans crushed the revolt, hiding out in hillside caves dotted throughout the rugged terrain.

Rappelling into a cave, archaeologists found the papyrus scrolls as well as coins bearing the name "Shimon," a reference to Bar Kochba, the leader of a 132-135 rebellion, the parks authority said.

Archaeologists also found a dozen wooden arrows and metal arrowheads, and scraps of cloth.

The scrolls, as yet unopened, have been given to the Israel Museum, where they will be researched.

Between 1947-65, archaeologists discovered hundreds of ancient Jewish documents at Qumran, the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

Decades later, archaeologists believed all the scrolls in the area had been found until the discovery of a number of documents near Jericho between 1986-93.

"After two generations where we didn't discover anything, this find is very important," Tzuk said.


The Associated Press


Rare archaeological discoveries were unearthed in Ein Gedi nature reserve last week, in a small cave capable of holding eight men at most. Among them were two papyri that researchers hope will shed new light on the Bar-Kochba revolt against the Romans in 132-135 CE.


The papyri, each of which had been folded into a square no more than four or five centimeters on a side, have been sent to the Israel Museum's laboratories for chemical processing and deciphering.


Until the text can be read, the evidence that these scrolls relate to the revolt led by Simon Bar-Kochba will remain circumstantial. Eleven rare coins from the days of the revolt were found near the papyri, and on three of them the word "Simon" appears clearly. Such coins were only found in the possession of Jews.


One of the papyri is written in Greek; the language of the other has not yet been determined (the most likely choices are Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic). Dr. Amos Frumkin of Hebrew University's Geography Department said that the papyrus written in Greek, which was the international language of the time, was probably a private administrative or economic document belonging to one of the people hiding in the cave, such as a proof of purchase for a field or a document relating to a marriage or divorce.


He said that any such document could shed new light on the revolt, about which very little is known, as it was not documented by any contemporary historian - unlike the first revolt against the Romans a century earlier, which was described in detail in Josephus's "The Jewish Wars."


No bones were found in the cave, leading Frumkin to conclude that the rebels who hid in the cave succeeded in escaping from it. However, he noted, there could be another interpretation: "They could also have been captured."


The cave also contained a metal-tipped staff and 12 wooden arrows, some of which had a distinctive head of a type used by both the Romans and Bar-Kochba's army. "We once found three arrowheads like these in a cave at Nahal Tze'elim and it caused extraordinary excitement. Here we have 12," said Dr. Zvika Tsuk, an archaeologist for the Parks and Nature Authority - which was responsible, together with the Antiquities Authority, for approving the survey that made the discovery.


The survey, led by Frumkin and Professor Hanan Eshel, the head of Bar-Ilan University's Department of Land of Israel Studies, is supposed to encompass all the caves in the cliffs that separate the Judean Desert from the Dead Sea. Stanford University in California has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to finance the project.


The current cave, which was discovered by one of Frumkin's students, Ro'i Porat (the son of former National Religious Party MK Hanan Porat), also contains a sizable amount of pottery and dozens of scraps of woven cloth, the largest of which is 5x10 centimeters.


Frumkin said that most of the cloth scraps were once clothing, and that the weaving is very fine. Some of the cloth was dyed, and the desert dryness enabled the colors to be preserved for almost 2,000 years. "This is a unique phenomenon in the world - that in the Judean Desert it is possible to find organic material from this period that has been so well preserved," Frumkin said.


The findings also included scraps of braided rope that were apparently once part of mats or baskets, wheat and barley husks and hundreds of date and olive pits. "It is clear that people prepared emergency foodstocks for themselves in the cave," Frumkin said. "They apparently prepared them in advance, so that if problems arose, they could hide and not go hungry."


The survey, which began two years ago and has so far covered a 10-kilometer stretch of cliffs, started with aerial photographs of the region. This was followed by a ground survey that discovered some 200 caves. In four of these caves, weapons and coins from the Bar-Kochba era were found.


According to Frumkin, the last discovery of written documents from the Bar-Kochba period was made a decade ago. "There were those who said the desert had been cleaned out, that there were no more documents," he said. "Today it is clear that this is not correct, and that the desert is full of caves that have not yet been investigated."


David Ratner adds:


A recent archaeological dig in Tirat Hacarmel near Haifa, conducted before a new road was paved, uncovered two interesting findings from a different period - an architectural structure that has been preserved almost intact for the last 1,700 years and the gravesite of someone who was evidently an important personage, possibly even someone considered a saint.


Michael Eisenberg, one of the leaders of the dig, said the findings could force a reevaluation of the exact location of the ancient Roman city known to have been situated in the area. This city was abandoned at the end of the Byzantine period for unknown reasons and then resettled during the Crusader era.


Climate threat to English gardens

Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 09:26 GMT


Global warming could see the demise of some of the best-loved features of English country gardens, conservationists have warned.

Historic and public gardens and parks could be seriously under threat, with horticulturalists forced to re-design them to suit changing conditions.

Domestic gardeners could find it increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy lawn within the next 50-80 years.

The findings come in the first major report to look at the impact of climate change on UK gardens and the horticulture industry.

Researchers say global warming could lead to a range of sub-tropical plants and tropical fruits becoming a common sight in the UK for the first time.

For the heritage sector, the greatest challenge will be the long-term care of historic layouts, plant collections and planting effects, originally developed in climatic conditions that will no longer exist.

The report shows current climate trends are leading to reduced frosts, earlier springs, higher than average temperatures all year round, increased winter rainfall and hotter, drier summers which could increase the risk of droughts.

Water management

Dr Andrew Colquhoun, director-general of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), said: "Gardeners are adept at coping with the weather and the likely climate change over the next 80 years will present exciting opportunities as well as challenges.

"While there will be greater opportunities to grow exotic fruits and sub-tropical plants, increased winter rainfall will present difficulties for Mediterranean species which dislike water-logging.

"Careful irrigation techniques as well as wise water management will be essential for all gardeners including those at the RHS."

The report, Gardening In The Global Greenhouse: The Impacts Of Climate Change On Gardens In The UK, was commissioned by the National Trust and the RHS.

It was produced in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Anglian Water, English Heritage, the Forestry Commission, Notcutts Nurseries, The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the UK Climate Impacts Programme.

National Trust director-general Fiona Reynolds said: "The trust knows that climate change will affect all our properties.

"We are already seeing the effects of extreme and unexpected weather on our wildlife, historic buildings, rivers and lakes, coast and gardens.

"We are working with others to evaluate these impacts and respond in the most positive way.

"We have to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause climate change and at the same time find new ways of living and working that can adapt to an evolving and more unpredictable climate.

"Our work on gardens gives us all a signpost to these changes - this is an invaluable call for action."