Neanderthals 'not close family'

By Paul Rincon

BBC News Online science staff


The Neanderthals were not close relatives of modern humans and represent a single species quite distinct from our own, scientists say.


3D comparisons of Neanderthal, modern human and other primate skulls confirm theories that the ancient people were a breed apart, the researchers report.

Others claim Neanderthals contributed significantly to the modern gene pool.

Details of the research are published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


"If we accept that Neanderthals were not the same species, what we're really saying is they did not contribute at all to modern human populations and in particular modern Europeans," co-author Dr Katerina Harvati of New York University, US, told BBC News Online.


Researchers collected data on 15 standard "landmarks", or features, on over 1,000 primate skulls. Computer software transformed this data into sets of 3D coordinates for each skull and then superimposed all these sets on top of one another.


Using statistical analysis, they compared differences between modern human and Neanderthal skulls with those found between and within 12 primate species.

The results support the view that Neanderthals were indeed a distinct species.

However, other researchers view Neanderthals as a sub-species or population of Homo sapiens that passed on genes to modern humans either by evolving into them or by interbreeding with them.


The new research shows that differences between Neanderthals and the modern human populations studied are smallest in early Europeans.


Dr Harvati believes this has little significance because the distance is only slightly smaller than that between Neanderthals and living humans.


But John Hawks, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, disagrees: "It does perhaps suggest that they have some characteristics in common," he said.



The name means 'Man from the Neander Valley'

These human 'cousins' lived 190,000-28,000 years ago

They lived in Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East

Skulls had large noses and prominent brow ridges

Body shape was stocky and muscular

If interbreeding with Homo sapiens occurred it was limited


"It really is an impressive collection of work," said Dr James Ahern of the University of Wyoming.


But Dr Ahern added that, while the Neanderthal specimens used in the study are all male, several of the early modern Europeans the authors compare them with are female skulls.


"We know that males and females differ greatly in their anatomy, and males will look more archaic than females.


"Because of this, I think the difference they observe between the Neanderthals and the Upper Palaeolithic sample is exaggerated," he explained.


"My own view is that the rate of evolutionary change was great enough that when we compare samples we are going to find that they were different because of the time," said Dr Hawks.


"[Neanderthals] existed at an earlier time and hadn't yet acquired all the characteristics that we have today."


This view is at odds with the single origin, or Out of Africa 2, theory, which postulates that all living humans expanded from a single, small population that evolved in Africa more than 150,000 years ago.


As modern humans left their African homeland, they replaced "archaic" humans living in other parts of the world.


Neanderthals appeared in Europe around 190,000 years ago, characterised by a stocky physique ideal for conserving heat in an Ice Age climate.


Shortly after modern humans arrived in Europe 35,000 years ago, Neanderthals disappear from the fossil record.


Studies of mitochondrial DNA from Neanderthal bones also suggest they had little affinity to modern populations.


But some researchers believe this does not exclude the possibility that interbreeding occurred.


Dr Magnus Nordborg, of Lund University in Sweden, has calculated that even if Neanderthals had comprised 25% of the population after merging with modern humans, their DNA might be impossible to detect today.



A Thousand Relics Found in Egypt

Jan 28, 04 | 11:57 am


A French-Egyptian archaeology team has retrieved more than 1000 artifacts, including statues and busts of pharaonic gods and goddesses, from the Mediterranean Sea floor off Egypt's northern coast of Alexandria, according to the Egyptian antiquities officials earlier this week. The 2003 Abu Qir Bay Department of Archeology Mission under the Supreme Council of Antiquities and the European Institute for Underwater Archeology unearthed artifacts during archaeological surveys which helped define the topography around the sanctuary site or the temple of Heracles. Dating back to the third and fifth centuries B.C. the finds reveal a cult that worshipped the ancient pharaonic deity Amon and his son Konshu in a bid to preserve the legitimacy of the Ptolemaic reign.


"The discovery includes tools and containers used in religious rituals," said Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, a senior official in the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Quantities of ritual basins and cult offering objects laid on the sea floor on the channel situated north of the temple site. The French mission, led by Franck Goddio, has left for Paris, Abdel Maqsoud said, and its members could not immediately be reached for comment.


"The most impressive and beautiful item is a second century AD diorite bust of an unidentified person with long hair, which some believe (could be) the Nile god, Hapy," Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities, said in a statement.


"Hapy must have been the pre-dynastic name for the Nile, but in later years became the name of the god of the great river; likewise the god of fertility symbolizing abundance of water, food and annual flooding of the Nile."


Farouk Hosni, Minister of Culture declared that the location of the discovery was previously the Temple of Heracles in Herculean, the ancient sunken city discovered in May 2001 by Goddio's team. The find included busts of Egyptian deities Isis, Osiris and Bastet.


All of the artifacts have been removed to be cleaned of seaweeds and salts and to be restored, the Supreme Council's deputy said.


The French team working in Abu Qir bay in the port city of Alexandria previously has found the 2000-year-old ruins of Cleopatra's palace and the flagship of Napoleon's fleet, L'Orient, which sank Aug. 1, 1798, in a battle with the British fleet of Admiral Horatio Nelson.


At press time, Goddio has been traveling around Europe and could not be reached for further comments.


However Dr. Ashraf Sabri, owner-operator of the Alexandria Dive on the Eastern Harbor next to the Scoot Club Anfoushy in Alexandria confirmed that artifacts are still being retrieved by divers from the eight-meter depth. Sabri's team offers tourists the opportunity to visit the site through the one-day archeology diving (one dive of 45 minutes at a depth of five meters) to the Abu Qir Heracleon city and Napoleon fleet wrecks, to the Antirodos Island or the 'Cleopatra and Marc Anthony 'underwater city with side-visits to the submerged World War II fighter plane.


Additional dives include the site of the Pharos Island, the site of the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria dotted with sphinxes, obelisks, columns and amphorae found within eight meters below the surface.


By Hazel Heyer





Pollen traces shipwrecks' roots

Plants give boats a biological birth certificate.

26 January 2004



How do you work out where an ancient ship was originally built? Try looking at the pollen caught in the joints of the wreck, suggests a French ecologist.

Serge Muller, of the University of Montpellier II in France, says the range of pollen found on a shipwreck gives a snapshot of the plant species local to the boat's birthplace. The sticky resin used to seal a boat's hull can catch and trap pollen, giving the boat a biological 'birth certificate'.


"I see tremendous potential for this method," says Robert Hohlfelder, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "We're always searching for new ways to investigate shipwrecks. At the moment it's almost impossible to do."

Muller has used the method to trace the origins of a shipwreck off the south coast of France. The Baie-de-l'Amitié, a 2,000-year-old wreck that now lies near the port of Cap d'Agde, was constructed east of Italy, he concludes.


If that is true, it might force historians to revise some of their ideas about ancient transport. Archaeologists had thought that small boats such as the Baie-de-l'Amitié were only used to carry freight over small distances, says Muller. But his analysis indicates that it travelled clear across the Mediterranean.


Hohlfelder says he wouldn't be surprised if the ships had travelled the distance to carry grapes or wine between ports. "Before the wine industry developed in France, a lot of wine was imported from Italy," he says.


Pollen is a good detective's tool, says pollen expert Madeline Harley of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, UK. The grains can be preserved for millions of years, and have highly characteristic features. "It's like a thumbprint for a species," she says.


Archaeologists can gain some clues to a ship's background by dating its timber. But it is hard to extract clues about the location of the shipyard from these beams, as the wood was often imported from distant sources.


Local pollen, however, would become incorporated into the ship as it is being built, says Muller. The Baie-de-l'Amitié contains both wood and pollen from Platanus, a tree that is restricted to the eastern Mediterranean. The presence of pollen from weeds - such as Haplophyllum, most species of which are found east of Italy - also supports Muller's theory of the boat's origins.


Hohlfelder hopes to use Muller's method to pinpoint where the Persians constructed the fleet with which they invaded Greece in the fifth century BC. More than 1,000 of these ships are thought to lie 100 metres beneath the Aegean Sea. "But we just don't know where the shipyards were," Hohlfelder says.



1.         Muller, S. D. Palynological study of antique shipwrecks from the western Mediterranean Sea, France. Journal of Archaeological Science, 31, 343 - 349, doi:10.1016/j.jas.2003.09.005 (2004). |Article|




Carrickmines appeal given priority

28/01/2004 - 6:10:13 pm


An appeal against the construction of a roundabout over the medieval remains of Carrickmines Castle, Co Dublin, must be heard within the next few days, a court ruled today.


It was agreed in the Supreme Court that all work at the archaeological site would be stopped immediately until a judicial review is completed.


However Chief Justice Ronan Keane stressed that the appeal must be brought before the High Court as a matter of urgency to minimise the delay.


Campaigner Michael Mulcreevy, from Co Kerry, was yesterday granted leave to appeal the decision made by the Irish government to dismantle historic castle ruins to make way for the M50 motorway roundabout.


The Supreme Court overturned a High Court Order made three weeks ago which had rejected Mr Mulcreevy’s request to appeal against the controversial plans.


The appeal was the last-ditch attempt by protesters who have campaigned tirelessly to prevent the mediaeval remains being destroyed.


Mr Mulcreevy claims that environment minister Martin Cullen was acting as judge and jury by forging ahead with the national roads building programme while at the same time allowing a national monument to be destroyed.


The court heard that since an injunction banning any work at the site was lifted in December, parts of the remains had already been dug up, but they will now be conserved pending the outcome of the appeal.


Outside the court Mr Mulcreevy said: “The sooner they start work building a road around the castle the better.”


His legal costs, estimated at €100,000 awarded by the High Court earlier this month were discharged.


Dun Laoghaire County Council owned the land where the proposed development was taking place and a joint consent between the council and Mr Cullen was given on July 3, 2003.


On the same day the minister made a National Monuments (Approval of Joint Consent) order which approved his own consent.


Mr Cullen has argued that all proper procedures have been followed and that the M50 roundabout is in the public interest and cannot be moved.


The National Roads Authority and Dun Laoghaire County Council argue that because so much money has already been spent employing archaeologists to investigate the site, the road should go ahead.


It is believed work would have to start at the castle site by April if the road is to be completed by its target date of September 2005.



Carrickmines decision overturned


2004-01-29 17:13:03+00


New legislation must be passed before further work to demolish the Medieval remains of a castle can be carried out, a court ruled today.


The High Court overturned the Government's approval to build on the archaeological site of Carrickmines Castle, Co Dublin, quashing two orders and declaring them unconstitutional.


Campaigner Michael Mulcreevy had appealed against the joint Government decision to destruct the remains in order to build an M50 motorway roundabout over the site.


And, after a long-running dispute, he could eventually claim success today as Judge Nicholas Kearins ruled that there was a "technical glitch" in Government orders passed on the National Monuments Act.


He declared that the Government had acted outside their powers in approving consent of the building work and said new laws must be passed without delay.


Mr Mulcreevy claimed that Environment Minister Martin Cullen had acted as judge and jury by forging ahead with the national roads building programme while at the same time allowing a national monument to be destroyed.


Dun Laoghaire County Council owned the land where the proposed development was taking place and a joint consent between the council and Mr Cullen was given on July 3, 2003.


On the same day the minister made a National Monuments (Approval of Joint Consent) order which approved his own consent.


Mr Cullen has argued that all proper procedures had been followed and that the M50 roundabout is in the public interest and cannot be moved.


It is believed work would have to start at the castle site by April if the road is to be completed by its target date of September 2005.




Artefact recalls witches' shadow

By Greig Watson

BBC News Online, Nottingham


A chilling reminder of our superstitious past has been unearthed from a rural farmhouse.


The "witch bottle" was discovered buried in old foundations in the Lincolnshire village of Navenby.


Containing bent pins, human hair and perhaps urine, the bottles were supposed to protect a household against evil spells.

Dated to about 1830, it is evidence the fear of dark forces persisted far longer than previously thought.


Discovered by accident during building work, the artefact initially sat unrecognised in a cupboard. Jo Butler, the house's owner, described what they found.


She said: "The builder was breaking up foundations with a pick and he came across the bottle.


"We saw it contained metal bits and this kind of strap but had never heard of witch bottles and put it under the stairs."


It was only recognised when taken to a open evening held by the archaeology department of Lincolnshire County Council.


How to spot a witch

Disease endemic among crops, cattle and people

Animal companion or 'familiar', most often a toad or cat

A squint, being the mark of the evil eye

Floats when thrown, bound, into water

"Devil's marks" which do not feel pain or bleed

Confession after prolonged torture


Finds Liaison Officer Adam Daubney first identified the artefact.

He said: "It was an incredible moment. It was the first one I had physically seen and they are really quite rare artefacts, so to have that handed in was quite something."


The "bottle", in this case more likely to have been a glass inkwell or candlestick, had been damaged during discovery but still had its contents.


Mr Daubney said: "It seems a bit like voodoo, using human hair and pins but it's not entirely clear why these items where used.


"One theory is that the pins were put in urine so when the witch went to the toilet, it felt like they were passing the sharp metal.


"What the bottles were intended to do was bounce back spells on the sender.

"Even if you did not know who the witch was, you would make one of these and sit back to see who died, then that person was the witch."


Britain in the late 1500's, and for 100 years after, was gripped by the "Witchcraze".


This saw hundreds of women persecuted and sometimes executed, for alleged involvement in black magic.


The most famous British trials were at North Berwick, in Scotland, in 1591 and Pendle, Lancashire in 1612.


Such traditions do tend to linger in more rural areas like Lincolnshire and Norfolk but this is very rare


Adam Daubney, Finds Liaison Officer

Most "witches" were hanged, rather than the burning at the stake of popular imagination.


Protecting hearth and home from such malignant forces took various forms, including putting shoes beneath the floorboards and walling up cats.


Witch bottles, often made from stoneware, were most common in the 1600's, at the height of the witchcraft scares.


The Navenby example, however, has been dated at 1830, a time when such beliefs were thought to have been dying out.


"This late date is really incredible," said Mr Daubney. "Such traditions do tend to linger in more rural areas like Lincolnshire and Norfolk but this is very rare."

He added: "It could be either that the people who made this really believed in witches or it could be a kind of harmless tradition, a little like throwing salt over your shoulder.


"But the care with which this has put together, with a leather strap to hold it, could suggest the former."


The bottle is being conserved and will go on display at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in Lincoln later this year.



A baby dragon, or a bad joke?

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

(Filed: 24/01/2004)


A pickled "dragon" that looks as if it might once have flown around Hogwarts has been found in a garage in Oxfordshire.


Yesterday the baby dragon, in a sealed 30in jar, was in the office of Allistair Mitchell, who runs a marketing company in Oxford. He was asked to investigate by his friend, David Hart, from Sutton Courtenay, who discovered it.


A metal tin found with the dragon contained paperwork in old-fashioned German of the 1890s. Mr Mitchell speculates that German scientists may have attempted to use the dragon to hoax their English counterparts in the 1890s, when rivalry between the countries was intense.


"At the time, scientists were the equivalent of today's pop stars. It would have been a great propaganda coup for the Germans if it had come off.


"I've shown the photos to someone from Oxford University and he thought it was amazing. Obviously he could not say if it was real and wanted to do a biopsy."

The documents suggest that the Natural History Museum turned the dragon away, possibly because they suspected it was a trick, and sent it to be destroyed. But it appears a porter intercepted the jar and took it home. The papers suggest the porter may have been Frederick Hart - David Hart's grandfather.


Mr Mitchell said: "The dragon is flawless, from the tiny teeth to the umbilical cord. It could be made from indiarubber, because Germany was the world's leading manufacturer of it at the time, or it could be made of wax. It has to be fake. No one has ever proved scientifically that dragons exist. But everyone who sees it immediately asks, 'Is it real?' "


Yesterday the Natural History Museum said that it was interested in following up the find.


The scientific journal Nature once carried a tongue-in-cheek article on the ecology of dragons written by Lord May, who became the science adviser to the Prime Minister and is now the president of the Royal Society.


From the reported sightings, Lord May concluded that dragons are "both omnivorous and voracious", with great variations in diet: one made do with two sheep every day while another, kept by Pope St Sylvester, consumed 6,000 people daily. Their lifespan seems to range between 1,000 and 10,000 years.

Some scientists believe that dragons, though the product of imagination, were inspired by the extraordinary creatures that once roamed the Earth. As J K Rowling's alter ego Hermione Granger once suggested, legends have a basis in fact.



Austria claims to have invented tartan kilts


Tartan kilts have become fashionable in Austria after archaeologists claimed the country invented them.


Many Austrian stores are now selling "traditional Austrian" kilts and sporrans as well as lederhosen.

The Austrian claim is based on the discovery of what they claim is the oldest piece of tartan in the world.


The host of the Austrian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire is the latest convert to the trend. Armin Assinger turned up at the studio wearing one of the Carinthian kilts.


Thomas Rettl, whose clothing company is based close to where scraps from the original Celtic kilt were found, said: "Ever since we found out that Austria was the true home to tartan we have been doing a roaring trade.


"It was found not in Scotland but in a place called Molzbichl in Carinthia in Austria. The Celts who conquered Scotland originally came from Europe, which would back our claim to have had the kilt first.


"The tartan sample found in Austria was dated to at least 320 years BC - over 1,600 years earlier than the oldest Scottish tartan which was made in 1,300 AD."

Mr Rettl said armed with the knowledge that the kilt was actually Austria's traditional costume, he and his fellow Austrian tailors had decided to make a kilt and since then many others had copied the trend.


"We worked with a Scottish firm in the Borders to get the necessary expertise but the kilt is an Austrian design and we use the best materials from around the world - our kilts are better quality than many in Scotland.


"The success of the Carinthian kilt in particular has surprised even me. I am hoping to sell more in Scotland as well and in recognition of our shared Celtic past with the Scots I am making a deer leather kilt - a mixture of a tartan cloth and a pair of lederhosen."


The Scottish Tartans Authority says it's not in the least bit surprising that traces of tartan were found in Austria.


Brian Wilton said the oldest tartan authenticated was found in China 500 years before the time of Tutankhanum.


Story filed: 10:50 Tuesday 27th January 2004