Early human marks are 'symbols'

By Paul Rincon

BBC News Online science staff

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/03/16 13:45:30 GMT



A series of parallel lines engraved in an animal bone between 1.4 and 1.2 million years ago may be the earliest example of human symbolic behaviour.

University of Bordeaux experts say no practical process, such as butchering a carcass, can explain the markings.


But many researchers believe the capacity for true symbolic thinking arose much later with the emergence of modern humans, Homo sapiens .


The 8cm-long bone was unearthed at the Kozarnika cave in north-west Bulgaria.

Another animal bone found at the site is incised with 27 marks along its edge.

"These lines were not from butchering; in this place (on the animal) there is nothing to cut. It can't be anything else than symbolism," Dr Jean-Luc Guadelli, of the University of Bordeaux, France, told BBC News Online.


When early humans butchered animal carcasses for meat, they left cut marks on the bones made by the stone tools they used to scrape away the flesh.

But the French and Bulgarian researchers who have been excavating at Kozarnika claim the parallel cuts on the bones are too precise to be the result of hacking at the animal to strip away meat.


There's no precedent for this at all, if in fact they are incised markings rather than butchery marks

Paul Bahn, ancient art expert

"Now, what is the meaning of these symbols? It is impossible to know. But they put on this bone something they wanted to explain: 'I saw 16 animals in this place'. It could be something like language."


Many researchers see the capacity for symbolism in humans as something that only became widespread after about 50,000 years ago in our own species. Therefore, evidence of this capacity in an earlier species of human is highly controversial.


"There's no precedent for this at all - if in fact they are incised markings rather than butchery marks. This would be a very welcome thing if it's confirmed," Paul Bahn, an expert in ancient art, told BBC News Online.


"I see a very long evolution for art and I see absolutely no credence in the view whatsoever that it magically appears with our sub-species through a genetic mutation," he added.


Dr Guadelli and his colleagues have discovered a human molar tooth of a similar age to the incised bones. It belongs to a species of early Homo , but the researchers are unsure of the exact species.


Scientists are trying to piece together the species relationships

A good candidate would be Homo erectus , a species of hominid that was spreading beyond its homeland in Africa at the time the bone markings were made.


The incised bone seems to have belonged to an unknown bovid mammal, the group that includes sheep, cattle and antelope.


It comes from ground layers dated using palaeomagnetism, which determines age using past patterns of reversals in the Earth's magnetic field.


Details of the excavations have been outlined at a symposium in Rennes, France. The findings are to be published soon in an English-language archaeological journal.



Study: Humans, Neanderthals Did Not Mate

By Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News

March 17, 2004


The verdict is in: humans and Neanderthals did not date — much.


Genetic evidence from Neanderthal and early human bones indicates that if there was any intermixing of the two species, it was so little that it left no genetic trace. The discovery was published in the current edition of PloS Biology.


"I thought this was an incredibly significant paper," said Stanford University anthropologist Richard Klein. "So much of the time in paleoanthropology and other 'softer' sciences the arguments seem to go on forever."


This work by a team of European scientists led by Svante Paabo finally brings some solid evidence into the matter, he said.


For years anthropologists have been debating whether humans, when they wandered north into Europe from Africa more then 30,000 years ago, might have interbred with Neanderthals who lived there, said Klein. The evidence, until now, was mostly restricted to the shape of fossil bones.


Now, by isolating the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from four Neanderthals and five contemporary European early humans, the team has found no evidence of any noticeable genetic crossover.


Earlier attempts by Paabo's lab to extract intact genetic material from Neanderthal bones and comparing it to modern humans were inconclusive because of the difficulties of avoiding contaminating the samples with the genetic material of the lab workers who did the work, the researchers explain.

That's why this time they compared the mtDNA from Neanderthals to their contemporary humans — all of whom had mtDNA very different from modern humans.


That's not to say no mixing went on, the researcher cautioned. It would take a lot more samples from a larger number of fossils to rule out small amounts of mixing.


"About 50 early modern human remains would need to be studied to exclude a Neanderthal [sic] mtDNA contribution of ten percent," Paabo and his colleagues reported. "To exclude a five percent contribution, one would need to study more early modern human remains than have been discovered to date."


So the final word on how little the Neanderthals contributed to the modern human gene pool is that it's impossible to say.


For Klein's part, he suspects that humans and Neanderthals were just too different to find each other romantically interesting. "It's not that they couldn't, perhaps, but they probably weren't interested."


Early humans would have probably found Neanderthals very odd-looking and strange-acting, said Klein. So odd-looking, he said, that if you dressed a Neanderthal in a suit and put him on a subway, most people would probably move to another car.


The very prominent jaw and cheekbones, the large nose, as well as the swept-back forehead and low I.Q., would probably make a Neanderthal appear repulsive to most humans.



Lake treasures go on display

Published: 2004/03/15 17:08:13 GMT



Rare artefacts from the 9th Century discovered on an island at a Brecon Beacons lake are going on display for the first time.


Most of the objects were found on the man-made island in Llangorse Lake between 1989 and 1993 by archaeologists from the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and Cardiff University.


But it is only now they are being put on display as part of a scheme to loan items from national collections to museums where they have local significance.

The centrepiece of the exhibition at Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery in Brecon is a log boat discovered in the lake by a local carpenter in 1925.


"This exhibition will be of enormous interest to local people because Llangorse Lake is only six miles from Brecon," said museum curator David Moore.


"All these exhibits date back to the 9th Century to a settlement that only lived there for about 20 years.


"It is a great idea to allow important exhibits to be displayed to the public for the first time."


The island at Llangors Lake was identified as man-made in the 1860s.

Oak planks forming a defensive palisade have been tree-ring dated to the middle of the 9th Century.


It has now been established that the crannog was built in stages between 889 and 893 and it was a royal residence for the Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog.

The site may be the one referred to in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle as being destroyed by a Mercian Army in AD916.


Also on display at the Brecon exhibition is a fragment of the border of a dress or tunic which has been preserved in the lake's silt, jewellery, and part of an enamelled container for relics.


Close parallels for the man-made island or crannog, the only one known in Wales, are found in Ireland.


The museum's collection of early medieval inscribed stones and stone sculpture dating back to the 6th century is also being redisplayed at the exhibition.

The exhibition is being opened by the Culture Minister Alan Pugh on Monday and it will run at the museum until mid September.



Bubonic Plague Traced to Ancient Egypt

Cameron Walker

for National Geographic News

March 10, 2004


The bubonic plague, or Black Death, may have originated in ancient Egypt, according to a new study.


"This is the first time the plague's origins in Egypt have been backed up by archaeological evidence," said Eva Panagiotakopulu, who made the discovery. Panagiotakopulu is an archaeologist and fossil-insect expert at the University of Sheffield, England.


King Tutankhamun lies in his burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. Some researchers now believe that the bubonic plague, or Black Death, originated in the village where builders of Tutankhamun's tomb lived.


While most researchers consider central Asia as the birthplace of the deadly epidemic, the new study—published recently in the Journal of Biogeography—suggests an alternate starting point.


"It's usually thought that the plague entered from the East," said B. Joseph Hinnebusch, a microbiologist at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana. The new study suggests that North Africa could also be the source of the epidemic, he said.


The bacteria-caused plague is more than a grim historical footnote today. The African island of Madagascar experienced outbreaks in the late 1990s, and some worry about the plague's potential use as an agent of bioterrorism.

Information about past epidemics could help scientists predict where new outbreaks would occur and better understand how the disease spreads, Hinnebusch said.


The most famous plague outbreak swept through Europe in the 1300s. Dubbed the Black Death, the disease killed more than 25 million people—one-fourth of the continent's population. The nursery rhyme "Ring Around the Rosy" is traced to the plague's rose-colored lesions and deadly spread.


Earlier outbreaks also decimated Europe. The Justinian Plague claimed as many as a hundred million lives in the Byzantine Empire during the sixth century A.D.

The bacterium that causes bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, lives inside the gut of its main carrier, the flea. The plague likely spread to Europe on the backs of shipboard black rats that carried plague-infested fleas.


"It's the plague's unholy trinity," said Michael Antolin, a biologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, who studies bubonic plague in black-tailed prairie dogs.


Inside the flea, bacteria multiply and block off the flea's throat-like area. The flea gets increasingly hungry. When it bites—whether rat or human—it spits some bacteria out into the bite wound.

People can contract several forms of the plague. The main form, bubonic, often starts out with fever, chills, and enlarged lymph nodes. But if the bacteria make their way into the lungs, a deadlier form, called pneumonic plague, can be spread from person to person. Pneumonic plague occurs in about 5 percent of those infected with bubonic plague.


Several researchers have suggested that Europe's Black Death spread too fast and killed too many to be attributed to bubonic plague. But plague experts Hinnebusch and Antolin said that the pneumonic plague form could have been responsible for the quick-spreading epidemic.


"If you inhale it, you're pretty much dead," Antolin said.


Panagiotakopulu came upon clues to the plague's presence in ancient Egypt by accident. She had been looking at fossil insect remains to learn about daily life more than 3,000 years ago.


"People lived close to their domestic animals and to the pests that infected their household," Panagiotakopulu said. "I just started looking at what diseases people might have, what diseases their pigs might have, and what diseases might have been passed from other animals to humans."


The researcher used a fine sieve to strain out remains of insects and small mammals from several sites. Panagiotakopulu, who is conducting similar work on Viking ruins in Greenland, said that looking at insects is a key way to reconstruct the past. "I can learn about how people lived by looking in their homes and at what was living with and on them," she said.


In Egypt Panagiotakopulu combed the workers'-village site in Amarna, where the builders of the tombs of Egyptian kings Tutankhamun and Akhenaton lived. There, the researcher unearthed cat and human fleas—known to be plague carriers in some cases—in and around the workers' homes. That find spurred Panagiotakopulu to believe that the bubonic plague's fleaborne bacteria could also have been lurking in the area, so she went in search of other clues.


Previous excavations along the Nile Delta had turned up Nile rats, an endemic species, dating to the 16th and 17th century B.C. The plague's main carrier flea is thought to be native to the Nile Valley and is known to be a Nile rat parasite.

According to Panagiotakopulu, the Nile provided an ideal spot for rats to carry the plague into urban communities. Around 3500 B.C., people began to build cities next to the Nile. During floods, the habitat of the Nile rat was disturbed, sending the rodent—and its flea and bacterial hitchhikers—into the human domain.

Egyptian writings from a similar time period point to an epidemic disease with symptoms similar to the plague. A 1500 B.C. medical text known as the Ebers Papyrus identifies a disease that "has produced a bubo, and the pus has petrified, the disease has hit."

It's possible that trade spread the disease to black rats, which then carried the bacteria to other sites of plague epidemics. Panagiotakopulu suspects that black rats, endemic to India, arrived in Egypt with sea trade. In Egypt the rats picked up plague-carrying fleas and were later born on ships that sailed across the Mediterranean to southern Europe.


"Most people think of the plague as a historical disease," said Hinnebusch, who conducts plague research for the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "But it's still out there, and it's still an international public health issue."

During the last ten years bubonic plague reappeared in Madagascar, which now has between 500 and 2,000 new cases each year.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization tallies as many as 3,000 plague cases each year around the world. Research interest in bubonic plague has been growing as, like anthrax, it could be used as a deadly bioterrorism agent (especially in pneumonic form).

While antibodies can be extremely effective against early stages of the plague, scientists are trying to learn more about how it works to be able to predict outbreaks and counteract the bacterium's scrambling of the immune system.

"There are so many unanswered questions about the plague," Hinnebusch said.

The plague will sleep for decades, even centuries, reemerge, and then seem to vanish again.


Panagiotakopulu said she wants to continue to track the evidence for the plague in Egypt and elsewhere to expand understanding of the still-mysterious epidemic.



Spell shoe is discovered in roof

Published: 2004/03/16 07:06:46 GMT



Planners in charge of preserving Jersey's historic buildings are asking people to get in touch if they have found footwear built into properties.


Workmen stripping the roof of a 16th Century cottage found a shoe that had been built into one of the walls.


The custom of burying a shoe under a roof dates back hundreds of years and was supposed to ward off evil.


Stuart Fell, from the Planning Department, said it was the first time he had come across one in Jersey.


Shoes built into old buildings to bring good luck are often found in houses in England or on the continent.


But Mr Fell said he wanted to hear if anyone else had found anything similar in Jersey.


The house, Vallambrosa in St Peter, is among a number of historic properties being renovated with help from the department's Historic Buildings Fund.


Others being worked on at the moment include Les Lumieres on Route Orange, Ville au Veslet in St Lawrence and Seaside Cottage, near Beaumont.



Syracuse investors help raise sunken treasure

March 16, 2004, 12:25 PM EST



A group of investors from Syracuse are helping raise a 242-year-old shipwreck off the northern coast of Nova Scotia, a find that's yielded gold and silver coins, jewelry and silverware.


More importantly, says Norman Miles, a dramatic episode in North American history is being fleshed out.


"Our duty is to teach the world what happened there," Miles said. "And as we teach the world, this collection will grow in value because it will become sought after by those that have an interest in this time and place in history."


The sinking of the Auguste de Bordeaux during a vicious November storm in 1761 was the starting point for one survivor's remarkable journey.


St. Luc de la Corne, a French military hero and one of the wealthiest men in Canada, was one of only seven people to survive the wreck that claimed 114 lives. He then walked hundreds of miles during the worst of winter back to Quebec City.


La Corne's story, and that of Auguste Expedition LLC's efforts to recover artifacts from the shipwreck, will be told in a documentary this week on National Geographic Channel.


Miles, a senior financial planner who is managing partner of Auguste Expedition, said the group is negotiating book and movie deals, and hopes to set up a traveling museum.


The Auguste de Bordeaux, a wooden sailing ship built in 1747 and 1748 in France, was carrying 121 passengers from Quebec to France. The passengers, many of whom were rich, were being deported after France lost the Seven Years' War to Britain.


Among them was la Corne, a wealthy fur trader. His two sons, his brother and two nephews perished when the ship sank.


But la Corne managed to get to shore. His journal, which recounts the wreck and his trek through the wilderness afterward, survives to tell his story.


From Aspy Bay, where the Auguste sank, divers are adding artifacts to the story. Among other treasures, they have found silverware bearing la Corne's ornate coat of arms.


Although the Auguste sank in just 25 feet of water, the recovery is made difficult by the shifting sands of Aspy Bay, which have covered the treasure in three to five feet of sand and stones. Also, because the ship broke up, the treasure is scattered in an area roughly three-quarters of a mile long and 700- to 800-feet wide.


Crews expect to dive the site this summer and next before all the artifacts are recovered.


The government of Nova Scotia is entitled to some of the treasure, but most will remain the property of the expedition. The group hopes to sell the collection to a museum, Miles said.


Information from: The Post-Standard, http://www.syracuse.com

Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press |  Article licensing and reprint options




Oldest iron aqueduct reopens

Mar 18 2004

Wrexham Mail


THE world-famous aqueduct at Pontcysyllte, near Llangollen, has reopened to boat traffic.


The world's oldest, longest and highest cast iron aqueduct still in use has been the subject of a two-year programme of restoration, costing £2.15m, by British Waterways. The colossal structure, which crosses the Dee Valley at a height of 126 feet, was designed and built by engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessop between 1802 and 1805.


The aqueduct is Grade 1 listed, a scheduled ancient monument, and is also a candidate for World Heritage status. Still used for its original purpose, it sees the passage of more than 1,000 boats and 25,000 pedestrians each year.


The cast iron trough, which holds one and a half million litres of water, is 11ft wide, 5ft 3in deep and 1,007ft long and the aqueduct has 19 arches each with a 45ft span. The project originally cost £45,000 and 8,000 people attended the opening ceremony in November, 1805.


Robin Evans, chief executive of British Waterways, said: 'Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is truly awe-inspiring and a triumph of the Industrial Revolution. We are delighted to have completed restoration works and improvements for visitors in readiness for its 200th birthday celebrations next year.


'One of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, this world-famous aqueduct is one of 3,000 listed structures on our 2,000-mile inland waterway network, which is visited by 10 million people each year. We are passionate about caring for these national treasures for the benefit of all across the country, and we want to encourage more people to visit our canals and rivers to enjoy their unique blend of heritage, wildlife and leisure benefits.


'Every winter we carry out restoration and maintenance, keeping our waterways safe and accessible, creating jobs and safeguarding our wonderful built and natural heritage.'


The aqueduct was drained last November with permission from Cadw, the historic monument agency, to allow the extensive works to take place. These included mechanically wire-brushing the entire cast iron surface and repainting to protect from rusting. Repairs were made to the masonry and cast iron metal work, and a hard-wearing towpath surface was laid and the handrail refurbished.

Although the aqueduct is open for boat traffic, the towpath and the Trevor Basin area at the northern end of Pontcysyllte are still not finished. A spokesman for British Waterways was unable to give a specific date for the opening of these areas.



'Dick', the third tunnel from the Great Escape, is rediscovered 60 years on

By Anthony Barnes, Arts and Media Correspondent

14 March 2004


The attempt to tunnel out of Stalag-Luft 3 was one of the most audacious episodes of the Second World War, immortalised in the movie The Great Escape. Seventy Allied prisoners toiled for months to get out of the German camp, but only three made it to freedom and 50 were executed as punishment for trying.


Now the only remaining tunnel of the three they dug, codenamed Dick, has been found and excavated by archaeologists after lying undisturbed for six decades.

The other two routes, Harry - through which the actual escape took place - and Tom, were collapsed when discovered by the German Luftwaffe who ran the camp.


Dick, which was abandoned before completion, remained untouched.

Now, on the 60th anniversary of the escape on 24 March 1944, two archaeologists, Peter Doyle from Britain and Larry Babits from the US, accompanied by three of the few surviving prisoners who worked on the tunnel, have rediscovered Dick at the abandoned and overgrown site of the camp near Zagan in modern-day Poland.


Survivors of the "Great Escape" watched the excavation team - filmed by a documentary crew for broadcast this week - uncover the tunnel and unearth a treasure trove of artefacts, such as makeshift lamps made from powdered milk tins and mutton fat, as well as ventilation pipes. They also found stamps carved from the rubber heels of flying boots which were used to forge documents for escapees.


RAF pilot Bertram "Jimmy" James, who escaped 10 times before he was placed in Stalag-Luft 3 and is one of only seven escapees who is still alive, said yesterday: "It was a very moving experience and also very strange to see a great big hole humming with diggers, archaeologists, film crews and God knows what else.


"I never thought I would go back to see the tunnel and it brought back the ghosts from the past, all the friends who were shot."


Mr James, 88, who worked for many years in the diplomatic service and retired to live in Ludlow, Shropshire, said: "I'm not entirely surprised it was so well preserved. It is very dry underground and it was fossilised to some extent. I think if it had been damp it would have gone. On the whole, the film was pretty accurate but the motorbike chase was pure Hollywood fantasy."


More than 10,000 Allied prisoners were held at Stalag-Luft 3, a maximum-security camp designed to deter any escapes that was sited on sandy ground to make tunnelling more difficult.


Alan Bryett, an RAF bomb aimer before he was captured and placed in the camp, said: "The desire to get out was a very strong one because you realised this was going to be your prison for an unknown length of time. This was the end of life, really. That's the thing that horrified me more than anything."


Another tunneller, Walter Morrison, said attempting to escape was "a game, a sport". "It was more like a traditional English field sport in its way. It was played by the rules - you must not use violence, you must not engage in sabotage or espionage if you're outside the camp, and if you get caught you must spend two weeks in the cooler in solitary confinement - not a very serious penalty."


Work began on the tunnels in early 1943 with their concealed entrances completed by April of that year. Harry was under a stove, Tom in the corner of a dark corridor and Dick was in the drainage sump of a washroom.


Using handmade tools, the prisoners dug 30 feet down before heading horizontally towards the camp perimeter. They scavenged pieces of wood to support the tunnel along its length and prevent collapse of the unstable sand. Around 4,000 boards from the prisoners' bunks, 34 chairs and 52 tables were requisitioned for the purpose.


A makeshift ventilation system was constructed to combat the lack of oxygen underground.


But as work progressed, Dick was sacrificed to store materials for the escape - fake documents, uniforms and civvies - and to hide the excavated sand from the other tunnels.


The Germans eventually stumbled across Tom, but they were so pleased with their find, which they demolished, that they failed to look for other escape routes.

The escape bid eventually took place on a moonless night to lessen the chances of being spotted. But when the first escapee, Johnny Bull, came to the surface he found to his horror that the exit was 15 feet short.


The tunnel, which had taken a full 10 minutes to negotiate, emerged in a clearing beyond the perimeter fence rather than in the nearby forest which the plotters had hoped would hide their movements.


The plan was for as many as possible to get out, even if they only managed to get five miles before being caught.


"It would confuse the Germans as to how many had got out, while the real escapers who went by train were really making their proper escapes," Mr Bryett said.


But the slow progress, as prisoners timed their exit to avoid the sweep of searchlights, meant that just 76 got out before the Luftwaffe rumbled the plan. Only three of the escapees - two Norwegians and one Dutchman - reached safety. The rest were rounded up and 50 were executed - an outrageous act that later led to war crimes tribunals.

"Jimmy" James made it to the Czech border but was caught and put in another camp until the end of the war. While visiting the site of the tunnel, he went to see a nearby memorial to the 50 men who were killed. "You think, 'why isn't my name up there?'" he said. "It's just luck, the fortune of war."


The documentary on "The Great Escape" will be broadcast on Channel 5 on Wednesday at 9pm