Why did Neanderthals have such big noses?

11:28 27 October 2008

NewScientist.com news service

Ewen Callaway


The Neanderthal's huge nose is a fluke of evolution, not some grand adaptation, research suggests.


The Neanderthal nose has been a matter of befuddlement for anthropologists, who point out that modern cold-adapted humans have narrow noses to moisten and warm air as it enters the lung, and reduce water and heat loss during exhalation.


Big noses tend to be found in people whose ancestors evolved in tropical climates, where a large nasal opening helps cool the body.


But Neanderthals go against this trend, says Tim Weaver, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study.


"They were living in the glacial environment of Europe, colder than it is today, for most of the time," he says. "So it's sort of been an anomaly. Why do they have these wide nasal apertures?"


The traditional answer has been that Neanderthals have a big nose because they have a big mouth and a wide jaw, useful for ripping apart tough food, says Nathan Holton, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Iowa.


"People have tried to explain the Neanderthal face as designed to produce high levels of bite force and trying to explain the rest of a wide nasal breath as part of a larger tend," he says.


To put this theory to the test, he and University of Iowa colleague Robert Franciscus, measured facial dimensions in dozens of Neanderthals and humans, ancient and modern.


By correlating changes in the size of nose width, the distance between canine teeth, and other features, the researchers could determine whether or not big mouths went with big noses.


Holton and Franciscus found a slight link between nose and mouth, but not enough to explain Neanderthal noses. However, another measurement – the degree to which the face juts forward – seemed a better match for nose width, Houlton says.

Chance changes


"If you want to change the breadth of the nose, you change the degree of facial projection," he says.


Measurements in modern humans support this theory. By age 12, a child's mouth has grown to its adult size, whereas the nose and facial projection continue to grow well into teenage years, Holton says. Recent research suggests that Neanderthals matured at the same rate as humans.


Fortunately for Neanderthals, their inner noses were narrower than the openings suggest, and therefore well adapted to bone-chilling winters.


Why, then, do Neanderthals have faces that jut further out than humans? "They had them because earlier hominids had them," Houlton says.


He laments the tendency of some anthropologists to "atomise the body", and explain each of its part as an exquisite adaptation to an environment. Selection for strong jaws and teeth has been a favourite explanation for other Neanderthal facial features, as well as nose size.


"There's no real good evidence to say that Neanderthals are producing these high levels of bite force to begin with," he says.


Weaver agrees. "A lot of these anatomical differences are probably more likely due to these chance changes," he says.


Journal reference: Journal of Human Evolution (DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.07.001)



Cape stakes claim to origin of modern man

Bobby Jordan

Published:Oct 26, 2008


People like us may have evolved in Mossel Bay thanks to seafood-rich ocean


Some say it stinks too much of fish, but those who love Mossel Bay believe there’s no better place to live. Now science has proved them right.


The southern Cape town has been singled out by one of the world’s leading anthropologists as the most likely birthplace of modern humans — thanks, at least partly, to its abundance of fish.


Rich pickings of fleshy roots and bulbs, courtesy of the juicy Cape floral kingdom, are another crucial reason why mankind finally progressed past grunting to arithmetic and outboard motors, according to Dr Curtis Marean, who presented his findings earlier this month at the prestigious Nobel Conference in Minnesota in the US.


Fossil evidence of Homo sapiens has been found at several sites across Africa, including two 195000-year-old skulls in Ethiopia. But a Mossel Bay site has thrown up the oldest known evidence of “modern” human behaviour — evidenced by complex tools and dyes used for rock art. This evidence is 164000 years old — by far the oldest known signs of the kind of collective behaviour considered the hallmark of “modern man”.


Marean said: “Those other areas (in Africa) don’t have the same evidence for behavioural complexity that we see here.


“What we’re talking about here is the origins of modern humans — modern behaviour of people like us, who have language, who view the world through symbols, who express themselves artistically.


“That’s where the Cape is very rich — there isn’t a place anywhere else in the world that has a record as rich as what you have here along the coastline.”


He said the evidence strongly suggested that Mossel Bay was the frontrunner for bragging rights as the cradle of humankind, and supported the current scientific view that all of mankind descended from a single breeding group of between 600 and 1000 people.


Marean believes those people were probably also the first residents of Mossel Bay.


To back his claim he points to archaeological evidence unearthed in caves on the outskirts of the coastal town.


Ancient stone blades embedded in bones, discarded shellfish and the use of dyes in primitive rock painting suggest complex behaviour — immortalised in the cave’s rocky floor. Remains also point to a princely ancestral diet of whelks, barnacles, mussels and limpets.


A major global ice age between 194000 and 125000 years ago meant these prehistoric Africans were eating seafood and expanding their minds at a time when other bands of Homo sapiens in Africa were mostly starving to death, Marean said. “What is exciting is during that long glacial phase there were very few sites in Africa, maybe five, that have been dated, that could have given rise to modern man and we know now that only one sub-population gave rise to people.”


The abundant shellfish, a source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, might also explain the brain development and neo-cortex evolution of modern man, Marean explained.


“And for this reason, coupled to the archaeological evidence for behavioural complexity (or modern human behaviour), I think (the Mossel Bay area) is a very likely region for the location of the modern human progenitor population,” Marean said.


His work near Mossel Bay made local and international headlines earlier this year, partly because the main excavation site was threatened by the irrigation system used by an adjacent golf resort.


The matter ended up in the Cape High Court, where scientists claimed chemicals in the resort’s water were eroding priceless archaeological material dating back 165000 years.


Researchers were most concerned about a half-metre thick band of ancient human “garbage” — discarded shells and bone — now solidified against one side of the cave. By digging into the garbage the team could unravel what our ancestors were getting up to.


The Mossel Bay project has attracted praise from other leading archaeologists. John Parkington, professor of archaeology at the University of Cape Town, said Marean’s theory was compelling: “I agree with him. The combination of the fynbos vegetation and the Agulhas and Benguela current systems is a very interesting context in which modern people may well have evolved.”


Parkington said the same human-friendly conditions applied to several similar locations in the Cape. A scarcity of research elsewhere in Africa meant it was difficult to say if favourable conditions might have existed elsewhere on the continent at the time, about 165000 years ago: “Africa is very patchily researched so it’s hard to know whether the absence of similar evidence anywhere else is the absence of evidence or the evidence of absence.


“But so far you could certainly say that the Cape is putting its hand up,” Parkington said.


Commenting on Marean’s Nobel lecture, local environmental activist Fred Orban said: “The findings at Pinnacle Point are of incredible significance, not only for South Africa but for Africa and the world. We should realise that we owe it to our ancestors and to future generations to protect them at all costs,” Orban said.


Martin Hatchuel, a spokesman for Mossel Bay Tourism, said Marean’s research proved his long-held belief that the southern Cape was the jewel of African tourism: “Now it’s official — people have been holidaying here for 165000 years,” Hatchuel said. — jordanb@sundaytimes.co.za



Ancient iceman probably has no modern relatives

Thu Oct 30, 2:21 pm ET


LONDON (Reuters) – "Otzi," Italy's prehistoric iceman, probably does not have any modern day descendants, according to a study published Thursday.


A team of Italian and British scientists who sequenced his mitochondrial DNA -- which is passed down through the mother's line -- found that Otzi belonged to a genetic lineage that is either extremely rare or has died out.


Otzi's 5,300-year-old corpse was found frozen in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991.


"Our research suggests that Otzi's lineage may indeed have become extinct," Martin Richards of Leeds University in Britain, who worked on the study, said in a statement.


"We'll only know for sure by sampling intensively in the Alpine Valleys where Otzi was born."


The findings published in the journal Current Biology reverses previous research from 1994 on a small section of Otzi's DNA that suggested the so-called "Iceman" had relatives living in Europe.


But Richards and colleagues said their analysis confirmed that Otzi belonged to a previously unidentified lineage that has not been seen to date in modern European populations.


Scientists were thrilled to find Otzi's mummified body had remained frozen, and so almost perfectly preserved, for more than 5,000 years.


An arrowhead was found in his left shoulder, suggesting Otzi did not simply freeze to death while climbing the high mountains. Evidence shows he was likely a hunter.


(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Maggie Fox and Richard Williams)



Persepolis studies yield new findings

Sun, 26 Oct 2008 10:35:13 GMT


Archeological studies near the ancient city of Persepolis in the southern Iranian province of Fars have resulted in new discoveries.


Iranian and Italian archaeologists have been excavating the areas surrounding the ancient city of Persepolis since mid October. The latest round of excavations led to the discovery of various ancient dwellings near Takht-e Jamshid.


"The discovery of five stages of dwellings from various eras was made possible by the scientific and archeological studies on Persepolis architecture," says Alireza Asgari of Iran's Parsa-Pasargadae Research Foundation (PPRF).


Archeologists also conducted geophysical studies based on the results of previous research carried out by Iranian experts.


Twenty five objects were also unearthed in the area as a result of the current studies. The discovery included jewels, ancient weapons, and pieces left over from broken statues, potteries and azure plates.


Headed by Alireza Asgari and Professor Pierfrancesco Callieri of the University of Bologna, the archeology team aimed to study the architecture of the areas surrounding the ceremonial Achaemenid capital.


The Achaemenid site of Persepolis was registered on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1979.



'Exceptional' Roman coins hoard


One of the largest deposits of Roman coins ever recorded in Wales, has been declared treasure trove.


Nearly 6,000 copper alloy coins were found buried in two pots in a field at Sully, Vale of Glamorgan by a local metal detector enthusiast in April.


After the ruling by the Cardiff coroner, a reward is likely to be paid to the finder and landowner.


It is hoped the coins will be donated to National Museum Wales, which has called the find "exceptional".


Two separate hoards were found by the metal detectorist on successive days, one involving 2,366 coins and the other 3,547 coins, 3m away.


The 1,700-year-old coins dated from the reigns of numerous emperors, notably Constantine I (the Great, AD 307-37), during whose time Christianity was first recognised as a state religion.


Derek Eveleigh, 79, from Penarth, who came across the hoards in a field of sheep, has kept his find a secret until the outcome of the inquest.


He said: "I had a signal first and when it was deep I thought I better dig it - and that was it."


The coins now will be valued by an independent committee


Edward Besly, the museum's coin specialist called it an "exceptional find".


He said: "The coins provide further evidence for local wealth at the time. They also reflect the complex imperial politics of the early fourth century."


It is thought the two hoards were buried by the same person, possibly two years apart. A similar find was uncovered in the area in 1899.


"There was quite a bit of Roman activity in the area at the time, southwards from Cardiff Castle, where there was a Roman fort, to the Knap at Barry where there was an administrative building and there were farms in the Sully area," said Mr Besly.


"There's a human story there somewhere but it's intangible, we can't really get to it but certainly somebody buried two pots of coins."


"It could have been they were buried for safe keeping, possibly at a time of danger."


It is hoped the coins will be given over to the museum for further study and to go on public display.


Mr Eveleigh added: "All I found before was thrupenny bits and bits of metal.


"I have had to keep it quiet all these months. Someone told me that when you find one hoard you find two."


Also declared treasure by the coroner were two bronze axes from Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan.


Discovered in June 2008, they were buried together as a small hoard. The two complete bronze socketed axes have ribbed decoration and are examples of the south Wales type, dating to the late bronze age (1000-800 BC).



"Spider God" Temple Found in Peru

José Orozco in Caracas, Venezuela

for National Geographic News

October 29, 2008


A 3,000-year-old temple featuring an image of a spider god may hold clues to little-known cultures in ancient Peru.


People of the Cupisnique culture, which thrived from roughly 1500 to 1000 B.C., built the temple in the Lambayeque valley on Peru's north coast.


The adobe temple, found this summer and called Collud, is the third discovered in the area in recent years. 


The finds suggest that the three valley sites may have been part of a large capital for divine worship, said archaeologist Walter Alva, director of the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum.


Alva and colleagues started the dig in November 2007, when they discovered a 4,000-year-old temple and a mural painting at the Ventarrón site in the valley. Both the temple and mural were the oldest ever found in the Americas.


The entire religious complex houses every ancient Peruvian architectural style up to the Inca, Walter Alva said, one of only a few sites in Peru that spans so many cultures.


The spider-god image appears often in other sites created during Peru's Early Formative Period, 1200 to 400 B.C.


For instance, the Garagay temple in Lima and the Limón Carro site in northern Peru both include the imagery, according to Ignacio Alva, Walter Alva's son and colleague.


At the newfound Collud, the spider god carried several meanings, experts say.


The image combines a spider's neck and head, the mouth of a large cat, and a bird's beak, Ignacio Alva said.


The spider is also carved with lines radiating from its neck, creating a web-like appearance.


The web symbolizes hunting nets, a sign of human progress and prosperity, Ignacio Alva said. Traps set with nets caught more prey than spear hunting, he added.


The spider figure also had political significance, Ignacio Alva said. "Any emergent political group would have to be associated with this god."


Richard Burger, an expert on the Chavin culture that followed the Cupisnique, first identified the spider deity in stone bowls found at the Limón Carro site.


The importance of spiders owed partly to their connection with life-giving rain, he said.


"They were associated with divination of rainfall because spiders come out before rain," said Burger, an archaeologist at Yale University who was not involved with the Lambayeque excavation.


The spider deity was also associated with textiles, hunting, war, and power, Burger added. "There is an image of spider deities holding nets filled with decapitated human heads, so there was an analogy with successful warriors and claims of power."


The Chavin people who came after the Cupisnique built a temple adjacent to Collud, Zarpan, about three hundred years later.


The new temple finds may help explain a cultural shift from Cupisnique to Chavin, said team leader Walter Alva.


"Cupisnique and Chavin shared the same gods and the same architectural and artistic forms, showing intense religious interaction among the cultures of the [Early] Formative Period from the north coast to the Andes and down to the central Andes," he said.


The temples are similar in size, roughly 1,640 feet (500 meters) long and 984 feet (300 meters) wide.


Collud has a monumental clay staircase with 25 steps, perhaps the inspiration for the later Zarpan temple's clay staircase, Ignacio Alva said.


The Chavin did not build clay structures in the Andes, where significant rainfall threatened their stability. (See Andes photos.)


But clay structures were typical of the Cupisnique culture, which developed on the arid north coast.


It's unknown how the two cultures interacted, if at all, experts say.


"This place is the testimony of two cultures overlapping and will help clarify what is Cupisnique and what is Chavin," Walter Alva said.


Pieces of structures found at the site may lead to the discovery of a fourth or fifth temple, according to the team.


Yale's Burger wonders if the ongoing excavations will demonstrate what happened to the site as north-coast cultures declined between 900 and 700 B.C.


"The far north coast in earlier times was very important, but it has been largely ignored because there's so little information," Burger said. "This could change that."


"Does this center continue to be important or does it collapse?" he asked. "Does the Cupisnique continue to flourish independently or in close contact with the Chavin?"


Ignacio Alva predicts the site will show that the temple complex transformed itself, but did not collapse.



Real Robinson Crusoe: Evidence Of Alexander Selkirk’s Desert Island Campsite

ScienceDaily (Oct. 30, 2008)


Cast away on a desert island, surviving on what nature alone can provide, praying for rescue but fearing the sight of a boat on the horizon. These are the imaginative creations of Daniel Defoe in his famous novel Robinson Crusoe. Yet the story is believed to be based on the real-life experience of sailor Alexander Selkirk, marooned in 1704 on a small tropical island in the Pacific for more than four years, and now archaeological evidence has been found to support contemporary records of his existence on the island.


An article in the journal Post-Medieval Archaeology presents evidence from an archaeological dig on the island of Aguas Buenas, since renamed Robinson Crusoe Island, which reveals evidence of the campsite of an early European occupant. The most compelling evidence is the discovery of a pair of navigational dividers which could only have belonged to a ship’s master or navigator, as evidence suggests Selkirk must have been. Indeed Selkirk’s rescuer, Captain Woodes Rogers’ account of what he saw on arrival at Aguas Buenas in 1709 lists ‘some practical pieces’ and mathematical instruments amongst the few possessions that Selkirk had taken with him from the ship.


The finds also provide an insight into exactly how Selkirk might have lived on the island. Postholes suggest he built two shelters near to a freshwater stream, and had access to a viewpoint over the harbour from where he would be able to watch for approaching ships and ascertain whether they were friend or foe. Accounts written shortly after his rescue describe him shooting goats with a gun rescued from the ship, and eventually learning to outrun them, eating their meat and using their skins as clothing. He also passed time reading the Bible and singing psalms, and seems to have enjoyed a more peaceful and devout existence than at any other time in his life.


David H Caldwell, National Museums Scotland, is pleased with the results of the dig: “The evidence uncovered at Aguas Buenas corroborates the stories of Alexander Selkirk’s stay on the island and provides a fascinating insight into his existence there. We hope that Aguas Buenas, with careful management, may be a site enjoyed by the increasing number of tourists searching for the inspiration behind Defoe’s masterpiece.”


Alexander Selkirk was born in the small seaside town of Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland in 1676. A younger son of a shoemaker, he was drawn to a life at sea from an early age. In 1704, during a privateering voyage on the Cinque Ports, Selkirk fell out with the commander over the boat’s seaworthiness and he decided to remain behind on Robinson Crusoe Island where they had landed to overhaul the worm-infested vessel. He cannot have known that it would be five years before he was picked up by an English ship visiting the island.


Published in 1719, Robinson Crusoe is one of the oldest and most famous adventure stories in English literature. Whilst it is unclear whether Defoe and Selkirk actually met, Defoe would certainly have heard the stories of Selkirk’s adventure and used the tales as the basis for his novel.


Journal reference:


   1. Takahashi et al. Excavation at Aguas Buenas, Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile, of a gunpowder magazine and the supposed campsite of Alexander Selkirk, together with an account of early navigational dividers. Post-Medieval Archaeology, 2007; 41 (2): 270 DOI: 10.1179/174581307X236157


Adapted from materials provided by Maney Publishing, via AlphaGalileo.



Unearthed First World War manuals reveal the everyday challenges of life in the trenches

Life in the trenches of the Western Front was tough enough without worrying about remembering to shave every day or taking the rubbish out at night.

By Jonathan Wynne-Jones and Julie Henry

Last Updated: 8:31PM GMT 01 Nov 2008


But a new book has now revealed in extraordinary detail the standards expected of Britain's soldiers fighting on the front line in the First World War.


The compilation of officers' manuals - which have been published for the first time since the end of the conflict - gives a new insight into the daily perils the men faced as well as the lighter side of army life.


The pamphlets, which officers used to pass on tactics and orders to their men while on the front line, reveal what soldiers were supposed to do in virtually any circumstance, from standing "perfectly still" at the sight of enemy aircraft to carrying a spare sock under their jacket, on each shoulder, so they could be changed if their feet got wet.


When a spare pair was not available, soldiers were told it was "refreshing" to occasionally stretch their socks and turn them inside out.


The manuals even offer suggestions of games the soldiers could play in their free time that would keep their minds alert and also develop skills that could be used in battle.


In a twist on football, a game called "bomb-ball" was created, which was described as "a game for bringing into play the muscles used in bombing (throwing grenades), and for the development of quick and accurate throwing".


It involved a referee, corners and throw-ins and the off-side rule, but instead of kicking a leather ball, soldiers would throw a grenade-sized canvas bag filled with sand.


While the game might have been a welcome distraction from the war, the manual, which was issued in October 1916, stresses that it was to be taken seriously.


It says: "The essence of the following games is that they should be conducted with the utmost amount of energy and the rigid observance of all the details connected with them.


"Executed in this way, they inculcate discipline and develop quickness of brain and movement, whereas, if carelessly carried out, they may do more harm than good."


The pamphlets also emphasise that maintaining a positive attitude among soldiers was the key to keeping morale high.


Platoon commanders were advised that they would build a well-trained platoon by "establishing a high soldierly spirit" and setting the example.


Characteristics singled out included "being blood-thirsty, and for ever thinking how to kill the enemy", "being well turned out, punctual, and cheery, even under adverse circumstances" and "recognising a good effort, even if it is not really successful".


They were told to "enforce strict discipline at all times", particularly over the issue of rum. Officers were encouraged not to hand out rum to men about to go on sentry duty.


A manual called 'Trench standing orders for the 124th infantry brigade' says: "The issue of rum in the trenches is as a rule undesirable. It is difficult to supervise, and leads to drunkenness.


"If issued just before the men go on duty it makes them drowsy and unfit for the alert duties of a sentry."


The same manual instructs that sentries must not wear any coverings over their ears and must remain standing, unless the height of the parapet means they would be exposed to enemy fire.


It also orders that bayonets should always be fixed at night, during a snowstorm or thick mist.


A pamphlet entitled 'Notes on Minor Enterprises", issued in March 1916, tells officers how to carry out small scale raids on the German trenches.


It suggests woollen gloves should be used while the men crawl forward across no man's land, but recommends throwing them away on reaching the enemy position.


Soldiers with coughs and colds should not take part in such missions, it suggests.


Another pamphlet - 'Notes from the Front' - warns officers that their men should be wary of underhand tactics used by the Germans.


"The enemy makes use of stratagems some of which we should consider dishonourable," it says.


Among examples of foul-play, it cites Germans dressing in French uniforms and speaking French and advancing under cover of a white flag.


The pamphlets also discuss methods deployed by the enemies for espionage, and highlight the need to be suspicious of pigeons found in France: "The keeping of unregistered carrier pigeons is illegal, and they are a favourite method of communication by spies.


"On arrival in a village an order should be given to the Mayor that all cages are to be opened and cellars searched for pigeons."


Published to coincide with the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day, the book, An Officer's Manual of the Western Front, also records the levels of hygiene and personal cleanliness required of soldiers.


Biscuit tins were to be used in the absence of toilets on the front line, and refuse was placed in "properly appointed rubbish sacks" that were removed at night and then buried.


It added: "Men must be properly dressed at all times and as smart and clean as circumstances will allow. All men must shave daily."


Dr Stephen Bull, who wrote the book, unearthed a number of the manuals at flea-markets.


"We've got glimpses of the war from memoirs, but this is the first time it's been laid out to give such a full picture of life in the trenches," said Dr Bull, who is a curator of military history and archaeology for Lancashire Museums.


"It says something about the expectations of a different age and it is very difficult to tell whether this spirit still exists."