European Neanderthals had ginger hair and freckles

Neanderthals living in Europe were fair skinned, freckled and had ginger hair, a study has revealed.

By Edward Owen in Madrid

Last Updated: 6:51PM GMT 29 Dec 2008


European Neanderthals had ginger hair and freckles


The gene known as MC1R suggests the Neanderthals had fair skin and even freckles like redheads.


In a major breakthrough, Spanish scientists have discovered the blood group and two other genes of the early humans who lived 43,000 ago.


After analysing the fossil bones found in a cave in north-west Spain, the experts concluded they had human blood group "O" and were genetically more likely to be fair skinned, perhaps even with freckles, have red or ginger hair and could talk.


The investigating team from Spain's government scientific institute, CSIC, used the very latest forensic techniques to remove the bones for analysis to prevent them getting contaminated with modern DNA.


Carles Lalueza, an evolutionary biologist with the investigation, said: "What we were trying to do was to create the most realistic image of the Neanderthals with details that are not visible in the fossils, but which form part of their identity."


The report, published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, concludes that: "These results suggest the genetic change responsible for the O blood group in humans predates the human and Neanderthal divergence" but came "after humans separated from their common ancestor ... chimpanzees."


The Spanish scientists also describe how they also discovered two other genes.


One gene known as MC1R suggests the Neanderthals had fair skin and even freckles like redheads.


Another, a variety of FOXP2, is related to speaking and the capacity to create a language and therefore suggests they could communicate orally.


Neanderthals are believed to have numbered about 15,000 and lived in Europe and Asia for about 200,000 years until they became extinct about 30,000 years ago.


Since 2000, archeo-paleontologists, wearing special sealed white suits, masks and helmets have been painstakingly sifting through 1,500 bone fragments found in the "Tunnel of Bones" in the Sidrón cave complex in Borines, Asturias, north-west Spain.


Unnatural striations in the bones suggest that the Neanderthals practised cannibalism and broke the bones to pick out succulent bone marrow.


But why this group died, without wild animals discovering and contaminating their remains, or why indeed the Neanderthals in general became extinct, still remains a mystery.


"Really we can't establish a direct relation with why the Neanderthals disappeared," says Antonio Rosas.


One theory is that they succumbed to an ice age or another, more sinister, is that they were wiped out by the arrival of our more direct human ancestors from Africa.



The analysis of two Neanderthals found in Asturias had revealed that the blood group 0

Madrid - 28/12/2008


The study of nuclear DNA of two individuals to 43,000 years old suggests that the mutation linked to the defence of some diseases, is not exclusive to modern humans


Investigators of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) have identified for the first time the blood group of two Neanderthals at the site of the Spaniard Sidrón. Thus, the nuclear DNA analysis of two male 43,000 years old have confirmed that they belonged to blood group 0.


CSIC researchers Antonio Rosas (left) and Carles Lalueza (right) have discovered that the gene mutation that determines the blood group 0 is not unique to modern humans .- CSIC


This shows that the genetic mutation that defines the group was 0 shared by Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and modern humans (Homo sapiens), it should surely be the first time in a common ancestor.


The other new study, published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, is that "this would be the first gene found in Neanderthals that may be associated with disease resistance," says Antonio Rosas, CSIC paleobiólogo author and co study.


The explanation is that individuals do not group 0 antigen in the membrane of red blood cells. This could mean greater resistance to diseases and pathogens that are using these cells to recognize antigens that are infected.


Carlos Lalueza, first author of the article which will be published this week that "the fact that Neanderthals were 0 group could indicate that they were adapted to a pathogen with which they have come into contact during his long remained in Eurasia."


The Sidrón participates in the Neanderthal genome project which, led by Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Society of Germany, aims to decode the complete genome of this species to be separated from the lineage of modern humans for at least half a million years.


In a press release issued by the CSIC stressed "the reliability of genetic testing of the site Spaniard." The reason is due to those working in this protocol archaeological dig to extract and manipulate the fossil bones so clean, so you are not contaminated by modern DNA from its own excavators and researchers.



When the woolly mammoth ran out, early man turned to roasted vegetables

Ovens made of super-heated rocks allowed primitive humans to cooks lily bulbs, wild onions and other plants for days to make them edible.

By Thomas H. Maugh II

December 27, 2008


Long before early humans in North America grew corn and beans, they were harvesting and cooking the bulbs of lilies, wild onions and other plants, roasting them for days over hot rocks, according to a Texas archaeologist.


The evidence for this practice has long been known of in fire-cracked rock piles found throughout the continent, but archaeologists have tended to ignore it "because a new pyramid or a Clovis arrow point is much sexier," said archaeologist Alston V. Thoms of Texas A&M University.


In two reports published online this week in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology and the Journal of Archaeological Science, Thoms reported that cooking on hot rocks first became a substitute for cooking on hot coals about 9,000 to 10,500 years ago, then had a sudden jump in popularity about 4,000 years ago.


The reason for the changes: population growth that required the exploitation of new food resources.


"Whatever they were eating before did not require prolonged cooking," Thoms said. But beginning about 10,000 years ago, "people couldn't live off the cream of the land anymore." The megafauna that had been a prime food source -- such as the woolly mammoth -- were becoming extinct, and other mammals were becoming harder to find. People had to turn to plants.


Meadowlands and forest edges were filled with lilies, wild onions and perhaps two dozen other wild plants ready for the harvesting. The bulbs of these plants are about as nutritious as sweet potatoes, but their energy is locked up in a dense, indigestible carbohydrate called inulin. The only way to make the bulbs digestible is to roast them for two days or longer.


Cooking over a hot fire, as people had done in the past, meant tending a fire pit. But adding large rocks, some weighing more than 2,000 pounds, changed the situation. If the rocks were heated red-hot, they would hold heat for 48 hours or longer, conserving both fuel and human energy.


The remains of these earth ovens have been excavated by archaeologists since 1900, "but people haven't recognized at a broad level that the earliest ones in Canada are about the same age as those in the Pacific Northwest and in Texas," Thoms said.


In other words, "this was a punctuated change, all at once, over a big part of the country."


Evidence suggests that a similar change occurred in Russia, Japan and perhaps Britain, he said. "There are lilies in northern environments around the world, and they were used as staples in the same way people today use wheat, grains or rice."




Diamonds show comet struck North America, scientists say

The impact caused an ice age that killed some mammal species and many humans 12,900 years ago, researchers report. They say the discovery of tiny heat-formed diamonds is proof of the catastrophe.

By Thomas H. Maugh II

January 2, 2009


A discovery of microscopic diamonds a few feet beneath the surface of North America reveals that a comet caused a cataclysm of fire, flood and devastation nearly 13,000 years ago that extinguished mammoths and mastodons and dealt a blow to early civilization, scientists said Friday.


The nanodiamonds, so small that they are barely visible in an electron microscope, are thought to be remnants of that comet, which would have hit about 65 million years after the much larger collision that wiped out the dinosaurs.


According to the theory -- which has its critics -- as the comet broke apart, it rained fire over the entire continent, igniting the plains and the forests and creating choking clouds of smoke.


Heat from the explosions and the massive fires melted substantial portions of the Laurentide glacier in Canada, sending waves of water down the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico. That triggered changes in Atlantic Ocean currents, which ushered in a 1,300-year ice age known as the Younger Dryas.


Battered by fire and ice, as many as 35 species of mammals, including American camels, the short-faced bear, the giant beaver, the dire wolf and the American lion, either immediately vanished or were so depleted in number that humans hunted them to extinction.


The humans, a Paleo-Indian grouping known as the Clovis culture for the distinctive spear points they employed, suffered a major population drop, disappearing in many areas for hundreds of years.


The researchers -- including James P. Kennett of UC Santa Barbara and Douglas J. Kennett of the University of Oregon -- had earlier discovered the thin layer of black soil containing iridium and other debris that they thought indicated a massive comet or meteor impact. But critics suggested a variety of less dire explanations.


The discovery of the nanodiamonds, however, reported Friday in the journal Science, provides the most powerful support for the comet theory because the gems can only be created under the extreme temperatures and pressures of a massive explosion, such as a comet striking the Earth's surface.


"There's no other way we can interpret the presence of these diamonds other than an extraterrestrial impact," said James Kennett, a paleooceanographer.


Such an impact would be the most likely source of nanodiamonds, critics agreed. But many argued that the one-page paper in Science did not provide enough evidence to support the authors' claim.


"Nanodiamonds could be a good indicator of an impact event . . . but after reading the paper, I wasn't convinced they found diamonds," said physicist Tyrone Daulton of Washington University in St. Louis. "Maybe they found diamonds and maybe they didn't."


Spectroscopist Peter Buseck of Arizona State University said that he "wouldn't question that they saw nanodiamonds," but added that for such a potentially important discovery, he "would like to have it well supported."


Archaeologist Douglas Kennett, lead author of the report and James Kennett's son, conceded that the restrictive format of the rapid publication limited the amount of data the team could incorporate into their paper.


But he said the presence of nanodiamonds had been confirmed in three separate laboratories. "There are going to be a lot of follow-up papers that will clearly demonstrate that these are diamonds," he said.


The findings may tie together a variety of hitherto mysterious events in North America that all occurred beginning about 12,900 years ago, the beginning of the Younger Dryas -- also known as the Big Freeze.


The Kennetts and their colleagues reported last year that they had found the black layer, radiocarbon-dated to 12,900 years ago, at 10 archaeological sites scattered around the continent.


In addition to charred remains from forests and other flora, the black mat contains iridium, carbon spherules and fullerenes containing helium-3, all characteristic of an extraterrestrial impact.


But critics said the evidence was insufficient to prove an impact, particularly in the absence of a demonstrable crater.


James Kennett and his colleagues went back to the mats they had collected and performed what he termed the "extremely labor-intensive" process of looking for the nanodiamonds. That involved using acids to dissolve everything else in the samples, then using a variety of techniques to identify the diamond residue.


They found a family of at least five different forms of diamonds, including some that are formed only by impacts, they reported in the Science paper. Moreover, the nanodiamonds were found only at the bottom of the black mat -- not in the soil either below or above it.


Such diamonds have previously been found in the thin layer of soil that marks the boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary eras of Earth's history 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs disappeared in the aftermath of what is widely believed to have been a meteorite impact.


In a series of papers presented last month at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, the team also reported that at least 15 of the 35 species that became extinct during the Younger Dryas disappeared within 100 years of the event.


Their fossils appear "right up to the base of the black mat and never go above it," James Kennett said.


The other species may have been hunted to extinction by humans, as has often been speculated, but only after their numbers were greatly reduced by the fires and climate change.


There was also a "major population crash" of humans, he added: In the Great Plains, all traces of humans disappeared for about 200 years. Southern California was even more severely affected, with evidence of human occupation disappearing for most of the Younger Dryas.


James Kennett is convinced there was a cometary impact.


"I've counted up 15 major things that occurred at 12,900 years ago," he said. "I'd like somebody to explain that to me in some other way."



Meteorite Triggered Ancient New York Tsunami?

Ker Than in New York City for National Geographic News

December 31, 2008


A meteorite impact off Long Island 2,300 years ago may have set off a huge tsunami that flooded the New York City region, a new study says.


It's not known whether any ancient settlements were in the path of the proposed killer waves, but "any significant tsunami today would be devastating and likely to flood places like lower Manhattan," Vanderbilt University geologist Steven Goodbred said.


Tsunamis are typically triggered by seismic events. An undersea earthquake, for example, caused the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. But meteorite strikes have also been known to spark the killer waves.


In the New York area, "there are no exploding volcanoes and there probably haven't been" for millions of years, said study co-author Katherine Cagen of Harvard University. "The same goes for [major] earthquakes."


Cagen, however, recently found signs of a meteorite impact in sediments taken from several sites along the Hudson River, which forms the border between New York City and New Jersey.


The evidence included deformed rocks; rare microscopic "nanodiamonds"; and microscopic, perfectly round rocks called spherules, which form when molten and vaporized rock are flung into the air by a space impact and then solidify in the temporary vacuum created by the blast.


Nothing as big as a crater has been found, but Dallas Abbott, a Columbia University impact expert, estimates that the space rock would have had a diameter of between about 165 feet (50 meters) and 490 feet (150 meters). Any smaller, and a major wave would not have formed and the rock would have exploded before hitting Earth. Any bigger, and the strike would have created "impact glass"—forged in the extreme heat of an impact blast—which has not been found as of yet.


Abbott presented her team's research this month at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.


The Hudson River samples date back to around 300 B.C.—the same age as some out-of-place gravel deposits discovered by another team of scientists on Long Island in 2003.


The rocky layer is several inches thick and appears to have been transported from a gravel-rich coast a few hundred meters away. The individual rocks are quite large—some as big as fists—so normal waves or wind could not have carried the stones, according to Vanderbilt's Goodbred.


At the time of the gravel discovery, Goodbred suggested that the rocks had been moved by one of two phenomena: a very big storm or a tsunami.


The new meteorite evidence may tip the scales toward the tsunami theory. Even so, Goodbred stressed that the research is still in its early stages.


"There are two unique hypotheses here"—the tsunami and the storm—"and either one or both may yet be proven incorrect," he said.


Geologist Ted Bryant of the University of Wollongong in Australia said an extraterrestrial impact is the most likely explanation for the spherules and nanodiamonds.


Abbott's "discoveries cannot be reproduced by processes naturally occurring in the New York region," said Bryant, who was not involved in the new study.


"Is her hypothesis wild? No. Is it unconventional? Yes," he added. "But so was continental drift when it was first proposed."



Stonehenge was 'giant concert venue'

A university professor who is an expert in sound and a part-time DJ believes Stonehenge was created as a dance arena for listening to "trance-style" music.

Last Updated: 10:10PM GMT 04 Jan 2009


The monument has baffled archaeologists who have argued for decades over the stone circle's 5,000-year history but academic Rupert Till believes he has solved the riddle by suggesting it may have been used for ancient raves.


Mr Till, an expert in acoustics and music technology at Huddersfield University, West Yorks., believes the standing stones had the ideal acoustics to amplify a "repetitive trance rhythm".


The original Stonehenge probably had a "very pleasant, almost concert-like acoustic" that our ancestors slowly perfected over many generations


Because Stonehenge itself is partially collapsed, Dr Till, from York, North Yorks., used a computer model to conduct experiments in sound.


The most exciting discoveries came when he and colleague Dr Bruno Fazenda visited a full-size concrete replica of Stonehenge, with all the original stones intact, which was built as a war memorial by American road builder Sam Hill at Maryhill in Washington state.


Although the replica has not previously gained any attention from archaeologists studying the original site, it was ideal for Dr Till's work.


He said: "We were able to get some interesting results when we visited the replica by using computer-based acoustic analysis software, a 3D soundfield microphone, a dodecahedronic speaker, and a huge bass speaker from a PA company.


"By comparing results from paper calculations, computer simulations based on digital models, and results from the concrete Stonehenge copy, we were able to come up with some of these theories about the uses of Stonehenge.


"We have also been able to reproduce the sound of someone speaking or clapping in Stonehenge 5,000 years ago.


"The most interesting thing is we managed to get the whole space (at Maryhill) to resonate, almost like a wine glass will ring if you run a finger round it.


"While that was happening a simple drum beat sounded incredibly dramatic. The space had real character; it felt that we had gone somewhere special."



Macedonia archeologists uncover 4,000 year old writing


Uncovered are the first traces of the old Macedonian language in the country, says "Dr. Dushko Aleksovski, paleolinguistics professor and honorary president of the World Rock Art Academy.


"This is a very rare artifact, the name of the Goddess Vesta is written on it. However, the first written name is Bsefa, which later became Vesta. This is the oldest artifact written in the old Macedonian language discovered on our territory." says Dr. Aleksovski.


The 4,000 year old signs written on the lid of the clay artifact, according to Dr. Aleksovski, are considered as a monumental discovery, first of its kind and very important for the paleolinguistics.


The discovery was made in central Macedonia, the precise location is being kept secret by the Government so the area doesn't get over run by archeological poachers looking for treasures and artifacts.



1,000 years on, perils of fake Viking swords are revealed

Maev Kennedy

The Guardian, Saturday 27 December 2008


It must have been an appalling moment when a Viking realised he had paid two cows for a fake designer sword; a clash of blade on blade in battle would have led to his sword, still sharp enough to slice through bone, shattering like glass.


"You really didn't want to have that happen," said Dr Alan Williams, an archaeometallurgist and consultant to the Wallace Collection, the London museum which has one of the best assemblies of ancient weapons in the world. He and Tony Fry, a senior researcher at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, south-west London, have solved a riddle that the Viking swordsmiths may have sensed but didn't quite understand.


Some Viking swords were among the best ever made, still fearsome weapons after a millennium. The legendary swords found at Viking sites across northern Europe bear the maker's name, Ulfberht, in raised letters at the hilt end. Puzzlingly, so do the worst ones, found in fragments on battle sites or in graves.


The Vikings would have found it impossible to tell the difference when they bought a newly forged sword: both would have looked identical, and had razor sharp blades. The difference would have only emerged in use, often fatally.


Williams began to test the Ulfberht blades when a private collector brought one into the Wallace, and found they varied wildly. The tests at the NPL have proved that the inferior swords were forged in northern Europe from locally worked iron. But the genuine ones were made from ingots of crucible steel, which the Vikings brought back from furnaces thousands of miles away in modern Afghanistan and Iran. The tests at Teddington proved the genuine Ulfberht swords had a phenomenally high carbon content, three times that of the fakes, and half again that of modern carbon steel.


The contemporary fake Ulfberhts used the best northern metal working techniques, which hardened the metal by quenching - plunging the red-hot blade into cold water. It enabled them to give the blade a keen edge, but made it fatally brittle.


In the 11th century the Russians blocked the trade route, and the supply of crucible steel ended. Evidence is emerging that the swords from burials are the fakes, or the work of less prestigious makers. The genuine Ulfberhts have mostly been found in rivers. "I don't think these were ritual offerings," Williams said. "They are mostly from rivers near settlement sites, and I think what you have almost certainly is some poor chap staggering home drunk, falling into the river and losing his sword. An expensive mistake."


Their work has also proved that many of the Ulfberht swords in some of the most famous weapons collections in the world are fakes. The Wallace's is the real McCoy, but the one brought in by the private collector which started the hunt turned out to be fake.