Lice hang ancient date on first clothes

Genetic analysis puts origin at 190,000 years ago

By Bruce Bower May 8th, 2010; Vol.177 #10 (p. 15)   



Using DNA to trace the evolutionary split between head and body lice, researchers conclude that body lice first came on the scene approximately 190,000 years ago. And that shift, the scientists propose, followed soon after people first began wearing clothing.

The new estimate, presented April 16 at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists annual meeting, sheds light on a poorly understood cultural development that allowed people to settle in northern, cold regions, said Andrew Kitchen of Pennsylvania State University in University Park. Armed with little direct evidence, scientists had previously estimated that clothing originated anywhere from around 1 million to 40,000 years ago.

An earlier analysis of mitochondrial DNA from the two modern types of lice indicated that body lice evolved from head lice only about 70,000 years ago. Because body lice thrive in the folds of clothing, they likely appeared not long after clothes were invented, many scientists believe.

Though well suited to gauging the timing of evolutionary events, mitochondrial DNA is a relatively small part of the genome. Kitchen’s team examined both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA samples from head and body lice, yielding the much older, and presumably more accurate, estimate of when body lice first evolved.

It makes sense that people, or perhaps Neandertals inhabiting cold parts of Europe, started making clothes around 190,000 years ago, Kitchen explained, since both species had already lost most body hair and knew how to make stone tools for scraping animal hides. Homo sapiens originated approximately 200,000 years ago.

The researchers calculated relatively fast mutation rates for both forms of lice, so the new age estimate for the divergence of body lice from head lice is a conservative one. It’s possible for body lice to have evolved from head lice in only a few generations, according to laboratory studies, Kitchen said. No evidence indicates that head lice can evolve from body lice.



Ancient artifacts revealed as northern ice patches melt

Scientists hope to save artifacts as ice recedes

Public release date: 26-Apr-2010

Contact: Ruth Klinkhammer



Arctic Institute of North America


YELLOWKNIFE, NT – APRIL 2010 – High in the Mackenzie Mountains, scientists are finding a treasure trove of ancient hunting tools being revealed as warming temperatures melt patches of ice that have been in place for thousands of years.


Tom Andrews, an archaeologist with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife and lead researcher on the International Polar Year Ice Patch Study, is amazed at the implements being discovered by researchers.


"We're just like children opening Christmas presents. I kind of pinch myself," says Andrews.


Ice patches are accumulations of annual snow that, until recently, remained frozen all year. For millennia, caribou seeking relief from summer heat and insects have made their way to ice patches where they bed down until cooler temperatures prevail. Hunters noticed caribou were, in effect, marooned on these ice islands and took advantage.


"I'm never surprised at the brilliance of ancient hunters anymore. I feel stupid that we didn't find this sooner," says Andrews.


Ice patch archeology is a recent phenomenon that began in Yukon. In 1997, sheep hunters discovered a 4,300-year-old dart shaft in caribou dung that had become exposed as the ice receded. Scientists who investigated the site found layers of caribou dung buried between annual deposits of ice. They also discovered a repository of well-preserved artifacts.


Andrews first became aware of the importance of ice patches when word about the Yukon find started leaking out. "We began wondering if we had the same phenomenon here."


In 2000, he cobbled together funds to buy satellite imagery of specific areas in the Mackenzie Mountains and began to examine ice patches in the region. Five years later, he had raised enough to support a four-hour helicopter ride to investigate two ice patches. The trip proved fruitful.


"Low and behold, we found a willow bow." That discovery led to a successful application for federal International Polar Year funds which have allowed an interdisciplinary team of researchers to explore eight ice patches for four years.


The results have been extraordinary. Andrews and his team have found 2400-year-old spear throwing tools, a 1000-year-old ground squirrel snare, and bows and arrows dating back 850 years. Biologists involved in the project are examining dung for plant remains, insect parts, pollen and caribou parasites. Others are studying DNA evidence to track the lineage and migration patterns of caribou. Andrews also works closely with the Shutaot'ine or Mountain Dene, drawing on their guiding experience and traditional knowledge.


"The implements are truly amazing. There are wooden arrows and dart shafts so fine you can't believe someone sat down with a stone and made them."


Andrews is currently in a race against time. His IPY funds have run out and he is keenly aware that each summer, the patches continue to melt. In fact, two of the eight original patches have already disappeared.


"We realize that the ice patches are continuing to melt and we have an ethical obligation to collect these artifacts as they are exposed," says Andrews. If left on the ground, exposed artifacts would be trampled by caribou or dissolved by the acidic soils. "In a year or two the artifacts would be gone."


For media interviews with Tom Andrews:

Tel: 867 873-7688, Email: tom_andrews@gov.nt.ca


For information on Arctic Science Promotion program:

Ruth Klinkhammer, Director of Communications

Arctic Institute of North America

Tel: 403 220-7294, Email: r.klinkhammer@ucalgary.ca


This media release is part of the Promotion of Arctic Science, an Arctic Institute of North America project made possible with the generous support of the Government of Canada Program for International Polar Year.


The mission of the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary is to advance the study of the North American and circumpolar Arctic and to acquire, preserve and disseminate information on physical, environmental and social conditions in the North. More information can be found at www.arctic.ucalgary.ca



Chinese Pigs 'Direct Descendants' of First Domesticated Breeds

Modern-day Chinese pigs are directly descended from ancient pigs which were the first to be domesticated in the region 10,000 years ago, a new archaeological and genetic study has revealed.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2010)


An international team of researchers, led by Durham University (UK) and the China Agricultural University, in Beijing, say their findings suggest a difference between patterns of early domestication and movement of pigs in Europe and parts of East Asia.

The research, published April 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, looked at the DNA sequences of more than 1,500 modern and 18 ancient pigs.

Lead author Dr Greger Larson, in the Department of Archaeology, at Durham University, said: "Previous studies of European domestic pigs demonstrated that the first pigs in Europe were imported from the Near East. Those first populations were then completely replaced by pigs descended from European wild boar.

"However, despite the occurrence of genetically distinct populations of wild boar throughout modern China, these populations have not been incorporated into domestic stocks.

"The earliest known Chinese domestic pigs have a direct connection with modern Chinese breeds, suggesting a long, unbroken history of pigs and people in this part of East Asia."

The finding is part of a wider research project into pig domestication and early human migration in East Asia.

The study also uncovered multiple centres of pig domestication and a complex picture of human migration across East Asia.

After pigs were incorporated into domestic stocks in Southeast Asia, the animals then migrated with people south and east to New Guinea, eventually reaching the remote Pacific, including Hawai'i, Tahiti, and Fiji, the researchers said.

The DNA analysis also found that wild boar were probably domesticated in many places including India and peninsular Southeast Asia several thousand years ago.

As current interpretations of archaeological records in these regions do not yet support these findings, the group has referred to them as "cryptic domestications."

They suggest that additional archaeological digs and new analytical techniques may help to resolve the problem.

Dr Larson added: "Our evidence suggests an intriguingly complex pattern of local domestication and regional turnover and calls for a reappraisal of the archaeological record across South and East Asia.

"We may even find additional centres of pig domestication when we take a closer look at the picture in that part of the world."

The research is part of an ongoing research project based at Durham University which aims to re-evaluate the archaeological evidence for pig domestication and husbandry and explore the role of animals in reconstructing ancient human migration, trade and exchange networks.

The DNA testing was carried out at the China Agricultural University and was analysed at Durham University and Uppsala University, Sweden.

The research was funded by the National Basic Research Programme of China and the National Key Technology R&D Programme of China.



‘Ancient IKEA building’ discovered by Italian archaeologists

Richard Owen, Rome


Italian archaeologists have found the ruins of a 6th-century BC Greek temple-like structure in southern Italy that came with detailed assembly instructions and is being called an “ancient IKEA building”.


Massimo Osanna, head of archaeology at Basilica University, said that the team working at Torre Satriano near Potenza in what was once Magna Graecia had unearthed a sloping roof with red and black decorations, with “masculine” and “feminine” components inscribed with detailed directions on how they slotted together.


Professor Christopher Smith, director of the British School at Rome, said that the discovery was “the clearest example yet found of mason’s marks of the time. It looks as if someone was instructing others how to mass-produce components and put them together in this way”” he told The Times.


Professor Osanna suggested that a “fashion for all things Greek” among the indigenous population had led an enterprising builder to produce “affordable DIY structures” modelled on classical Greek buildings. The terracotta roof filtered rainwater down the decorative panels, known as cymatiums, with projections to protect the wall below.


 “All the cymatiums and several sections of frieze also have inscriptions relating to the roof assembly system,” Professor Osanna told Storica, the Italian magazine of the National Geographic Society.


He added: “So far around a hundred inscribed fragments have been recovered, with masculine ordinal numbers on the cymatiums and feminine ones on the friezes”. He said the result was “a kind of instruction booklet”.


“The characteristics of these inscriptions indicate they date back to around the 6th century BC, which tallies with the architectural evidence suggested by the decoration,” Professor Osanna said.


He said that the decorative features were remarkably similar to those on another structure unearthed at Braida di Vaglio nearby: “The similarity in the use of these decorations indicates the same origin” he said. “Possibly the same mould was used”.


Magna Graecia — Latin for “Greater Greece” — was a coastal area colonised by Greek settlers who traded with enclaves such as Lucania, of which modern Potenza was part.


Greek colonisation left much of southern Italy with an Hellenic inheritance, including architecture and culture and even language. A minority in Calabria and Apulia still speaks a dialect known as Griko.



Roman altar stones unearthed at Scottish cricket ground


Roman altar stones dating back almost 2000 years have been found at a cricket pavilion in Musselburgh, East Lothian.

The stones have been described as the most significant find of their kind in the past 100 years.

Renovations were planned at the pavilion but archaeologists had to survey the protected building before work could begin.

Their unearthing of the stones and other artefacts has postponed the planned developments on the pavilion.

George Findlater, senior inspector of ancient monuments at Historic Scotland, said: "The stones have carvings and quite possibly inscriptions which can have a wealth of information on them, a lot of data about the people and their religion at that time."


At least one of the altars is from the 2nd Century and is dedicated to the Roman God Jupiter.

Councillor Paul McLennan, cabinet member for community wellbeing at East Lothian Council, said: "The discovery of these remains is particularly exciting as it is not often that Roman altar stones are discovered during an archaeological excavation in Scotland.

"This helps with the emerging picture of life in and around the Roman fort at Inveresk during the second century."



Laser to scan Robin Hood's prison under Nottingham city


The dungeon believed to have housed Robin Hood when he was caught by the Sheriff of Nottingham is to be surveyed using a laser.

It is part of a major project to explore every cave in Nottingham.

Robin Hood is believed to have been held captive in an oubliette (underground dungeon) located at what is now the Galleries of Justice.

The Nottingham Caves Survey is being conducted by archaeologists based at the University of Nottingham.

The two year project, costing £250,000, has been funded by the Greater Nottingham Partnership, East Midlands Development Agency, English Heritage, the University of Nottingham and Nottingham City Council.

Experts from Trent and Peak Archaeology will use a 3D laser scanner to produce a three dimensional record of more than 450 sandstone caves around Nottingham from which a virtual representation can be made.

David Knight, Head of Research at the Trent and Peak unit, said there will be no actual excavations just the use of the laser.

"The aim is to increase the tourist potential of these sites. The scanning will also make them visible 'virtually' which is good in terms of public access because a lot of them are health hazards.

"That's one of the problems with these caves - they're very impressive but access is fairly difficult. You can imagine the health and safety issues are quite significant."

A modern perspective

The last major survey of Nottingham's caves was in the 1980s. The British Geological Survey (BGS) documented all known caves under the city.


The Nottingham Caves Survey will update the information that made up the BGS's Register of Caves.

David Knight said: "Once we've done the whole lot we'll be in a position to rank them in order of significance and make a decision on which caves may or may not be opened."

The area which now makes up Nottingham city centre was once known as Tiggua Cobaucc, which means 'place of caves'.

The caves date back to the medieval period and possibly earlier. Over the years they have been used as dungeons, beer cellars, cess-pits, tanneries and air-raid shelters.

Today the most famous include the City of Caves in the Broadmarsh Centre, Mortimer's Hole beneath the Castle, the oubliette at the Galleries of Justice, the cave-restaurant at the Hand and Heart pub on Derby Road and the cellar-caves at the Trip to Jerusalem pub.



Battle lines redrawn at scene of Prince Charlie's finest hour

Published Date: 20 April 2010



IT HAS always been known as the site of one of the most famous battles in Scottish history – until now.


Experts have discovered that the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans actually took place in fields 500 metres further east.


Glasgow University's Dr Tony Pollard, one of the world's foremost battlefield archaeologists, was asked to explore the area by the Battle of Prestonpans Heritage Trust two years ago and has today revealed his findings.


Having unearthed piles of pistol balls, grape shot and musket balls some distance from the originally-recorded battle site, it now appears previous records have always been incorrect.


His team, financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, believe the main area of attack happened further towards Port Seton, and not on land south of Cockenzie Power Station.


He said: "We were not finding very much at the site or the materials you'd expect to discover. So, we were thinking, 'Have we missed the stuff or has it been taken away?'


"But when the metal detectors went further east, we knew we had it."


He added: "Although this was a very well-documented battle with lots of eye-witness accounts, it was also very brutal and over quite quickly.


"It now seems that in the excitement some of the witnesses got it wrong."


More than 5,000 men were involved in the fight – government soldiers against the Jacobites – in what proved to be the highlight of Bonnie Prince Charlie's campaign, allowing him to move on to conquer Edinburgh.


Archeologists, including local volunteers with metal detectors, found the well-preserved battle evidence in the fields of Seton East Farm, owned by farmer Alistair Roberston.


He said: "It is exciting to think it was across our fields that the famous Highland charge took place and here that the main part of the battle was fought."


Dr Pollard and his team believe other lesser fighting took place on the land originally thought to be the main battle site, but not the historic charge.


There are now plans to display the findings in a visitor centre, which could be built in the area which already includes a memorial cairn to those who died.


Dr Gordon Prestoungrange, chairman of the Battle Trust, said: "This battle was one of the most important in Scottish history and has the potential to draw many thousands of visitors to this part of East Lothian.


"We want to safeguard it for the nation and provide interpretation to inform and educate. Now we have a definite idea of where the battle actually took place we can be confident that we will be telling the story as it actually was."