Crocodile and Hippopotamus Served as 'Brain Food' for Early Human Ancestors

ScienceDaily (June 10, 2010)

Your mother was right: Fish really is "brain food." And it seems that even pre-humans living as far back as 2 million years ago somehow knew it.


A team of researchers that included Johns Hopkins University geologist Naomi Levin has found that early hominids living in what is now northern Kenya ate a wider variety of foods than previously thought, including fish and aquatic animals such as turtles and crocodiles. Rich in protein and nutrients, these foods may have played a key role in the development of a larger, more human-like brain in our early forebears, which some anthropologists believe happened around 2 million years ago, according to the researchers' study.

"Considering that growing a bigger brain requires many nutrients and calories, anthropologists have posited that adding meat to their diet was key to the development of a larger brain," said Levin, an assistant professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins' Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. "Before now, we have never had such a wealth of data that actually demonstrates the wide variety of animal resources that early humans accessed." Levin served as the main geologist on the team, which included scientists from the United States, South Africa, Kenya, Australia and the United Kingdom.

A paper on the study was published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and offers first-ever evidence of such dietary variety among early pre-humans.

In 2004, the team discovered a 1.95 million-year-old site in northern Kenya and spent four years excavating it, yielding thousands of fossilized tools and bones. According to paper's lead author David Braun of the University of Cape Town (South Africa), the site provided the right conditions to preserve those valuable artifacts.

"At sites of this age, we often consider ourselves lucky if we find any bone associated with stone tools. But here, we found everything from small bird bones to hippopotamus leg bones," Braun said.

The preservation of the artifacts was so remarkable, in fact, that it allowed the team to meticulously and accurately reconstruct the environment, identifying numerous fossilized plant remains and extinct species that seem to be a sign that these early humans lived in a wet -- and possibly even a marshy -- environment.

"Results from stable isotopic analysis of the fossil teeth helped refine our picture of the paleoenvironment of the site, telling us that the majority of mammals at the site subsisted on grassy, well-watered resources," Levin said. "Today, the Turkana region in northern Kenya is an extremely dry and harsh environment. So, clearly, the environment of this butchery site was very different 1.95 million years ago -- this spot was much wetter and lush."

Using a variety of techniques, the team was able to conclude that the hominids butchered at least 10 individual animals -- including turtles, fish, crocodiles and antelopes -- on the site for use as meals. Cut marks found on the bones indicate that the hominids use simple, sharp-edged stone tools to butcher their prey.

"It's not clear to us how early humans acquired or processed the butchered meat, but it's likely that it was eaten raw," Levin said.

The team theorizes that the wet and marshy environment gave early pre-humans a way to increase the protein in their diets (and grow larger brains!) while possibly avoiding contact with larger carnivores, such as hyenas and lions.



Ancient cave paintings found in Romania

June 13, 2010


Romanian experts have discovered the most ancient cave paintings found to date in Central Europe, aged up to 35,000 years old, Romanian and French scientists said Sunday.


The pictures show animals including a buffalo, a horse and even a rhinoceros.

"It is for the first time in Central Europe that... art this old has been found and confirmed", said a joint statement from the Romanian Federation of Speleology -- the scientific study of caves -- and Jean Clottes, an expert working with UNESCO.

It is a "major discovery" and "its authenticity is certain", Clottes, a specialist in prehistoric art, told AFP. He was called on by Romanian specialists to certify the discovery.

His team included cavers, a paleontologist, an archaeologist and two cave art specialists and estimated the drawings were "attributable to a period of ancient rock art, the Gravettian or the Aurignacian (between 23,000 and 35,000 years ago)."

Carbon tests must confirm these estimates, they said.

The black-paint drawings, discovered three or four months ago in the Coliboaia cave in northwestern Romania, depict animals, including a buffalo, a horse, bear heads and rhinoceros, federation chief Viorel Traian Lascu said.



World's Oldest Leather Shoe Found in Armenia


A perfectly preserved shoe, 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and 400 years older than Stonehenge in the UK, has been found in a cave in Armenia.


The 5,500 year old shoe, the oldest leather shoe in the world, was discovered by a team of international archaeologists and their findings will publish on June 9th in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE.


The cow-hide shoe dates back to ~ 3,500 BC (the Chalcolithic period) and is in perfect condition. It was made of a single piece of leather and was shaped to fit the wearer's foot. It contained grass, although the archaeologists were uncertain as to whether this was to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe, a precursor to the modern shoe-tree perhaps? "It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman," said lead author of the research, Dr Ron Pinhasi, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland "as while small (European size 37; US size 7 women), the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era." The cave is situated in the Vayotz Dzor province of Armenia, on the Armenian, Iranian, Nackhichevanian and Turkish borders, and was known to regional archaeologists due to its visibility from the highway below.


The stable, cool and dry conditions in the cave resulted in exceptional preservation of the various objects that were found, which included large containers, many of which held well-preserved wheat and barley, apricots and other edible plants. The preservation was also helped by the fact that the floor of the cave was covered by a thick layer of sheep dung which acted as a solid seal over the objects, preserving them beautifully over the millennia!


"We thought initially that the shoe and other objects were about 600-700 years old because they were in such good condition," said Dr Pinhasi. "It was only when the material was dated by the two radiocarbon laboratories in Oxford, UK, and in California, US that we realised that the shoe was older by a few hundred years than the shoes worn by Ötzi, the Iceman."


Three samples were taken in order to determine the absolute age of the shoe and all three tests produced the same results. The archaeologists cut two small strips of leather off the shoe and sent one strip to the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford and another to the University of California –Irvine Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility. A piece of grass from the shoe was also sent to Oxford to be dated and both shoe and grass were shown to be the same age.


The shoe was discovered by Armenian PhD student, Ms Diana Zardaryan, of the Institute of Archaeology, Armenia, in a pit that also included a broken pot and sheep's horns. "I was amazed to find that even the shoe-laces were preserved," she recalled. "We couldn't believe the discovery," said Dr Gregory Areshian, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, US, co-director who was at the site with Mr Boris Gasparyan, co-director, Institute of Archaeology, Armenia when the shoe was found. "The crusts had sealed the artefacts and archaeological deposits and artefacts remained fresh dried, just like they were put in a can," he said.


The oldest known footwear in the world, to the present time, are sandals made of plant material, that were found in a cave in the Arnold Research Cave in Missouri in the US. Other contemporaneous sandals were found in the Cave of the Warrior, Judean Desert, Israel, but these were not directly dated, so that their age is based on various other associated artefacts found in the cave.


Interestingly, the shoe is very similar to the 'pampooties' worn on the Aran Islands (in the West of Ireland) up to the 1950s. "In fact, enormous similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of this shoe and those found across Europe at later periods, suggesting that this type of shoe was worn for thousands of years across a large and environmentally diverse region," said Dr Pinhasi.


"We do not know yet what the shoe or other objects were doing in the cave or what the purpose of the cave was," said Dr Pinhasi. "We know that there are children's graves at the back of the cave but so little is known about this period that we cannot say with any certainty why all these different objects were found together." The team will continue to excavate the many chambers of the cave.


The team involved in the dig included; lead author and co-director, Dr Ron Pinhasi, Archaeology Department, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland; Mr Boris Gasparian, co-director and Ms Diana Zardaryan of the Institute of Archaeology and Enthography, National Academy of Sciences, Republic of Armenia; Dr Gregory Areshian, co-director, Research Associate at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, US; Dr Alexia Smith, Department of Anthropology of the University of Connecticut, US, Dr Guy Bar-Oz , Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Israel and Dr Thomas Higham, Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, University of Oxford, UK.


The research received funding from the National Geographic Society, the Chitjian Foundation (Los Angeles), US, Mr Joe Gfoeller of the Gfoeller Foundation of US, the Steinmetz Family Foundation,US, the Boochever Foundation, US, and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, US.




For further information contact Dr Ron Pinhasi, Archaeology Department, University College Cork, Ireland Tel 00-353-21-4904245 on the 9th June or 00-353-87-2655134 or 00-353-1-2605870 on the 10th June or Ms Ruth Mc Donnell, Research Information Officer, University College Cork, Ireland Tel 00-353-21-4902758 W or 00-353-87-7957904 or 00-353-21-4543230 H


Citation: Pinhasi R, Gasparian B, Areshian G, Zardaryan D, Smith A, et al. (2010) First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands. PLoS ONE 5(6): e10984. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010984


Funding: The work has been supported by the Armenian Branch of the Gfoeller Fund of America Corporation, the National Geographic Society, the British Academy, the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, the Steinmetz Foundation, the Chitjian Trust, and the Boochever Foundation for funding the research at Areni-1 cave. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.







China marks cultural heritage day with excavation of ancient general's tomb

English.news.cn   2010-06-12 09:48:06   

ANYANG, Henan Province, June 12 (Xinhua)


China's national television started to live broadcast an excavation on the Mausoleum of General Cao Cao, a legendary Chinese warlord during the Three Kingdoms period (208-280 A.D.), Friday morning to mark the fifth Chinese Cultural Heritage Day.


The scheduled three-hour live broadcast of the excavation by the China Central Television (CCTV) began at 9:00 a.m.


The discovery of the tomb was announced Thursday night by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage as one of the ten top archaeological findings in China in 2009.


"The announcement indicates that the Chinese academic world has generally endorsed the authenticity of the Mausoleum of Cao Cao in Anyang, as there are still many myths behind the legendary figure," said Sun Yingmin, deputy director of the Henan provincial bureau of cultural heritage.


The tomb is located near the Yellow River and the city of Anyang, where Cao Cao ruled the Kingdom of Wei from 208 to 220, when he died at the age of 65.


The Henan Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau announced the discovery of the tomb in December 2009.


Cao's exploits were immortalized in the 14th century historical novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", regarded as one of China's greatest literary works. He has been portrayed as intellectual but scheming arch-careerist in Chinese art works.



Rare emerald pearl inserted in Cao Cao's mouth found

13:12, June 12, 2010     


Archaeologists have found an emerald pearl in Cao Cao's tomb with an estimated value of more than 10 million yuan, according to Chengdu Business.


The first 100-square-meters chamber of Cao Cao's tomb has been ransacked by thieves many times, but archaeologists still unearthed nearly 300 complete artifacts from it. Of those, the most special and valuable is the emerald pearl. According to an expert on collection, the pearl could be the only one in the world and nobody has ever seen it except in history books.


In addition, they also found a complete iron sword at the tomb passage. Archaeologists said they have found iron swords before, but none of those was as complete as this one.


For discovery of tomb see: http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90782/90873/6853140.html



"Buddha remains" unveiled in east China temple

English.news.cn   2010-06-12 12:32:55

NANJING, June 12 (Xinhua)


Chinese Buddhist monks and archaeologists revealed what they believed to be top part of the skull of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, Saturday morning in east China's Jiangsu Province.


The object, taken out for the first time around 9 a.m. from a miniature gold coffin nestled inside a silver one, was part of Buddha's parietal bone, said Master Chuan Yin, president of the Buddhist Association of China, after attending the worshipping ceremony held in Qixia Temple in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province.


The bone, irregular and light brown, looked like a small rock. "It is full of cell-like cavities, just like a honeycomb," said Hua Guorong, deputy head of Nanjing City Museum.


"Our findings conform with the descriptions of the parietal bone in historical records," said Master Xue Cheng, vice president of the association, adding the bone was hugely sacred for Buddhists.


Besides Sakyamuni's remains, ten sacred pieces of remains of other Buddhas were also found in another gold and silver mini-coffin.


All the relics had been enshrined at Qixia Temple by 108 eminent Buddhist monks from the Chinese mainland, Macao and Taiwan. The relics would be open to believers at the temple for one month, Hua said.


To ensure the safety of the invaluable treasures, Saturday's activities were conducted under heavy security, as well the indoor temperature was kept stable at 20 degrees Celsius and humidity between 55 to 60 percent, he said.


The parietal bone of Sakyamuni, allegedly recovered from the cremation ash of Sakyamuni, had been stored in a miniature pagoda named the Pagoda of King Asoka unearthed two years ago in an underground shrine built in 1011 under the former Changgan Temple of Nanjing.


The palace was found when archaeologists began excavating the ruins of the Grand Bao'en Temple of Nanjing built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD).


In July 2008, archaeologists found a stele in the palace, the


inscription on it said the palace preserved a "Seven-Treasure Pagoda of King Asoka" containing gold and silver coffins with Sakyamuni's parietal bone and relics of other Buddhas inside.


One month later, an iron case containing a pagoda was unearthed from the palace. In November 2008, archaeologists removed the pagoda from the case and found two mini-coffins.


It is said that 2,500 years ago, Sakyamuni's disciples recovered one parietal bone, four teeth, two collar bones and 84,000 particles of relics from the cremation ash of Sakyamuni, according to Lu Jianfu, a senior official with the association.


Asoka, an Indian emperor (273 BC - 232 BC), allegedly collected all the parts of Sakyamuni's remains, stored them in pagoda-like shrines, and sent them to different parts of the world.


The pagoda in Nanjing is believed to be one of tens of thousands of "pagodas of King Asoka" that contain Sakyamuni's remains.


The four-layer, 1.21-m-high and 0.42-m-wide pagoda is allegedly the largest of its kind unearthed in China.


According to Tang Dynasty (618-907) Buddhist records, China had 19 pagodas of King Asoka holding Sakyamuni's relics. To date, it is believed seven of the pagodas have been found in different parts of the country.