'Trust' provides answer to handaxe enigma

21 November 2012 York, University of


Trust rather than lust is at the heart of the attention to detail and finely made form of handaxes from around 1.7 million years ago, according to a University of York researcher.


Dr Penny Spikins, from the Department of Archaeology, suggests a desire to prove their trustworthiness, rather than a need to demonstrate their physical fitness as a mate, was the driving force behind the fine crafting of handaxes by Homo erectus/ergaster in the Lower Palaeolithic period.


Dr Spikins said: “We sometimes imagine that early humans were self-centred, and if emotional at all, that they would have been driven by their immediate desires. However, research suggests that we have reason to have more faith in human nature, and that trust played a key role in early human societies. Displaying trust not lust was behind the attention to detail and finely made form of handaxes.”


The ‘trustworthy handaxe theory’ is explained in an article in World Archaeology and contrasts sharply with previous claims that finely crafted handaxes were about competition between males and sexual selection.


Dr Spikins said: “Since their first recovery, the appealing form of handaxes and the difficulty of their manufacture have inspired much interest into the possible ‘meaning’ of these artefacts. Much of the debate has centred on claims that the attention to symmetrical form and the demonstration of skill would have played a key role in sexual selection, as they would have helped attract a mate eager to take advantage of a clear signal of advantageous genes.


“However, I propose that attention to form is much more about decisions about who to trust; that it can be seen as a gesture of goodwill or trustworthiness to others. The attention to detail is about showing an ability to care about the final form, and by extension, people too.


“In addition, overcoming the significant frustrations of imposing form on stone displays considerable emotional self-control and patience, traits needed for strong and enduring relationships.”


Handaxes, or bifaces, appeared around 1.7 million years ago in Africa and spread throughout the occupied world of Africa, Europe and western Asia, functioning primarily as butchery implements. Handaxe form remained remarkably similar for more than a million years.


Dr Spikins said: “Trust is essential to all our relationships today, and we see the very beginnings of the building blocks of trust in other apes. The implication that it was an instinct towards trust which shaped the face of stone tool manufacture is particularly significant to our understanding of Lower Palaeolithic societies. It sets a challenge for research into how our emotions, rather than our complex thinking skills, made us human.


“As small vulnerable primates in risky environments where they faced dangerous predators our ancestors needed to be able to depend on each other to survive - displaying our emotional capacities was part of forming trusting relationships with the kind of ‘give and take’ that they needed.”


Dr Spikins points to other higher primates, particularly chimpanzees, as well as modern human hunter-gatherers to back up her theory of trustworthiness.


“Long-term altruistic alliances in both chimpanzees and humans are forged by many small unconscious gestures of goodwill, or acts of altruism, such as soothing those in distress or sharing food,” said Dr Spikins.


“As signals of trustworthiness, these contribute to one’s reputation, and in hunter-gatherers reputation can be the key to survival, with the most trustworthy hunters being looked after most willingly by the others when they are ill or elderly.   


 “The form of a handaxe is worth considerable effort, as it may demonstrate trustworthiness not only in its production, but also each time it is seen or re-used, when it might remind others of the emotional reliability of its maker.”



30,000-year-old DNA preserved in poo a window into the past

November 16, 2012 (Phys.org)


Murdoch University DNA scientists have used 30,000-year-old faecal matter known as middens to ascertain which plants and animals existed at that time in the hot, arid Pilbara region of North Western Australia.

To date, this is the oldest environmental sample from which DNA has been obtained in Australia. It had previously been considered unrealistic to extract DNA from hot, arid zone samples due to the extreme heat. PhD candidate Dáithí Murray from Murdoch's Ancient DNA Lab said that comparing the genetic signatures obtained from old material such as middens to present day plant and animal surveys would allow for an exploration of how these regions had adapted and shifted in response to both natural and human impacts. Mr Murray successfully extracted DNA samples from midden material – which consists of animal faeces and urine, plant and animal tissue as well as bone, hair and eggshells which had become cemented together over hundreds of years – in four locations. Three were sampled from hot, arid regions in Western Australia and one from South Africa's Western Cape province, all of which were between 700 and 30,000 years old. "Cool and frozen environments are considered most suitable to long-term DNA preservation," explained Mr Murray, whose paper on genetic profiles from middens has been published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews. "But new ancient DNA technologies and techniques have allowed us to take a closer look at these warm but dry environments, which have a delicate ecological balance, and are therefore of considerable environmental and biological interest. "With regard to DNA preservation, there is something special about middens in arid environments – we were not expecting some of these samples to work but they did! I suspect that the exclusion of water and the chemical make-up of the midden generates some favourable conditions for DNA." A range of plant and animals, some of which are now locally extinct, were detected, such as the common brushtail possum found in one midden in the Cavenagh Range in WA. Mr Murray was also able to identify flora and fauna that had previously gone undetected in different types of studies, such as a range of previously indistinguishable arid zone grasses. "Most of the information we have about ancient arid environments has come from a variety of studies into middens including carbon dating, pollen identification and macrofossil techniques," said Mr Murray. "The DNA techniques we use can compliment these studies. "Multidisciplinary investigations of midden material can ultimately inform conservation and rehabilitation policies today. Put simply, we cannot monitor environmental change if we have no baseline to compare it against – these middens provide the time capsule we need to make those comparisons in the arid zone. "In regions such as the Pilbara, DNA work of this kind could be a key addition to the assemblage of palaeoenvironmental data, as the midden used is dated to a time for which almost no such regional data exists." Mr Murray said his research would hopefully lead to a greater focus on genetic profiling of hot, arid and semi-arid environments across the globe, including in Africa, Australia and the Middle East.


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-11-year-old-dna-poo-window.html#jCp


The earliest representations of royal power in Egypt: the rock drawings of Nag el-Hamdulab

Archaeologists discover rock art depicting the first pharaohs


The vivid engravings on vertical rocks at the desert site of Nag el-Hamdulab, 6km north of Aswan, comprise a rock art gallery of exceptional historical significance. Research published in the December issue of Antiquity shows that the images of boats with attendant prisoners, animals and the earliest representation of a pharaoh offer a window on the beginning of the Dynastic period, and depict the moment that the religious procession of pre-Dynastic Egypt became the triumphant tour of a tax-collecting monarch.


In the early 1890s, Archibald H. Sayce (1845–1933) made a sketch of a rock drawing at Gharb Aswan in Upper Egypt. At that time, hardly anything was known about the earliest history of Egypt and, consequently, Sayce had no way of recognising the early date of the scene. He may not even have been aware that what he had copied was actually a very early royal representation.


Sayce’s drawing remained unnoticed for over a century until in 2008 a photograph of it was handed to archaeologist Stan Hendrickx (The Media, Arts and Design faculty, Belgium). Around the same time, fellow author Maria C. Gatto (Yale University) re-discovered the site of Nag el-Hamdulab, and found that Sayce had drawn but a tiny fragment of the art that covered the walls. Research now published by Hendrickx, Gatto and John Coleman Darnell (Yale University) shows that the rock inscriptions comprise a series of discrete vignettes that represent elements of an overall cycle of images involving hunting, warfare, nautical festival events, and the regalia of political authority. Sadly, many of the scenes have been damaged in the century since Sayce first made his sketch, and archive photographs are all that remain of some drawings. The most striking scene shows a procession of boats, one bearing a crowned king attended by standard bearers carrying the royal symbols of the bull and the falcon. Comparing the clothing and boats drawn at Nag el-Hamdulab with other pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic art in Egypt, the authors believe the drawings to have been made around 3200 BC, a highly important moment in the process of state formation in Egypt.


The Nag el-Hamdulab drawings are the earliest group of complex images of religious activity incorporating the king wearing recognisable pharaonic regalia. The drawings may represent the emergence of the ruler as supreme priest and incarnate manifestation of human and divine power. It is also the first complex iconographic composition with accompanying hieroglyphic writing.



Embargoed until 00:01am (GMT) 25 November 2012

The article will be published in Antiquity 86: 1068–83. Please contact Jo Tozer for an electronic copy either by calling +44 (0)1904 433994 or emailing assistant@antiquity.ac.uk.


Notes for editors

Antiquity is a quarterly journal of world archaeology, edited by Professor Martin Carver. The journal was founded by O.G.S. Crawford in 1927. Antiquity is currently edited in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York (head: Professor Julian D. Richards).



'Maiden' Incan mummy suffered lung infection before sacrifice

By Joseph Castro

Digging History

Published July 26, 2012



The so-called Maiden mummy of a 15-year-old Incan girl who was sacrificed 500 years ago is giving up some secrets, revealing the teenager suffered from a bacterial lung infection at the time of her death, scientists report Wednesday (July 25).

The researchers analyzed tissue proteins, rather than DNA, from the Maiden and another young Inca mummy who died at the same time.

Over the last decade, DNA techniques have proven useful in helping solve ancient mysteries, such as how King Tut died. But these techniques aren't without faults. For example, finding evidence of a malaria-causing parasite in King Tut's system doesn't necessarily mean the Egyptian king suffered any malaria symptoms. Additionally, the environment can easily contaminate DNA samples, if researchers aren't careful.

On the other hand, analyzing a sample's proteins, which are less susceptible to environmental contamination, yields a whole different set of information. "Being the expression of DNA, proteins really show you what the body is producing at the time when the individual is being sampled — or, in our case, at the time of death," study researcher Angelique Corthals, a forensic anthropologist at the City University of New York, told LiveScience. In particular, proteins can tell you if the body's immune system has activated to fight a disease, she added.

Llullaillaco mummies

'I wanted to see where the blood I found on the mummies' clothing and lips came from. But we found a whole lot more than we were expecting.'

- Forensic anthropologist Angelique Corthals

In their study, Corthals and her colleagues took lip swabs from two Andean Inca mummies, a 7-year-old boy and "the Maiden," as well as samples from the boy's bloodied cloak. The two child mummies, discovered in 1999, were originally buried on the summit of the Argentinian volcano Llullaillaco, 22,100 feet (6,739 meters) above sea level, after being sacrificed in a ceremonial ritual.

Past research found the boy and girl had been fattened up before sacrifice, being fed a typical peasant diet of potatoes and other common vegetables up until a year before their sacrifice, when evidence suggests they were given "elite" foods like maize and dried llama meat.

Once sacrificed, the freezing temperatures, among other factors, naturally preserved their fattened bodies. [Photos of the Inca Child Mummies]

"What I really wanted to do originally was see where the blood I found on the mummies' clothing and lips came from," Corthals said. "But we found a whole lot more than we were expecting."

Archaeologists also found a third mummy, a 6-year-old girl, along with the other two. This mummy appears to have been struck by lightning, which could potentially interfere with test results, so Corthals and her team didn't take any samples from it.

Lung infection found

The researchers used a technique called shotgun proteomics. They placed their samples into a device called a mass spectrometer, which broke all of the sample's proteins into their constituent parts, amino-acid chains. Sophisticated software compared these parts with existing proteins of the human genome to determine the actual proteins in the samples, Corthals explained. "You couldn't use this technique for an organism that we don't have the complete genome for," she said.

They found that the Maiden's profile of proteins match that of a chronic respiratory infection patient. X-rays taken of the Maiden's lungs after she was discovered also showed signs of a lung infection. To see if the Maiden was harboring anything that could cause such an infection, they turned to DNA analysis and discovered evidence of bacteria in the genus Mycobacterium, which is known to cause upper respiratory-tract infections and tuberculosis (TB). Statistical models suggested the bacterium falls into the cluster group that causes TB, but the exact species isn't known, likely because its DNA hasn't been sequenced yet.

The Llullaillaco boy didn't have signs of disease or pathogenic bacteria.

The research shows that shotgun proteomics can play a critical role in determining the disease or death in archeological, medical and criminal cases, Corthals said, adding that the method may even be able to determine which pathogen is the killer in a case of multiple infections. For now, Corthals is interested in seeing whether the technique can be used with less pristine samples, such as skeletal material or Egyptian mummies.

Down the line, the protein technique's utility will likely go beyond just archaeology, researchers said. "I expect [the method's] biggest impact will be in criminal forensic science," Corthals said.


The new study is detailed online today (July 25) in the journal PLoS One.

Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2012/07/26/maiden-inca-mummy-suffered-lung-infection-before-sacrifice/?#ixzz2DHJ5Ejlm



Mary Rose: scientists identify shipwreck's elite archers by RSI

A company of elite longbow archers perished aboard Henry VIII's flagship the Mary Rose when it sank almost five centuries ago, scientists have discovered.

By Andrew Hough2:00PM GMT 18 Nov 2012


Researchers have identified the elite archers who died alongside sailors on Henry VIII's flagship, due to evidence of repetitive strain in their shoulders and spines.

The ship sank off Spithead in The Solent in 1545, while leading an attack on a French invasion fleet. It stayed on the seabed until it was raised in 1982 and put on public display.

Over the past two years, scientists from the University of Swansea have been working to identify almost 100 skeletons kept at the Mary Rose Museum, in Portsmouth.

DNA identification has been difficult because they have been contaminated by cockles, molluscs and algae.

But new DNA extraction technology has been developed to identify a skeleton’s origin and other personal features such as eye and hair colour.

Scientists have also tested how the bows were used by archers at that time, by using real-life archers.

They have uncovered evidence of repetitive stress injuries among the bowmen, the elite soldiers of their day, which they believe came from hours of longbow practice.

Nick Owen, a sport and exercise biochemist who is leading the work, said yesterday that the developments would help uncover more about the individuals who died with their ship.

The DNA breakthrough had enabled his team to embark on more detailed profiling.

"We know plenty about the Mary Rose but much less about the people on board,” said Mr Owen, from the university’s college of engineering.

“The archers were the elite but the longbows they used took a toll of their bodies and you can see signs of repetitive stress in the shoulders and lower spine."

A Swedish expert is also working on facial reconstructions for the new Mary Rose Trust museum, which is due to open next year.

At the time, many archers were thought to have travelled from Wales and other areas in the south west of England and were considered the elite warriors of their day.

Previous studies have shown that they lived off a diet of salt beef and biscuits. Their diet also included flour, oatmeal, suet, cheese, dried pork, beer and salted cod.

“They were 6ft 2in or 6ft 3in, and strapping individuals,” Mr Owen said.

“A longbow was 6ft 6in and made from a particular part of a yew tree to generate incredibly efficient ‘spring’.

“It was mega hi-tech, and it gave England and Wales military superiority. These archers were the elite athletes of their day.”

He added to the BBC: "It took years for these Archers to train to get to a level where they could use these very heavy bows."

Alexzandra Hildred, the curator of ordnance at the Mary Rose Trust, has said the injuries could be the result of “shooting heavy longbows regularly”.

"Many of the skeletons recovered show evidence of repetitive stress injuries of the shoulder and lower spine,” she said.

"Being able to quantify the stresses and their effect on the skeleton may enable us at last to isolate an elite group of professional archers from the ship."

Named for Henry VIII's favourite sister, Mary Tudor, later queen of France, the ship was part of a large build-up of naval force by the new king between 1510 and 1515.



Greek police recover stolen Olympia antiquities

25 November 2012 Last updated at 04:25


All 76 artefacts stolen in February were successfully recovered


Greek police have recovered all the antiquities stolen in February from a museum in Olympia, the birthplace of the ancient Olympics.


Three men were arrested in the western city of Patras when they tried to sell the most valuable artefact - a gold ring - to an undercover police officer.


During the robbery, two masked men smashed display cabinets and overpowered a guard, officials said.


Greece has cut museum staffing as part of austerity measures.


One of the suspects tried to sell the gold ring - dating from the late Bronze Age, around 3,200 years ago - to a police officer posing as a potential buyer, officials said.


The original asking price had been 1.5m euros (£1.2m) but the price dropped to 300,000 euros.


Police recovered all the other stolen items, which had been wrapped in a sack and buried in a field in a village near Patras.


The antiquities will be returned to the museum next week.


The mayor of Olympia said at the time of the robbery that there was a direct link with the policy of cuts and Greece's economic crisis.


Culture Minister Pavlos Geroulanos offered his resignation but it was not accepted.


The robbery was an embarrassment for the Greek authorities, coming just weeks after the theft of a Picasso painting and other works from the Athens National Gallery.