Humanity's Best Friend: How Dogs May Have Helped Humans Beat the Neanderthals

Over 20,000 years ago, humans won the evolutionary battle against Neanderthals. They may have had some assistance in that from their best friends.

MAY 14 2012, 3:11 PM ET 70


One of the most compelling -- and enduring -- mysteries in archaeology concerns the rise of early humans and the decline of Neanderthals. For about 250,000 years, Neanderthals lived and evolved, quite successfully, in the area that is now Europe. Somewhere between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago, early humans came along.


They proliferated in their new environment, their population increasing tenfold in the 10,000 years after they arrived; Neanderthals declined and finally died away.


What happened? What went so wrong for the Neanderthals -- and what went so right for us humans?


The cause, some theories go, may have been environmental, with Neanderthals' decline a byproduct of -- yikes -- climate change. It may have been social as humans developed the ability to cooperate and avail themselves of the evolutionary benefits of social cohesion. It may have been technological, with humans simply developing more advanced tools and hunting weapons that allowed them to snare food while their less-skilled counterparts starved away.


The Cambridge researchers Paul Mellars and Jennifer French have another theory, though. In a paper in the journal Science, they concluded that "numerical supremacy alone may have been a critical factor" in human dominance -- with humans simply crowding out the Neanderthals. Now, with an analysis in American Scientist, the anthropologist Pat Shipman is building on their work. After analyzing the Mellars and French paper and comparing it with the extant literature, Shipman has come to an intriguing conclusion: that humans' comparative evolutionary fitness owes itself to the domestication of dogs.


Yep. Man's best friend, Shipman suggests, might also be humanity's best friend. Dogs might have been the technology that allowed early humans to flourish.


Shipman analyzed the results of excavations of fossilized canid bones -- from Europe, during the time when humans and Neanderthals overlapped. Put together, they furnish some compelling evidence that early humans, first of all, engaged in ritualistic dog worship. Canid skeletons found at a 27,000-year-old site in Předmostí, of the Czech Republic, displayed the poses of early ritual burial. Drill marks in canid teeth found at the same site suggest that early humans used those teeth as jewelry -- and Paleolithic people, Shipman notes, rarely made adornments out of animals they simply used for food. There's also the more outlying fact that, like humans, dogs are rarely depicted in cave art -- a suggestion that cave painters might have regarded dogs not as the game animals they tended to depict, but as fellow-travelers.


Shipman speculates that the affinity between humans and dogs manifested itself mainly in the way that it would go on to do for many more thousands of years: in the hunt. Dogs would help humans to identify their prey; but they would also work, the theory goes, as beasts of burden -- playing the same role for early humans as they played for the Blackfeet and Hidatsa of the American West, who bred large, strong dogs specifically for hauling strapped-on packs. (Paleolithic dogs were big to begin with: They had, their skeletons suggest, a body mass of at least 70 pounds and a shoulder height of at least 2 feet -- which would make them, at minimum, the size of a modern-day German Shepherd.) Since transporting animal carcasses is an energy-intensive task, getting dogs to do that work would mean that humans could concentrate their energy on more productive endeavors: hunting, gathering, reproducing.


The possible result, Shipman argues, was a virtuous circle of cooperation -- one in which humans and their canine friends got stronger, together, over time.


There's another intriguing -- if conjecture-filled -- theory here, too. It could be, Shipman suggests, that dogs represented even more than companionate technologies to Paleolithic man. It could be that their cooperative proximity brought about its own effects on human evolution -- in the same way that the domestication of cattle led to humans developing the ability to digest milk. Shipman points to the "cooperative eye hypothesis," which builds on the observation that, compared to other primates, humans have highly visible sclerae (whites of the eyes). For purposes of lone hunting, sclerae represent a clear disadvantage: not only will your pesky eye-whites tend to stand out against a dark backdrop of a forest or rock, giving away your location, but they also reveal the direction of your gaze. It's hard to be a stealthy hunter when your eyes are constantly taking away your stealth.


Expressive eyes, however, for all their competitive disadvantage, have one big thing going for them: They're great at communicating. With early humans hunting in groups, "cooperative eyes" may have allowed them to "talk" with each other, silently and therefore effectively: windows to the soul that are also evolutionarily advantageous. And that, in turn, might have led to a more ingrained impulse toward cooperation. Human babies, studies have shown, will automatically follow a gaze once a connection is made. Eye contact is second nature to us; but it's a trait that makes us unique among our fellow primates.


Dogs, however, also recognize the power of the gaze. In a study conducted at Central European University, Shipman notes, "dogs performed as well as human infants at following the gaze of a speaker in tests in which the speaker's head is held still." Humans and their best friends share an affinity for eye contact -- and we are fairly unique in that affinity. There's a chance, Shipman says -- though there's much more work to be done before that chance can be converted even into a hypothesis -- that we evolved that affinity together.


"No genetic study has yet confirmed the prevalence or absence of white sclerae in Paleolithic modern humans or in Neanderthals," Shipman notes. "But if the white sclera mutation occurred more often among the former -- perhaps by chance -- this feature could have enhanced human-dog communication and promoted domestication."


Which is another way of saying that, to the extent dogs were an evolutionary technology, they may have been a technology that changed us for the better. The old truism -- we shape our tools, and afterward our tools shape us -- may be as old, and as true, as humanity itself.



The oldest farming village in the Mediterranean islands is discovered in Cyprus

May 15, 2012


The communal building in Klimonas partially excavated. It measures 10 m in diameter. Credit: J.-D. Vigne, CNRS-MNHN. This image is available from the CNRS photo library, phototheque@cnrs-bellevue.fr

The oldest agricultural settlement ever found on a Mediterranean island has been discovered in Cyprus by a team of French archaeologists involving CNRS, the National Museum of Natural History, INRAP, EHESS and the University of Toulouse. Previously it was believed that, due to the island's geographic isolation, the first Neolithic farming societies did not reach Cyprus until a thousand years after the birth of agriculture in the Middle East (ca. 9500 to 9400 BCE). However, the discovery of Klimonas, a village that dates from nearly 9000 years before Christ, proves that early cultivators migrated to Cyprus from the Middle Eastern continent shortly after the emergence of agriculture there, bringing with them wheat as well as dogs and cats.

The findings, which also reveal the early development of maritime navigational skills by these populations, have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

Sedentary villagers of the Early Neolithic began cultivating wild grains in the Middle East in about 9500 BCE. Recent discoveries have shown that the island of Cyprus was visited by human groups during that period, but until now the earliest traces of cereal crops and the construction of villages did not predate 8400 BCE. The latest findings from the archaeological excavations of Klimonas indicate that organized communities were built in Cyprus between 9100 and 8600 BCE: the site has yielded the remnants of a half-buried mud brick communal building, 10 meters in diameter and surrounded by dwellings, that must have been used to store the village's harvests. The archaeologists have found a few votive offerings inside the building, including flint arrowheads and green stone beads. A great many remnants of other objects, including flint chips, stone tools and shell adornments, have been discovered in the village. The stone tools and the structures erected by these early villagers resemble those found at Neolithic sites from the same period on the nearby continent. Remains of carbonized seeds of local plants and grains introduced from the Levantine coasts (including emmer, one of the first Middle Eastern wheats) have also been found in Klimonas.

Small shell pendant left as an offering in the large communal building of Klimonas. Credit: J.-D. Vigne, CNRS-MNHN. This image is available from the CNRS photo library, phototheque@cnrs-bellevue.fr

An analysis of the bone remains found on the site has revealed that the meat consumed by these villagers came from the hunting of a small wild boar indigenous to Cyprus (the only large game on the island at the time), and that small domestic dogs and cats had been introduced from the continent. This would indicate that these early farming societies migrated from the continent shortly after the emergence of agriculture there. In addition, their ability to move a whole group of people long distances shows that they had already mastered maritime navigation at the dawn of the Neolithic period.

The Klimonas site will be excavated until the end of May 2012, and a new round of excavations will begin in 2013. Uniting several laboratories, the research is funded by CNRS, the European LeCHE project, the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (French National Museum of Natural History, or MNHN), INRAP, the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Ecole Française d'Athènes (French School at Athens).

More information: First wave of cultivators spread to Cyprus at least 10,600 y ago. Jean-Denis Vigne, et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, May 7, 2012.



Bronze Age 'Facebook' discovered by Cambridge experts Leanne Ehren

Mark Sapwell believes he has discovered an ‘archaic version’ of social networking site Facebook.


Ancient rock art has been likened to a prehistoric form of Facebook by a Cambridge archaeologist.

Mark Sapwell, who is a PhD archaeology student at St John’s College, believes he has discovered an “archaic version” of the social networking site, where users share thoughts and emotions and give stamps of approval to other contributions – similar to the Facebook “like”.

Images of animals and events were drawn on the rock faces in Russian and Northern Sweden to communicate with distant tribes and descendants during the Bronze Age.

They form a timeline preserved in stone encompassing thousands of years.

Mr Sapwell said: “Like a Facebook status invites comment, the rock art appears very social and invites addition – the way the variations of image both mirror and reinterpret act as a kind of call and response between different packs of hunters across hundreds – even thousands – of years.”

The two sites he is investigating, Zalavruga in Russia and Nämforsen in Northern Sweden, contain around 2,500 images each of animals, people, boats, hunting scenes and even early centaurs and mermaids.

He is using the latest technology to analyse the different types, traits and tropes in the thousands of images imprinted on the two granite outcrops, where the landscapes of early Bronze Age art stretch across areas of rock the size of football pitches.

Mr Sapwell, 28, explained: “These sites are on river networks, and boat is likely how these Bronze Age tribes travelled.

“The rock art I’m studying is found near rapids and waterfalls, places where you would have to maybe leave the river and walk around – carrying your animal-skin canoe on your back – natural spots to stop and leave your mark as you journey through, like a kind of artistic tollbooth.”

He added: “There’s clearly something quite special about these spaces. I think people went there because they knew people had been there before them.

“Like today, people have always wanted to feel connected to each other – this was an expression of identity for these very early societies, before written language.”



Stone carvers defy Taliban to return to the Bamiyan valley

Afghan students learn the centuries-old skills that carved out the giant buddhas blown up by extremists

Emma Graham-Harrison in Bamiyan

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 16 May 2012 15.02 BST


Under perfectly carved niches that once held dozens of small buddha statues, the purposeful tap of chisel on stone echoed over the Bamiyan valley for the first time in centuries.


Twelve young Afghans had gathered to take the first tentative steps back towards a stone-working tradition that once made their home famous, at a workshop in a cave gouged out as a monastery assembly hall more than 1,000 years ago.


The cave-hall was part of a complex built around two giant buddhas that loomed serenely over Bamiyan for about 15 centuries – until the Taliban government condemned them as un-Islamic in early 2001 and blew them up.


"I was interested in this course because I want to restore our culture," said Ismael Wahidi, a 22-year-old student of archeology at Bamiyan University, who set aside more conventional studies for a week to learn how to turn a lump of stone into a sculpture. "If you want to destroy a people, you first destroy their heritage and history."


The workshop, held just a few metres from where the larger buddha's face was once carved from the cliff face, aimed to reintroduce stone-carving to the valley by showing that creating basic pieces is easy, even if mastery takes years.


Under the guidance of Afghan, American and German artists, the group picked the stone they would shape from some of the rich seams of marble, quartzite and travertine [a form of limestone] that thread through the local mountains, foothills of the Himalayas. Then they set to work, with chisels forged by local blacksmiths from the suspension springs of old cars. "We wanted to give young people the idea that it is possible to do stone carving with what you have here," said Bert Praxenthaler, a sculptor and conservationist who has been working on the valley's monuments for several years, including stabilising the niches that once held the buddhas.


The Bamiyan valley is pockmarked with hundreds of caves that were once part of sumptuous monasteries, packed with statues and lavishly painted with frescoes. This rich artistic heritage was funded by centuries of taxes on caravans passing through what is now an isolated backwater, but was once a wealthy and important stop on the Silk Road.


"There must have been at least 2,000 years of sculptural tradition," said Praxenthaler. "Even excavating the caves is a kind of architectural sculpture. It was not just hacking holes into the cliff but also shaping the rooms, and they are quite extraordinary."


That tradition was probably killed off around 1,000 years ago, Praxenthaler said, when the valley was conquered by Mahmoud of Ghazni, a leader whose epithet suggested little interest in figurative art. "Anyone who calls themselves the 'destroyer of idols' probably wouldn't support further stone carving," Praxenthaler said.


Sculpture has remained largely off limits in Afghanistan because of strict Islamic prohibitions on idolatry. Depictions of any human or animal are strongly discouraged in art, and calligraphy, floral and geometric patterns dominate the country's more recent cultural heritage, from the majestic minaret of Jam, to mosques and monuments in cities such as Kabul and Kandahar.


"As you know, extremists often make propaganda about idols. But this is our heritage, not something religious," said 20-year-old Abdur Rahman Rosta, one of the student sculptors. He added that that in Bamiyan itself the sculptors were feted. The valley's people suffered badly under the Taliban, and have little sympathy for their hardline views, and Bamiyan has remained one of the most peaceful places in Afghanistan as insurgent violence spreads elsewhere.


The provincial governor came to a small ceremony unveiling the sculptures, and picked up a chisel herself as musicians played in a niche that once held the cave's largest statue – and might perhaps one day hold another.


"During this course we realised we had much more ability for working with stone than we could have imagined, and we understood we can do so much more," said Jawed Mohammadi, a 20-year-old history student at the university, who used the week to chisel out a human face. "The buddhas were destroyed, but maybe we can build them again."



Archaeologists Discover Possible Site of a Sixth Century Miracle in Jerusalem

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered what they suggest may be the Byzantine quarry site referred to in the miracle story by Procopius of Caesarea.

Sat, May 12, 2012


The recent discovery of a Jerusalem quarry by archaeologists have led some archaeologists to suggest that it may be the site of the miracle described by historian Procopius of Caesarea in his work,The Buildings of Justinian, where God provided a miraculous supply of stone for the construction of the Nea Ekklesia of the Theotokos Church.

During construction work in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia, a large 20 ft (6 m) tall and 30 in (80 cm) wide red stone, chiseled into the shape of a column, was found. Upon notification of the discovery, the Israeli Antiquities Authority ordered a halt to the construction work and systematic archaeological investigation was initiated. The stone is considered to be a comparatively hard substance and not as easily worked as the stone that was typically used by ancient construction workers and stonemasons for building the well-known historical edifices of the Temple Mount. But it matched the description of the stone described in the Procopius miracle account of the Nea Ekklesia [Church] of the Theotokos : "God revealed a natural supply of stone perfectly suited to this purpose in the nearby hills, one which had either lain there in concealment previously, or was created at that moment…So the church is supported on all sides by a number of huge columns from that place, which in color resemble flames of fire… Two of these columns stand before the door of the church, exceptionally large and probably second to no column in the whole world." 

Nearby, additional evidence of columns chiseled from the stone were uncovered. Professor Yoram Zafir suggests that, given the nature of the finds and the location, they were used in the construction of a large church. Moreover, although no evidence was found clearly dating the columns to the Byzantine period, Evgeny Kagan of the Antiquities Authority says that they are likely Byzantine, based on an examination of the stone and the methods used by the stonemasons. The stone also bares the Arabic inscription, "Mizi Achmar," meaning red stone, corresponding to the "flames of fire", as Procopius described the stone.

Examination of the stone revealed another possible story: The large, unfinished stone pillar, still connected and unremoved from its original quarry context, also showed a significant crack, apparently created while it was being worked. With the integrity of the column thus compromised, the workmen may have abandoned the column and did not attempt to move it because of the possibility that it would fall apart before it reached the construction site.



Hundreds of Roman coins found in Stoke-on-Trent field

Saturday, May 19, 2012 The Sentinel


MUSEUM officials are considering buying a huge haul of Roman treasure which has been discovered in a Stoke-on-Trent field.


Hundreds of coins more than 2,000 years old were found at the undisclosed location.


​The solid silver sovereigns – some with immaculately-preserved images of the Roman emperor Hadrian – were discovered by metal detecting enthusiast Scott Heeley.


Experts say it is the most exciting discovery in the region since the Staffordshire Hoard, which is the largest haul of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found.


Now officials at Hanley's Potteries Museum and Art Gallery must decide whether to buy the 242 coins and put them on public display.


Deb Klemperer, the museum's principal collections officer, said: "The last discovery of coins similar to these was back in 1998, but there were only around 18 coins in that find.


"This is very unusual for the area because it is quite a large find.


"We plan to show an interest, and if we were going to go down the route of acquiring the coins we would look to our funds and gain finances from charitable trusts, such as the Friends of the Potteries Museum."


Details of the February find have only just been made public.


Experts at the British Museum have compiled a report on the discovery and an independent valuation committee will identify its worth.


A treasure trove inquest will be held to determine whether the find can be classed as treasure.


Some of the coins, which hail from the first and second centuries, feature images of politician and general Mark Antony, a friend of Julius Caesar.


Ian Richardson, the British Museum's treasure registrar, said: "In the coin world, this is a good find."


Any financial reward will be split between the owner of the Stoke-on-Trent field and 50-year-old Mr Heeley.


The Network Rail maintenance worker, who lives in Hednesford, near Cannock, said: "My detector went off and I looked down and there was an English penny.


"I thought I would put it in my pocket for luck, and then the next thing it went off again and I found silver coins.


"A friend said 'Oh my God, you've hit the jackpot'. And every handful of soil which was coming out contained silver coins. I was totally shell-shocked.


"Some people will spend 35 years metal detecting and find nothing, and I've only been doing it a couple of years."


The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered in a field in South Staffordshire in 2009 by metal detectorist Terry Herbert. During a recent tour of America, the Hoard was hailed as a 'global phenomenon'.



Rare Canna stone’s a blessing and a curse


Published on Sunday 20 May 2012 00:00


AN ANCIENT “cursing stone” used by Christian pilgrims more than a thousand years ago to bring harm to their enemies has been discovered on Canna.


The round stone with an early Christian cross engraved on it, also known as a “bullaun” stone, is believed to be the first of its type to be found in Scotland, and was discovered by chance in an old graveyard on the island.


More commonly found in Ireland, the stones were used by ancient Christian pilgrims, who would turn them either while praying or when laying a curse, and were often to be found on sacred pilgrim routes. Traditionally, the pilgrim would turn the stone clockwise, wearing a depression or hole in a bigger “socket” stone underneath.


The Canna stone is approximately 25cm in diameter and is marked with a clearly engraved early Christian cross.


Derek Alexander, the head of archaeology for the National Trust for Scotland, who examined the stone, said: “This is an amazing find. Often it is usually the socket stones or the dished depressions that are found.


“They are usually associated with holes or worn patches in the ground, as it’s believed that the convention was for these stones to be turned multiple times by worshippers when either praying for or possibly cursing someone.”


The stone was found by NTS farm manager Geraldine MacKinnon in Canna’s ancient graveyard. It was then discovered that the stone fitted into a larger stone located near the island’s large sculptured Canna Cross.


Canna was known as an early Christian site and is believed to have been owned by the monastery of Iona as early as the seventh century.


Canna’s property manager Stewart Connor said: “Our head of archaeology confirmed a possible link to the stone at the cross, and I was so excited that I went back out at 9pm that night to check whether it fitted the stone with the hole – and it did. The whole community is really excited by the find, which is really significant for the island, and potentially for Scotland too.”


In Ireland, folklore attached magical significance to bullaun stones, such as the belief that rainwater collected in the stone’s hollow could have healing properties. The St Brigit’s Stone in County Cavan in Ireland was used as a “cursing stone”, and locals would turn the stone while cursing a sworn enemy.


Katherine Forsyth, based at the University of Glasgow and a leading expert in the history and culture of the Celtic-speaking peoples in the first millennium AD, said: “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the first pictures of this beautiful stone. Stones like this are found in Ireland, where they are known as ‘cursing stones’, but this is the first to be discovered in Scotland.”


Forsyth added: “These bowl-shaped lower stones have been found elsewhere in Scotland, including on Canna, but this is the first time a top stone has been found. This exciting find provides important new insight into religious art and practice in early Scotland and demonstrates just how much there is still to be discovered out there.”


There are a number of archaeological remains on the island dating from this period, including a series of highly decorated cross shafts and the hermitage site Sgor Nam Ban-Naomha, or Skerry of the Holy Women, a remote location hidden below steep cliffs which was discovered in 1994.


The island was gifted to the NTS in 1981 by Gaelic scholar John Lorne Campbell. As well as its rich cultural heritage, the island is renowned for its seabirds and boasts puffins, razorbills and Manx shear- waters. There is also a population of both sea eagles and golden eagles.


» ecowing@scotlandonsunday.com



Wenlock Jug stolen from Stockwood Discovery Centre

14 May 2012 Last updated at 15:06


A "nationally significant" bronze medieval jug has been stolen from a Bedfordshire museum.


The Wenlock Jug was taken from the Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton at about 23:00 BST on Saturday.


In 2005 it was nearly sold abroad, but a temporary export ban provided the opportunity for Luton Museum to raise the £750,000 needed to buy it.


Director of Museums, Karen Perkins, called the theft "extremely serious and upsetting".


She said: "We are extremely proud that the Wenlok Jug is part of the collections at Stockwood Discovery Centre and are working extremely closely with police and investigators to do all we can to recover it.


"The Wenlock Jug is a nationally significant medieval object."


The jug is a very rare example of metalwork that can be associated with royalty from the 1400s.


It is decorated with coats of arms and badges and is inscribed with the words "My Lord Wenlok".


In May 2005 it went up for sale at Sotheby's and was nearly sold to New York's Metropolitan Museum.


However its export was stopped in October of that year by culture minister David Lammy after experts ruled it was of "outstanding significance" for the study of bronze-working in medieval England.


It is thought the jug was made for either William Wenlock, who died in 1391 and was canon of St Paul's Cathedral, or his great-nephew John, the first Lord Wenlock, who was a major figure in the 15th century.



WWII fighter plane hailed the 'aviation equivalent of Tutankhamun's Tomb' found preserved in the Sahara

A Second World War aeroplane that crash landed in the Sahara Desert before the British pilot walked to his death has been found almost perfectly preserved 70 years later.

By Richard Alleyne11:51AM BST 10 May 2012169


The Kittyhawk P-40 has remained unseen and untouched since it came down on the sand in June 1942 and has been hailed the "aviation equivalent of Tutankhamun's Tomb".

It is thought the pilot survived the crash and initially used his parachute for shelter before making a desperate and futile attempt to reach civilisation by walking out of the desert.

The RAF airman, believed to have been Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping, 24, was never seen again.

The single-seater fighter plane was discovered by chance by Polish oil company worker Jakub Perka exploring a remote region of the Western Desert in Egypt, about 200 miles from the nearest town.

Most of its cockpit instruments are intact and it still had it guns and ammunition before they were seized by the Egyptian military.

There are also signs of the makeshift camp the pilot made alongside the fuselage.

No human remains have been found but it is thought the pilot may lie within a 20 mile radius of the plane.

The RAF Museum at Hendon, north London, has been made aware of the discovery and plans are underway to recover the aircraft and display it in the future.

A search will also be launched in the hope of finding the lost airman.

The defence attache at the British embassy in Cairo is due to visit the scene in the near future in order to officially confirm its discovery and serial number.

But there are fears over what will be left of it after locals began stripping parts and instruments from the cockpit for souvenirs and scrap.

Historians are urging the British government to step in sooner rather than later and have the scene declared as a war grave so it can be protected until the plane is recovered.

Military historian Andy Saunders said: "The aviation historical world is hugely excited about this discovery.

"This plane has been lying in the same spot where it crashed 70 years ago. It hasn't been hidden or buried in the sand, it has just sat there.

"It is a quite incredible time capsule, the aviation equivalent of Tutankhamun's Tomb.

"It is hundreds of miles from anywhere and there is no reason why anyone would go there.

"It would appear the pilot got into trouble and just brought it down in the middle of the desert.

"He must have survived the crash because one photo shows a parachute around the frame of the plane and my guess is the poor bloke used it to shelter from the sun.

"The radio and batteries were out of the plane and it looks like he tried to get it working. If he died at the side of the plane his remains would have been found.

"Once he had crashed there nobody was going to come and get him. It is more likely he tried to walk out of the desert but ended up walking to his death. It is too hideous to contemplate.

"The plane is in a very good condition but sadly it is being stripped by some locals who don't regard it as part of their heritage but as a piece of junk that may have some scrap value.

"Things are happening very slowly with the recovery, mainly because we are in the hands of the Egyptian authorities.

"The MoD needs to act and get the plane out of there as soon as possible rather than embarking upon a great deal of hand-wringing and meetings to discuss its future."

Ft Sgt Copping was the son of a dentist and came from Southend, Essex.

In 1942 he was a member of the RAF's 260 Squadron, a fighter unit based in Egypt during the North Africa campaign.

By June of that year the Allies were retreating from 'Desert Fox' Erwin Rommel and his German forces.

On June 28 Ft Sgt Copping and another airman were tasked with flying two damaged Kittyhawk P-40 planes from one British airbase in northern Egypt to another for repair.

During the short flight Ft Sgt Copping lost his bearings, went off course and was never seen again.

Military historians are confident the Kittyhawk found in the desert was the one flown by Ft Sgt Copping, based on identification numbers and letters on the plane.

It was documented at the time that there was a fault with its front landing gear which would not retract and the photographic evidence suggests the aircraft had its front wheel down when it crashed.

According to experts, a plane making a controlled crash landing in the desert wouldn't have its landing gear down and would belly-flop on the sand.

There is also flak damage in the fuselage, which is also consistent with documented evidence of Ft Sgt Copping's plane.

Ft Sgt Copping's name appears on the El Alamein war memorial. It is not thought that there are any immediate family members of his left in the UK.

Captain Paul Collins, the British defence attache to Egypt, confirmed there will be a search carried out of the area around the plane in the hope of finding his remains.

He said: "The pilot isn't in the plane but there is evidence to suggest he got out.

"It is likely he walked away and was clearly lost. We are talking about a 100 square kilometre area and it is extremely unlikely that we will find any remains.

"The scene is close to a smuggling line from Sudan and Libya. We will need to go there with the Egyptian army because it is a dangerous area."

Ian Thirsk, head of collections at the RAF Museum, said they are working with the MoD to make efforts to recover the plane.