S.African scientists find most complete pre-human skeleton
July 12, 2012 by Susan Njanji
South African scientists said Thursday they had uncovered the most complete skeleton yet of an ancient relative of man, hidden in a rock excavated from an archaeological site three years ago. The remains of a juvenile hominid skeleton, of the Australopithecus (southern ape) sediba species, constitute the "most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered," according to University of Witwatersrand palaeontologist Lee Berger. "We have discovered parts of a jaw and critical aspects of the body including what appear to be a complete femur (thigh bone), ribs, vertebrae and other important limb elements, some never before seen in such completeness in the human fossil record," said Berger, a lead professor in the finding. The latest discovery of what is thought to be around two million years old, was made in a one-metre (three-foot) wide rock that lay unnoticed for years in a laboratory until a technician noticed a tooth sticking out of the black stone last month. The technician, Justin Mukanka, said: "I was lifting the block up, I just realized that there is a tooth." It was then scanned to reveal significant parts of an A. sediba skeleton, dubbed Karabo, whose other other parts were first discovered in 2009. Parts of three other skeletons were discovered in 2008 in the world-famous Cradle of Humankind site north of Johannesburg. It is not certain whether the species, which had long arms, a small brain and a thumb possibly used for precision gripping, was a direct ancestor of humans' genus, Homo, or simply a close relative.
"It appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton," said Berger. Other team members were equally enthusiastic. "It's like putting together the pieces of a puzzle," university laboratory manager Bonita De Klerk told AFP. The skeleton of what has been dubbed Karabo and is thought to date back to around two million years old, would have been aged between nine and 13 years when the upright-walking tree climber died. Remains of four A. sediba skeletons have been discovered in South Africa's Malapa cave, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Johannesburg, since 2008. The individuals are believed to have fallen into a pit in the cave and died. Enlarge This is a probable hominin fibula (circled), in block 051. Note the shaft of a probable femur just above and to the left. Credit: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg The sediba fossils are arguably the most complete remains of any hominids found and are possibly one of the most significant palaeoanthropological discoveries in recent time.
The Cradle of Humankind, now a World Heritage Site, is the oldest continuous palaeontological dig in the world. The university also announced it would open up the process of exploring and uncovering fossil remains to the public and stream it online in real time. A special laboratory studio will be built at the Cradle of Humankind. "The public will be able to participate fully in live science and future discoveries as they occur in real time -- an unprecedented moment in palaeoanthropology," said Berger. The lab and the virtual infrastructure are expected to be built within a year, according to Qedani Mahlangu, a regional minister of economic development. The university is in talks with Shanghai Science and Technology Museum in China, Britain's Natural History Museum and the Smithsonian in the United States to set up virtual outposts for the live science project.
(c) 2012 AFP
Paisley Caves yield 13,000-year old Western Stemmed points, more human DNA
Public release date: 12-Jul-2012
Contact: Jim Barlow
University of Oregon
EUGENE, Ore. -- (July 12, 2012) -- Archaeological work in Oregon's Paisley Caves has found evidence that Western Stemmed projectile points -- darts or thrusting spearheads -- were present at least 13,200 calendar years ago during or before the Clovis culture in western North America.
In a paper in the July 13 issue of Science, researchers from 13 institutions lay out their findings, which also include substantial new documentation, including "blind-test analysis" by independent labs, that confirms the human DNA pulled earlier from human coprolites (dried feces) and reported in Science (May 9, 2008) dates to the same time period.
The new conclusions are based on 190 radiocarbon dates of artifacts, coprolites, bones and sagebrush twigs meticulously removed from well-stratified layers of silt in the ancient caves. Absent from the Paisley Caves, said the project's lead researcher Dennis L. Jenkins of the University of Oregon's Museum of Natural and Cultural History, is diagnostic evidence of the Clovis culture such as the broad, concave-based, fluted Clovis projectile points.
The radiocarbon dating of the Western Stemmed projectiles to potentially pre-Clovis times, Jenkins said, provides new information in the decades-old debate that the two point-production technologies overlapped in time and may have developed separately. It suggests that Clovis may have arisen in the Southeastern United States and moved west, while the Western Stemmed tradition began, perhaps earlier, in the West and moved east.
One example, he said, is the discovery of Clovis points below Western Stemmed points at Hell Gap, Wyo. While this example suggests that Clovis was older in that location than Western Stemmed, the new Paisley Caves evidence indicates that Western Stemmed are at least the same age as Clovis (about 12,800-13,000 years old) in the northern Great Basin of Oregon -- about 1,000 miles west of Hell Gap.
At least three other Western sites -- Cooper's Ferry in Idaho and Nevada's Smith Creek Cave and Bonneville Estates Rockshelter -- also contain only Western Stemmed points in deposits of this age.
"From our dating, it appears to be impossible to derive Western Stemmed points from a proto- Clovis tradition," Jenkins said. "It suggests that we may have here in the Western United States a tradition that is at least as old as Clovis, and quite possibly older. We seem to have two different traditions co-existing in the United States that did not blend for a period of hundreds of years."
The origin of humans in the Americas has long suggested early migration out of Siberia and eastern Asia, very possibly across a temporary land bridge between Russia and Alaska. In more recent years, Jenkins' UO colleague Jon Erlandson has been building evidence -- a lot of it emerging from the Channel Islands off California -- of a Late Pleistocene sea-going people following a "kelp highway" from Japan to Kamchatka, along the south coast of Beringia and Alaska, then southward down the Northwest Coast to California. Kelp forests are rich in seals, sea otters, fish, seabirds, and shellfish such as abalones and sea urchins.
The new paper doesn't address the routes early migrants may have taken, but the additional evidence found in the DNA of the coprolites continues to point to Siberia-east Asian origins. Again, as in 2008, the human mitochondrial DNA -- passed on maternally -- was from haplogroup A, which is common to Siberia and found, along with haplogroup B, in Native Americans today.
DNA cannot be directly dated with radiocarbon technology. Instead, researchers extracted components of the diet eaten by the early inhabitants and washed potentially contaminating carbon out of the coprolites with distilled water. The digested fibers and carbon fraction were then radiocarbon-dated separately and the results compared.
The only significant aging difference in 12 such tests involved a camelid coprolite (ice-age llama) that was dated through its contents to about 14,150 years ago, while its water-soluble extract was dated to 13,200 years ago. This sample was found below a mud lens that contained one of the Western Stemmed points and human coprolites dated to between 13,000 and 13,200 years ago.
The meticulous methodology used, Jenkins said, was done to address criticism that the 2008 findings may have been compromised by contamination, such as the leaching of later DNA from humans by water and rodent urine downward through the caves' many layers. The new evidence indicates this form of contamination is not a good explanation for the pre-Clovis human DNA.
"We continued to excavate Paisley Caves from 2009 through 2011," the authors wrote in Science. "To resolve the question of stratigraphic integrity, we acquired 121 new AMS [accelerator mass spectrometry] radiocarbon dates on samples of terrestrial plants, macrofossils from coprolites, bone collagen and water soluble extracts recovered from each of these categories. To date, a total of 190 radiocarbon dates have been produced from the Paisley Caves."
The UO's archaeological field school, operated by the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, returned to the Paisley Caves, under Jenkins' direction, in 2002 to test conclusions made by UO anthropologist Luther Cressman. Based on discoveries of artifacts he found in the caves in 1938-1940, Cressman claimed he'd found evidence of Pleistocene occupation by humans. That claim, based on technologies at the time, was not readily accepted. He died in April 1994, still claiming that he had proven his case.
The Paisley Caves are in the Summer Lake basin near Paisley, about 220 miles southeast of Eugene on the east side of the Cascade Range. The complex includes eight westward-facing caves, all wave-cut shelters, on the highest shoreline of pluvial Lake Chewaucan, which rose and fell in periods of greater precipitation during the Pleistocene, or last glacial period.
"Following the recession of lake waters, the caves began to accumulate different kinds of terrestrial sediments," said co-author Loren Davis, an archaeologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis. "The caves contain a series of deposits that were created by the combination of wind, gravity, water-borne and biological processes. Archaeological evidence suggests that humans visited the cave many times, leaving behind material traces in the form of stone tools, lithic chipping debris, organic craft items, food wastes and even coprolites. These cultural materials were entombed largely as they were left behind as sediments continued to accumulate."
The archaeological field school is a program of the UO's Museum of Natural and Cultural History, which was established in 1936 by the Oregon Legislative Assembly as the official repository for state-held anthropological collections.
"Oregon is a unique place, with a special geomorphology and rich cultural history," said Kimberly Andrews Espy, vice president for research and innovation at the UO. "The research conducted by professor Jenkins and his team helps to tell the story of early human migrations into North America and demonstrates how the UO's long-running summer archaeological field school continues to provide research and training opportunities for students and yield important scientific results 76 years after its founding."
The National Science Foundation (grant 0924606), Danish Research Foundation, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, UO archaeological field school, UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Oregon State University Keystone Archaeological Research Fund, Bernice Peltier Huber Charitable Trust and University of Nevada, Reno, Great Basin Paleoindian Research Unit were primary funders of the fieldwork.
The 18 co-authors with Jenkins and Davis on the study were: Thomas W. Stafford of University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Stafford Research Laboratories in Colorado; Paula F. Campos of the University of Copenhagen and the Science Museum of the University of Coimbra in Portugal; Bryan Hockett of the Bureau of Land Management, Nevada; George T. Jones of Hamilton College in New York; Linda Scott Cummings and Chad Yost of the PaleoResearch Institute in Colorado; Thomas J. Connolly of the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History; Robert M. Yohe II and Summer C. Gibbons of California State University; Johanna L.A. Paijmans and Michael Hofreiter of the University of York in the United Kingdom; Brian M. Kemp of Washington State University; Jodi Lynn Barta of WSU and Madonna University in Michigan; Cara Monroe of WSU and the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Maanasa Raghaven, Morten Rasmussen, M. Thomas P. Gilbert and Eske Willerslev of the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen.
About the University of Oregon
The University of Oregon is among the 108 institutions chosen from 4,633 U.S. universities for top-tier designation of "Very High Research Activity" in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The UO also is one of two Pacific Northwest members of the Association of American Universities.
Dennis L. Jenkins, senior staff archaeologist, UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History, 541-346-3026, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Loren Davis, associate professor of archaeology, Oregon State University, 541-737-3849, email@example.com
Museum of Natural and Cultural History: http://natural-history.uoregon.edu/
About Dennis Jenkins: http://pages.uoregon.edu/ftrock/faculty.php
About Paisley Caves: http://pages.uoregon.edu/ftrock/paisley_caves_description.php
About Loren Davis: http://oregonstate.edu/cla/anthropology/davis
Follow UO Science on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/UniversityOfOregonScience
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Hidden Doggerland underworld uncovered in North Sea
4 July 2012 Last updated at 17:17
A huge area of land which was swallowed up into the North Sea thousands of years ago has been recreated and put on display by scientists.
Doggerland was an area between Northern Scotland, Denmark and the Channel Islands.
It was believed to have been home to tens of thousands of people before it disappeared underwater.
Now its history has been pieced together by artefacts recovered from the seabed and displayed in London.
The 15-year-project has involved St Andrews, Dundee and Aberdeen universities.
The fossilised remains of a mammoth uncovered from the area
The results are on display at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London until 8 July.
The story behind Doggerland, a land that was slowly submerged by water between 18,000 BC and 5,500 BC, has been organised by Dr Richard Bates at St Andrews University.
Dr Bates, a geophysicist, said "Doggerland was the real heartland of Europe until sea levels rose to give us the UK coastline of today.
"We have speculated for years on the lost land's existence from bones dredged by fishermen all over the North Sea, but it's only since working with oil companies in the last few years that we have been able to re-create what this lost land looked like.
"When the data was first being processed, I thought it unlikely to give us any useful information, however as more area was covered it revealed a vast and complex landscape.
"We have now been able to model its flora and fauna, build up a picture of the ancient people that lived there and begin to understand some of the dramatic events that subsequently changed the land, including the sea rising and a devastating tsunami."
Dr Richard Bates at work building up a picture of the ancient landmass
Ancient tree stumps, flint used by humans and the fossilised remains of a mammoth helped form a picture of how the landscape may have looked.
Researchers also used geophysical modelling of data from oil and gas companies.
Findings suggest a picture of a land with hills and valleys, large swamps and lakes with major rivers dissecting a convoluted coastline.
As the sea rose the hills would have become an isolated archipelago of low islands.
By examining the fossil record (such as pollen grains, microfauna and macrofauna) the researchers could tell what kind of vegetation grew in Doggerland and what animals roamed there.
Using this information, they were able to build up a model of the "carrying capacity" of the land and work out roughly how many humans could have lived there.
The research team is currently investigating more evidence of human behaviour, including possible human burial sites, intriguing standing stones and a mass mammoth grave.
Climate in Northern Europe Reconstructed for the Past 2,000 Years: Cooling Trend Calculated Precisely for the First Time
ScienceDaily (July 9, 2012)
An international team that includes scientists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has published a reconstruction of the climate in northern Europe over the last 2,000 years based on the information provided by tree-rings. Professor Dr. Jan Esper's group at the Institute of Geography at JGU used tree-ring density measurements from sub-fossil pine trees originating from Finnish Lapland to produce a reconstruction reaching back to 138 BC. In so doing, the researchers have been able for the first time to precisely demonstrate that the long-term trend over the past two millennia has been towards climatic cooling.
"We found that previous estimates of historical temperatures during the Roman era and the Middle Ages were too low," says Esper. "Such findings are also significant with regard to climate policy, as they will influence the way today's climate changes are seen in context of historical warm periods." The new study has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Was the climate during Roman and Medieval times warmer than today? And why are these earlier warm periods important when assessing the global climate changes we are experiencing today? The discipline of paleoclimatology attempts to answer such questions. Scientists analyze indirect evidence of climate variability, such as ice cores and ocean sediments, and so reconstruct the climate of the past. The annual growth rings in trees are the most important witnesses over the past 1,000 to 2,000 years as they indicate how warm and cool past climate conditions were.
Researchers from Germany, Finland, Scotland, and Switzerland examined tree-ring density profiles in trees from Finnish Lapland. In this cold environment, trees often collapse into one of the numerous lakes, where they remain well preserved for thousands of years.
The international research team used these density measurements from sub-fossil pine trees in northern Scandinavia to create a sequence reaching back to 138 BC. The density measurements correlate closely with the summer temperatures in this area on the edge of the Nordic taiga; the researchers were thus able to create a temperature reconstruction of unprecedented quality. The reconstruction provides a high-resolution representation of temperature patterns in the Roman and Medieval Warm periods, but also shows the cold phases that occurred during the Migration Period and the later Little Ice Age.
In addition to the cold and warm phases, the new climate curve also exhibits a phenomenon that was not expected in this form. For the first time, researchers have now been able to use the data derived from tree-rings to precisely calculate a much longer-term cooling trend that has been playing out over the past 2,000 years. Their findings demonstrate that this trend involves a cooling of -0.3°C per millennium due to gradual changes to the position of the sun and an increase in the distance between the Earth and the sun.
"This figure we calculated may not seem particularly significant," says Esper, "however, it is also not negligible when compared to global warming, which up to now has been less than 1°C. Our results suggest that the large-scale climate reconstruction shown by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) likely underestimate this long-term cooling trend over the past few millennia."
Archaeologists discover earliest Chinese wine
15 July 2012
Liquid inside an ancient wine vessel unearthed in Shaanxi province is considered to be the earliest wine in China's history, archaeologists said. The wine vessel made of bronze was unearthed in a noble's tomb of the West Zhou Dynasty (1046 BCE - 771 BCE) in Shigushan Mountain in Baoji city.
The liquid is likely the oldest wine discovered in China, said Liu Jun, director of Baoji Archaeology Institute, who is in charge of the project. The vessel, one of the six discovered in the tomb, could be heard to contain a liquid when it was shaken, Liu said. However, the cover of the vessel was pretty solid and there was no appropriate tools to open it at the excavation site, so the liquid remains a mystery, he said.
During the Shang Dynasty (1600 BCE - 1046 BCE), before the Zhou Dynasty, wine became a symbol of corruption as Shang officials used to drink excessively, he said. The people of Zhou made 'dissuasive devices' to put on the table to remind people to drink in moderation, Liu said. A 95-centimeter-long and 21-centimeter-tall 'dissuasive device' was unearthed with the wine vessels on June 25 in the same tomb, which is the first of this kind unearthed in Baoji, he said.
Many other bronze devices with inscriptions were unearthed at the site, and the excavation work is still underway.
Edited from Xinhuanet (6 July 2012)
Two ancient bodies made from six people discovered in Scotland
14 July 2012
Scientists have discovered that two 3,000-year-old Scottish 'bog bodies' are actually made from the remains of six people. According to new isotopic dating and DNA experiments, the mummies - a male and a female - were assembled from various body parts, although the purpose of the gruesome composites is likely lost to history.
The mummies were discovered more than a decade ago below the remnants of 11th-century houses at Cladh Hallan, a prehistoric village on the island of South Uist, off the coast of Scotland. The bodies had been buried in the fetal position 300 to 600 years after death. Based on the condition and structures of the skeletons, scientists had previously determined that the bodies had been placed in a peat bog just long enough to preserve them and then removed. The skeletons were then reburied hundreds of years later.
Terry Brown, a professor of biomedical archaeology at the University of Manchester, said there were clues that these bog bodies were more than they seemed. On the female skeleton, "the jaw didn't fit into the rest of the skull," he said. "So Mike [Parker Pearson, of Sheffield University] came and said, Could we try to work it out through DNA testing?" Brown sampled DNA from the female skeleton's jawbone, skull, arm, and leg. The results show that bones came from different people, none of whom even shared the same mother, he said. The female is made from body parts that date to around the same time period. But isotopic dating showed that the male mummy is made from people who died a few hundred years apart.
Another clue to the odd nature of the Cladh Hallan mummies is their unusually well-preserved bones. A peat bog is a high-acid, low-oxygen environment, which inhibits the bacteria that break down organics, said Gill Plunkett, a lecturer in paleoecology at Queen's University Belfast who was not involved in the current study. "The combined conditions are particularly good for the preservation of most organic materials," she said. "But on the other hand, the acidic conditions will attack calcium-based materials," so most known bog bodies have better preserved skin and soft tissue than bones.
In the Cladh Hallan bodies, the bones are still articulated - attached to each other as they would be in life. This suggests that the buriers removed the bodies from the peat bog after preservation but before acid destroyed the bones. When the mummies were later reburied in soil, the soft tissue again began to break down.
The researchers aren't sure why the villagers went through this unusual process, or why they built composite mummies in the first place. A cynical theory, study author Brown said, assumes that the Bronze Age people of Cladh Hallan were just eminently practical: "Maybe the head dropped off and they got another head to stick on." Another possibility is that the merging was deliberate, to create a symbolic ancestor that literally embodied traits from multiple lineages. According to Brown, there may be other composite bodies waiting to be discovered.
Edited from National Geographic (6 July 2012)
Corfe Castle 'mystery pot' on display for Festival of Archaeology
15 July 2012 Last updated at 11:56
National Trust archaelologists originally thought the fragments formed an oil pot
A three-handled pot that baffled archaeologists for 26 years has been displayed for the first time with its proper identity tag - a grenade.
Fragments of the pot were uncovered at Corfe Castle, Dorset, in 1986.
In May a Dutch archaeologist recognised it on a Facebook posting as a smoke bomb from Vlissingen in the Netherlands.
The pot is on display at the castle until 29 July as part of the Festival of Archaeology.
National Trust archaeologist Nancy Grace who found the fragments said: "We knew it was from continental Europe but the best guess was that it might be a piece of tableware, possibly an oil pot."
The Dutch archaeologist however identified it as a Dutch "stankpot" - a smoke bomb or grenade.
A fuse would be suspended from the three handles and then the pot filled with an explosive or smoke producing mixture.
Ms Grace said: "It is great to finally find out what it is."
Timbuktu Arabs set up armed watch at ancient tombs
(AFP) – 3 days ago
BAMAKO — Members of Timbuktu's Arab community said Wednesday they have set up an armed brigade to prevent further destruction of the tombs of ancient Muslim saints by Islamists occupying northern Mali.
"Today we have a vigilance brigade so that no one touches the mausolea of Araouane and Gasser-Cheick," said Tahel Ould Sidy, leader of the unit, referring to two tombs in the greater Timbuktu region.
"We are armed and there is the required number of people," he added.
"We are not going to allow people who know nothing about Islam to come and destroy our treasures. I studied in Mauritania and Saudi Arabia, no one tells us in the Koran that we should destroy tombs."
Members of Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), an Al-Qaeda-linked armed group which has been in control of northern Mali for over three months, on Tuesday destroyed two tombs in the city's oldest and biggest mosque, Djingereyber.
Last week they similarly destroyed seven tombs of ancient Muslim saints as well as the sacred door of another 15th century mosque, all listed as endangered World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
They have vowed to destroy all similar sites in the fabled city, which they say are "haram" or forbidden by Islam.
A resident of the town said one wall of the Djingareyber mud mosque, built in 1325 according to UNESCO, had partly fallen during the destruction of the tombs.
"On Tuesday night the Islamists rapidly rebuilt a part of the grand mosque's wall which fell when they destroyed the two mausolea," he said.
Experts say that while moderate Sufi Muslims, the majority in Mali, see the mausolea as shrines, those who follow the radical Wahhabi tradition see them as idolatrous.
In their eyes "other veneration is a sort of heresy, a way of stepping away from the oneness of God," said French anthropologist Jean-Claude Penrad.
Ansar Dine, along with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and another jihadist offshoot, have controlled vast swathes of northern Mali since a northern takeover by armed groups in the wake of a March 22 coup.
Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved.