Friday, March 23, 2007

8 year olds were just as immature 160,000 years ago!

I Don't Want to Grow Up

According to Ann Gibbons, science writer, we reach adulthood later than any other primate, allowing children 18 years to grow their brains and develop complex behaviors, such as creating art, speaking languages, and playing video games. It turns out that our ancestors were slow growers, too: A new study finds that an 8-year-old Homo sapiens living 160,000 years ago was just as immature as today's 8-year-old. The findings indicate that a prolonged childhood may always have been a distinguishing trait of our species.

The new findings provide "some badly needed data that our distinctive pattern of growth and development is likely to have been part of the package that marked out anatomically modern humans," says paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington D.C. This suggests that a longer childhood has always been a hallmark of H. sapiens--and might even have given our species sufficient advantage to replace Neandertals who lived in Europe circa 50,000 years ago, he says.

Our early human ancestors reached adulthood in about 12 years, similar to chimpanzees. Even the early members of our genus Homo, whose brains began to expand and who were long thought to have developed like us, were fully grown at 14 to 16 years. Studies of the teeth of juvenile hominids showed that extended youth emerged relatively late in human evolution.

One international team of scientists had a unique chance to see just how late by examining the fossilized teeth and lower jaw of an 8-year-old child, which was discovered in 1968 in Morocco. The researchers used several methods to reconstruct the age at death and life history of the child. Most notably, they employed a powerful new technique called synchrotron microtomography, in which x-ray images reveal the incremental growth lines laid down daily in the child's teeth during enamel formation—information that only could be obtained before by cutting a thin section from the tooth or making less reliable estimates from ridges on the outside of the teeth. By counting these lines, which are similar to annual rings in a tree, and imaging molars that had not erupted, the team determined that the fossil teeth had grown as slowly as that of a modern child.

"I'm seeing a kid that looks just like a European child of age 8," says paleoanthropologist Tanya Smith of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, leader of the study, which appears online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Friday, March 16, 2007


The newly discovered Roman sacred community right next to Silbury Hill in Southwest England is all the more startling because it lies next to 5,000-year-old Silbury hill, which at 130 feet is Europe's largest man-made prehistoric monument.

The original purpose and use of the Neolithic hill, which took an estimated 20 million man hours to make, still mystifies archaeologists.

Yesterday's announcement by English Heritage indicates that a Roman community was equally taken with the Wiltshire hill and established a sacred settlement in its shadow, some 3,000 years after it was created.

The site straddled the Roman road from London to Bath where it crossed the
Winterbourne River.

But it was more than just a way station for weary travellers. The Romans
were as intrigued by Silbury as people are today, and there is even a
tantalising hint of a temple.


Monday, March 05, 2007


Looters are still ransacking the treasures of Afghanistan, where many antiquities were destroyed by the Taliban. The International Council of Museums on Friday launched a plan to contain the scourge. The group published a "red list of Afghanistan antiquities at risk," hoping to alert collectors, dealers and museums to be vigilant when they come face to face with valuable objects that could have been stolen.

"Ancient sites and monuments, ranging from the Old Stone Age to the 20th Century, are being attacked and systematically looted," an ICOM statement said.

Before it was ousted, the Taliban regime used religious arguments to justify its destruction of ancient Buddhist statues and other priceless art works. Now, greed and chaos are contributing to the sacking of the nation's heritage, the group said.

The country's fledgling government has said that — with its police and army struggling against resurgent Taliban fighters, warlords and opium barons — it has insufficient resources for protecting archaeological sites and museums.

Much has been made of an exhibit at Paris' Guimet Museum, where 22,000 pieces of jewel-encrusted crowns, golden daggers and baubles from an ancient burial mound are back on display after being hidden for years by Afghans at great personal risk.

Missing, however, are more than 55,000 art objects that were stolen from all over the country since the 1980s, archaeologist Prof. Zemayalai Tarzi said.

"Never has a country been looted so systematically as Afghanistan," he said. "It was before the Taliban, it was during the Taliban, it was after. And it continues," he said.

The International Council of Museums' red list does not include objects already stolen, but highlights those categories that would most likely be targeted in looting. It includes elegantly designed pottery and statuettes from the 3rd millennium BC, golden reliquaries from the 1st century and Islamic panels from the 13th century.

Artifacts from Afghan burial sites have turned up in fancy auction houses and antique shops in London, Tokyo and New York.

Verhaegen said that smuggling routes were intentionally complicated. For example: through the Khyber Pass to Pakistan's Peshawar, on to Lebanon, and then via the airport either in Brussels or Amsterdam to a final destination in Switzerland or the United States. "The more transit points you have, the more difficult it is to retrace the origins," Verhaegen said. Certificates could be changed along the way to make the art appear legitimate.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Amazing Solar Observatory found in Peru

"Chankillo is one of the most exciting archaeoastronomical sites I have come across," said Clive Ruggles, a leading British authority on archeoastronomy. "It seems extraordinary that an ancient astronomical device as clear as this could have remained undiscovered for so long."

Archeologists from Yale and the University of Leicester have identified an ancient solar observatory at Chankillo, Peru as the oldest in the Americas with alignments covering the entire solar year. Recorded accounts from the 16th century CE detail practices of state-regulated sun worship during Inca times, and related social and cosmological beliefs. These speak of towers being used to mark the rising or setting position of the sun at certain times in the year, but no trace of the towers has ever been found.

At Chankillo, not only were there towers marking the sun's position throughout the
year, but they remain in place, and the site was constructed much earlier - in approximately the 4th century BCE. Ivan Ghezzi, a graduate student in the department of Anthropology at Yale University and lead author of the study said: "In this case, the 2,300 year old solar
observatory at Chankillo is the earliest such structure identified and unlike all other sites contains alignments that cover the entire solar year."

Chankillo is a large ceremonial center covering several square kilometers in the costal Peruvian desert. It was better known in the past for a heavily fortified hilltop structure with massive walls, restricted gates, and parapets. For many years, there has been a
controversy as to whether this part of Chankillo was a fort or a ceremonial center. But the purpose of a 300meter long line of Thirteen Towers lying along a small hill nearby had remained a mystery. The new evidence now identifies it as a solar observatory.

The Thirteen Towers of Chankillo run from north to south along the ridge of a low hill within the site; they are relatively well-preserved and each has a pair of inset staircases leading to the summit. The rectangular structures, between 75 and 125 square metres (807-1,345 sq ft) in size, are regularly spaced - forming a "toothed" horizon with narrow gaps at regular intervals. About 230m (750ft) to the east and west are what scientists believe to be two observation points. From these vantages, the 300m- (1,000ft-) long spread of the towers along the horizon corresponds very closely to the rising and setting positions of the Sun over the year. At the end of a 131-foot-long corridor in the building to the west of the towers, the researchers found pottery, shells, and stone artifacts in an area possibly for commoners who participated in rituals linked to solar observations. The current report offers strong evidence for an additional use of the site at Chankillo - as a solar observatory.