Monday, April 28, 2014


Until now, the carbon 14 technique, a radioactive isotope which gradually disappears with the passing of time, has been used to date prehistoric remains. When about 40,000 years, in other words approximately the period corresponding to the arrival of the first humans in Europe, have elapsed, the portion that remains is so small that it can become easily contaminated and cause the dates to appear more recent. It was from 2005 onwards that a new technique began to be used; it is the one used to purify the collagen in DNA tests. Using this method, the portion of the original organic material is obtained and all the subsequent contamination is removed.

And by using this technique, scientists have been arriving at the same conclusions at key sites across Europe: "We can see that the arrival of our species in Europe took place 8,000 years earlier than what had been thought and we can see the earliest datings of our species and the most recent Neanderthal ones, in which, in a specific regional framework, there is no overlapping," explained Alvaro Arrizabalaga, professor of the department of Geography, Prehistory and Archaeology, and one of the UPV/EHU researchers alongside María-José Iriarte and Aritza Villaluenga.

The three caves chosen for the recently published research are located in Girona (L'Arbreda), Gipuzkoa (Labeko Koba) and Asturias (La Viña); in other words, at the westernmost and easternmost tips of the Pyrenees and it was where the flow of populations and animals between the peninsula and continent took place. "L'Arbreda is on the eastern pass; Labeko Koba, in the Deba valley, is located on the entry corridor through the Western Pyrenees (Arrizabalaga and Iriarte excavated it in a hurry in 1988 before it was destroyed by the building of the Arrasate-Mondragon bypass) and La Viña is of value as a paradigm, since it provides a magnificent sequence of the Upper Palaeolithic, in other words, of the technical and cultural behavior of the Cro-magnons during the last glaciation", pointed out Arrizabalaga.

The main conclusion -"the scene of the meeting between a Neanderthal and a Cro-magnon does not seem to have taken place on the Iberian Peninsula"- is the same as the one that has been gradually reached over the last three years by different research groups when studying key settlements in Great Britain, Italy, Germany and France. "For 25 years we had been saying that Neanderthals and early humans lived together for 8,000-10,000 years. Today, we think that in Europe there was a gap between one species and the other and, therefore, there was no hybridization, which did in fact take place in areas of the Middle East," explained Arrizabalaga.


The mysterious abandonment of one of North America's first big cities may be linked to a massive Mississippi River flood 800 years ago, a new study finds.

In the bottom of an oxbow lake next to Cahokia, Ill., which was the most powerful and populous city north of Mexico in A.D. 1200, lie the buried remains of a flood that likely destroyed the crops and houses of more than 15,000 people. Researchers investigating pollen records of Cahokia's farming and deforestation discovered distinctive evidence of the flood: a silty layer 7.5 inches (19 centimeters) thick. The silt is dated to A.D. 1200, plus or minus 80 years, said Samuel Munoz, lead study author and a geographer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The city wasn't completely abandoned until A.D. 1350, but the catastrophic flood could have shaken the confidence of the town, sited near modern-day St. Louis, Munoz said. "I think the relationships between flooding and the decision to abandon the settlement are pretty complicated, but it's surprising and exciting to discover this flood happened right in the middle of a key turning point in Cahokia's history," Munoz said.

At its height, Cahokia sprawled over an area of about 6 square miles (16 square kilometers). Similar to modern-day New York City, Cahokia was an artistic and cultural center, where people brought in raw materials from across North America, and residents transformed them into exquisite goods. Vast agricultural fields - where farmers grew crops such as corn, squash, sunflower, little barley and lambs quarters - surrounded the city. More than 200 earthen mounds rose from the city, many of which still loom over the landscape today. Cahokia's location near the confluence of major rivers made it a popular way point for some 2,000 years, according to Munoz's study, published April 10 in the journal Geology.

Pollen grains buried in nearby Horseshoe Lake show farming at Cahokia intensified starting about A.D. 450, accompanied by rapid deforestation. Corn cultivation peaked between A.D. 900 and 1200, during the height of the
Cahokia culture, and then stopped around A.D. 1350. Farming and deforestation picked up again in the 1800s, with the arrival of Europeans.No one knows where the Cahokia people went, but Mississippian cultural traditions continued in the Southeast for several centuries, Munoz said.


Archaeologists conducting an excavation beneath the Palazzo Vecchio, a 13th century building which serves as the Town Hall in Florence, have discovered the remains of an ancient Roman theater dating back nearly 2,000 years, including a Vomitorium (corridor) used by as many as 15,000 people.

Roman theaters started out as simple, temporary wooden structures, but by the 1st century AD, they were building elaborate stone theaters, complete with backstage area, orchestra pit, and seating for thousands of people.

According to Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA), excavations at the Palazzo Vecchio have revealed the original painted stone pavements along which spectators used to walk from the outer circle of the theater to the orchestra Pit, as well as wall foundations, and 10-meter deep well shafts, providing water and waste disposal for the theater. The remains of the theater cover a vast area of land and even include cells in which wild animals were confined.

Research at the site has revealed that it was in use between the 1st or 2nd century AD until the 5th century, and was initially built for around 7,000 people, but at the height of its popularity could have held as many as 15,000 spectators.

By April Holloway


Two ancient Egyptian tombs have been discovered by a Spanish - Egyptian team at the Al-Bahnasa archaeological site located in Minya, Egypt, according to a new report in Ahram Online. The ancient tombs, which date back around 2,500 years, contain sarcophagi with the mummified remains of a scribe and a priest, along with an intriguing array of funerary items.

The tombs belong to the 26th Dynasty of Egypt (c. 685-525 BC), the last native dynasty to rule Egypt before the Persian conquest in 525 BC (although others followed). The Dynasty's reign is also called the Saite Period after the city of Sais, where its pharaohs had their capital, and marks the beginning of the Late Period of ancient Egypt. The large number of coins dating back to this Dynasty reveals that the Saiiti era was one of Egypt's flourishing periods.

According to a statement issued by the Minister of Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, the first tomb belongs to a prominent ancient writer, who would have had a "great impact on the intellectual and cultural life of the era." Scribes played an important role in Egyptian society and were central to the functioning of centralized administration, the army, and the priesthood. Scribes were part of only a small percentage of ancient Egyptian society who could read and write. The hieroglyphic language of the ancient Egyptians was complex and beautiful and those who had mastered it held a valued position in society and thus became members of the royal court.

Inside the scribe's tomb, archaeologists uncovered the deceased mummy, which is in a good state of preservation, along with a bronze inkwell and two small bamboo pens, which would have been placed there to aid the writer in his work in the afterlife.

Unusually, the researchers also discovered mummified fish within the tomb, which is the "first time to find stuffed or mummified fish inside a tomb," according to Ali El-Asfar, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector at the Ministry of Antiquities. Fish were mummified in mass quantities in ancient Egypt as offerings to the god. They were wrapped in linen and held together by bands of cloth soaked in sticky resin, permanently encasing the mummies. However, since these fish were found within the tomb of the deceased, it is believed they were placed there as food for the scribe in his afterlife.

The second tomb that was uncovered belongs to a priest who was the head of a family many of whose members were priests in the Osirion Temple. This temple was uncovered recently two kilometers west of the tomb. Inside the tomb,
archaeologists found a large collection of stone sarcophagi, some of which were broken, along with canopic jars carved in alabaster and bearing hieroglyphic texts as well as a collection of 26th Dynasty bronze coins and bronze Osirian statuettes.

By April Holloway


Archaeologists have found the remains of an ancient wall during excavations inside the Roman Forum, which has been dated to 900 BC - suggesting that the ancient city is two centuries older than previously thought.

According to Rome's foundation myth, the ancient city was founded by twin brothers Romulus and Remus in 753 BC. Their mother was Rhea Silvia, daughter to Numitor, king of Alba Longa. Before their conception, Numitor's brother Amulius seized power and killed all Numitor's male heirs and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, sworn to chastity. However, Rhea Silvia conceived the twins by the god Mars, or by the demi-god Hercules; once the twins were born, Amulius had them abandoned to die in the river Tiber. They were saved by a series of miraculous interventions: the river carried them to safety, a she-wolf found and suckled them, and a woodpecker fed them. A shepherd and his wife discovered the twins and raised them to manhood, as simple shepherds. The twins, still ignorant of their true origins, proved to be natural leaders. Each acquired many followers. When they discovered the truth of their birth, they killed Amulius and restored Numitor to his throne. Rather than wait to inherit Alba Longa, they chose to found a new city. Romulus founded the new city, named it Rome, after himself, and created its first legions and senate.

Although possible historical bases for the mythological narrative remain unclear and disputed, the myth was fully developed into something like an "official", chronological version in the Late Republican and early Imperial era; and the founding of the city was established at 753 BC. However, this date has been challenged by the latest discovery in the Roman Forum.

Experts have been working on the dig since 2009, using historic photos, images and other research left by archaeologists including Giacomo Boni, who led the excavation of the Roman Forum from 1899, to locate the buried wall.

The ancient wall was found in the Lapis Niger, a black stone shrine that preceded the Roman Empire by several centuries, and sits next to the Arch of Severo Septimius, a marble monument built in the heart of the Forum centuries later in 203 AD. Researchers uncovered pieces of the wall made from tufa - a type of limestone - along with fragments of ceramics and grains.

"Examination of the recovered ceramic material has enabled us to chronologically date the wall structure to between the 9th century BC and the beginning of the 8th century BC," said Dr Patrizia Fortuni, an archaeologist from Rome's cultural superintendency, who heads the research team. "So it precedes what is traditionally considered the foundation of Rome."

By April Holloway


Research published in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology has indicated that Neanderthal children experienced strong emotional attachments with their immediate social group, were cared for when they were sick, and played a key role in society. Now the study authors have also revealed evidence that suggests Neanderthal children played with toy axes and were taught how to make tools.

Penny Spikins, a researcher in human origins at York University, has referred to three sites where toy-like hand axes were found. At one site in France and another in Belgium, stones were found that had been skilfully crafted alongside others that were inexpertly chipped, as if by learning children. This supports previous research by Dick Stapert (2007), who refers to very small artifacts containing what he calls 'flint failures', as well as a miniature hand-axe only 4.4 cm long, which may have been an instructional toy made by an adult for a child. In a paper titled 'Neanderthal children and their flints', Stapert says, "Very small artifacts - too small to be of use - may be products of learners, especially if they show beginner's marks. The small size would have been an adaptation
to the small hands of children."

Ms Spikins suggests that taken collectively, the evidence suggests that Neanderthal children were schooled in how to make tools. "Learning how to make hand axes may have been part of the adult sculpting of emotional self-control in children," said Spikins.

"The realization that children must be responsible for quite a few flint artifacts may help to understand not only some typological aberrations (e.g.pic-like tools), but also the reason why some sites make a 'primitive' impression. Taking into account the activities of children will make our reconstructions of the past not only more plausible and complete, but also more lively and interesting."

By April Holloway

Friday, April 18, 2014


While reading this book there were so many important facts that I decided to share them with any of you who could be interested. It's not exactly archaeology, but it pertains to the background that all archaeologists really need to know beginning in the 18th century and going back to the Neanderthals. Also, it comments on the state of the world today.

p.36: Cuvier's discovery of extinction (c. 1785) -- of "a world previous to ours" -- was a sensational event.

p. 37 Cuvier finally gave the mastodonte its name in a paper published in Paris in 1806.

p. 53 Without Lyell (father of geology) there would have been no Darwin. Darwin wrote, "I always feel as if my book came half out of Lyell's brains."

p. 81 Walter Alvarez dubbed the hundred mile crater beneath the Yucatan Peninsula "the Crater Doom" --more widely known named after the nearest town, as the Chicxulub crater.

p. 93 Thomas Kuhn, the 20th century's most influential historian of science. Kuhn's seminal work, the Structure of Scientific Revolution shaped not only individual perceptions but entire fields of inquiry. Kuhn made the term "paradigm shifts" -- the history of the science of extinction can be told as a series of paradigm shifts. This is in the chapter titled "Welcome to the Anthropocene."

p.102 The current theory is that the end-Ordovician extinction was caused by glaciation not by a "death star". This extinction lasted no more than 200,000 years and perhaps less than a 100,000. By the time it was over, something like 90% of all species on earth had been eliminated.

p.108 It seems appropriate to assign the term "Anthropocene" to the present in many ways human-dominated, geological epoch, observed Paul Crutzen, a Dutch chemist who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering effects of ozone-depleting compounds.

p. 113 Since the start of the industrial revolution, humans have burned through enough fossil fuels -- coal, oil,and natural gas -- to add some 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the a result of all this the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air today -- a little over four hundred parts per mission --is higher than at any other point in the last 800,000 years..

p.120 Ocean acidification is sometime referred to as global warmings "equally evil twin."

p. 132 Ken Caldeira, Stanford professor, published in Nature, "The Coming Centuries May See More Ocean Acidification Than The Past 300 Million years."

P.189 Ecologist Tom Lovejoy: (credited with the term "biological diversity") "in the face of climatic change, even natural climatic change human activity has created an obstacle course for the dispersal of biodiversity. The result which could be 'one of the greatest biotic crisis of all time."

p.239 Svante Paabo (Swedish) sometimes called the "father of paleogenetics." His present project is sequencing the Neanderthal genome. Most people alive today are slightly up to 4% Neanderthal. He "wants to show what changed in fully modern humans, compared with Neanderthals that made a difference."

p.266-67 In the center of the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Biodiversity (in NYC) there's an exhibit embedded in the floor... arranged around a central plaque that notes there have been five major extinction events since complex animals evolved, over five hundred million years ago. According to the plaque, "Global climate
change and other causes, probably including collisions between earth and extraterrestrial objects," were responsible for these events. And further " Right now we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, this time caused solely by humanity's transformation of the ecological landscape."

In an extinction event of our own making, what happens to us" One possibility -- implied by the Hall of Biodiversity -- is that we too will eventually be undone by our "transformation of the ecological landscape." .. by disrupting these systems -- cutting down tropical rainforests, altering the composition of the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans, we're putting our own survival in danger.


This is an amazing book, do read the whole thing and recommend it to many people, especially those who aren't sure about climate change.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


In recent months, numerous DNA studies of ancient humans have all converged on one conclusion - Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred. While for many this may seem unsurprising or even obvious, we must remember that until fairly recently the predominant scientific theory was that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens never came in contact with each other, let alone interbreed.

Science is also only just beginning to dispel the myth that Neanderthals were primitive cave men. But for some, the idea that up to 20% of Neanderthal genes are still present in the human race is still very hard to swallow. However, a new study, which utilized a more superior method of testing, leaves little room for doubt - many human beings alive today are the product of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens interbreeding.

The new research published in the April 2014 issue of the journal Genetics has utilized a technique that involves partitioning genomes into short blocks to calculate the statistical likelihood of distant or recent interbreeding and tracing back the biological ties that exist between humans and Neanderthals. The method can more confidently detect the genetic signatures of interbreeding than previous approaches, and has further enabled the researchers to distinguish between two possible scenarios - the first is that Neanderthals occasionally interbred with modern humans after they migrated out of Africa, the second is that the humans who left Africa evolved from the same ancestral subpopulation that had previously given rise to Neanderthals.

"Although there has been mounting evidence for genetic exchange between modern humans and Neanderthals in Eurasia from a number of recent genetic studies, it has been difficult to rule out ancestral structure in Africa," said study co-author Dr Konrad Lohse, a population geneticist at the University of Edinburgh. "Our approach can distinguish between two subtly different scenarios".

"This work is important because it closes a hole in the argument about whether Neanderthals interbred with humans. And the method can be applied to understanding the evolutionary history of other organisms, including endangered species," said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Genetics.

By April Holloway


An impressive discovery of ancient lacustrine settlements and a huge necropolis, dating back as early as 8,000 years ago, has been brought to light by an archaeological excavation in the area between the villages of St. Panteleimon, Anargyros Amyntaiou, and Vegora Philotas in Greece.

Although excavations took place in the region more than a century ago, in 1898, by the Russian Institute of Constantinople, nothing was ever reported or announced and excavations stopped for more than 100 years. In 2001,
excavations resumed in the area due to lignite mining operations by the Greek Electricity company, leading to the accidental discovery of the ruins by a group of workers. Since then, an incredible 54 ancient settlements have been discovered with 24 discovered in the last two years alone. The details of the findings have just been reported by an archaeological representative of the Government.

The discoveries include the remains of numerous rectangular buildings, measuring 4x6 meters and oriented southeast to southwest, arranged in 'neighborhoods' of 4 to 6 buildings in each. The floors of the buildings were constructed with successive layers of clay resting on wooden beams. Some of the larger buildings consisted of two levels with a balcony on the second floor, demonstrating remarkably advanced architecture for the period between 6,000 BC and 3,000 BC. Inside the buildings, archaeologists have found the remains of fireplaces, which would probably have been used for both heating and cooking. In order to avoid flooding they had created fortifications to protect the settlements. Each house was raised on layers of clay to avoid water gathering beneath.

Many tools, pottery, various jewellery and clay figurines were found including anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations. One of the most impressive artifacts was a chair with legs (as opposed to a seat with a solid base), which until now had only been found in Greece dating back to the 6th century BC. The findings also shed light on the dietary habits of the ancient people, as scientists have found the remains of wheat, lentils, and pomegranate, as well as blackberry and elderberry seeds.

The civilisation that occupied this area has since been named the 'Civilization of the Four Lakes', as most of the settlements were found in the vicinity of a set of lakes in the region. The civilization is believed to have settled in the area beginning around 6,000 BC and extending until 3,000 BC. It appears that a great fire destroyed the settlements, with many remains becoming submerged in the depths of the lakes.

The necropolis that was found consists of cist graves in an entirely circular and radial arrangement with each tomb accompanied by a large number of offerings like ceramic and bronze vases, jewellery, clothing, weapons and tools.More than 148 tombs have been found to date. The discovery of the remains of some women wearing elaborate clothing and valuable jewellery indicates the existence of a hierarchical social system. The discovery reflects an incredibly advanced civilization existing in northern Greece 8,000 years ago.

By John Black


Archaeologists have uncovered the earliest evidence of the presence of humans in Scotland with an assemblage of over 5,000 flint artifacts which were recovered in 2005-2009 by Biggar Archaeology Group in fields at Howburn, South Lanarkshire. Subsequent studies have dated their use to 14,000 years ago. Prior to the find, the oldest evidence of human occupation in Scotland could be dated to around 13,000 years ago at a now-destroyed cave site in Argyll,
northwest Scotland.

Dating to the very earliest part of the late-glacial period, Howburn is likely to represent the first settlers in Scotland. The flint tools are strikingly close in design to similar finds in northern Germany and southern Denmark from the same period, a link which has helped experts to date them. The new findings were revealed by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, in her speech at the Institute for Archaeologists' annual conference, which is this year taking place in Glasgow. The definitive findings will be published next year in a report funded by Historic Scotland.

The hunters who left behind the flint remains at Howburn came into Scotland in pursuit of game, probably herds of wild horses and reindeer, at a time when the climate improved following the previous severe glacial conditions.
Glacial conditions returned once more around 13,000 years ago and Scotland was again depopulated, probably for another 1000 years, after which new groups with different types of flint tools make their appearance.

The nature of the physical connections made between the peoples in Scotland, Germany and southern Denmark is not yet understood. However the similarity in the design of the tools from the two regions offers tantalizing glimpses
of connections across what would have been dry land, now drowned by the North Sea.

Monday, April 07, 2014


A team from the Welsh Rock Art Organization has begun excavating Ynys Môn's least-known Neolithic chambered tomb - Perthi Duon, on Anglesey, in northwest Wales - one of eighteen existing stone chambered monuments that stand within a 1.5 kilometer corridor of the Menai Straits.

In 1723 the antiquarian Henry Rowlands reported three possible upright stones beneath the large capstone, however by the time the Reverend John Skinner sketched the site in 1802 it was in a ruinous state.

The probable orientation of the entrance is east-west, with its concealed chamber at the western end. The team have so far uncovered several significant features, including areas of compacted-stone cairn that would once have formed a kidney-shaped mound surrounding the chamber.

Team director Dr George Nash says that "This discovery, along with other excavated features clearly show this monument to be a portal dolmen, one of the earliest Neolithic monument types in Wales, dating to around 3,500 BCE. More importantly, the architecture of Perthi Duon appears to be a blueprint for other portal dolmen monuments within what is termed the Irish Sea Province. We hope, by the end of this excavation to gain a better understanding of the burial and ritual practices that went on at this site, some 5,500 years ago."

Edited from University of Bristol (21 March 2014)
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Back in 2006 the remains of some Neolithic houses were discovered at Durrington Walls, close to Stonehenge (Wiltshire, England). The remains were dated at 2,500 BCE, which was approximately the same time that the Stonehenge sarsen stones were being erected. It is believed that the huts may have housed the construction workers or may even have acted as hotels for visitors to the sacred site.

Whilst being valuable archaeological finds in their own right, the house remains - together with information gained from similar dwelling remains found in Orkney - have provided enough information to enable reconstructions to be made. So a 60 strong team of volunteers are now nearing the completion of the erection of five dwellings adjacent to the new visitor center. The replicas are as authentic as possible, even down to replicating the harvesting of coppiced hazel rods using flint axes.
Susan Greaney, senior properties historian at English Heritage, is quoted as saying "One of the things we're trying to do at Stonehenge is to reconnect the ancient stones with the people that lived and worked in the surrounding landscape. We hope these houses will give visitors a real insight into what life was like at the time Stonehenge was built. They are the product of archaeological evidence, educated guesswork, and a lot of hard physical work".

Edited from Times of Malta (21 March 2014)
[1 image]

Sunday, April 06, 2014


A mummy of an Egyptian woman dating back to 700 A.D. has been scanned and stripped to reveal a tattoo on her thigh that displays the name of the biblical archangel Michael. The discovery, announced by researchers at the British Museum was made during a research project that used advanced medical scans, including Computed Tomography (CT) images, to examine Egyptian mummies at a number of hospitals in the United Kingdom last year.

The woman's body was wrapped in a woolen and linen cloth before burial, and her remains were mummified in the desert heat. As deciphered by curators, the tattoo on her thigh, written in ancient Greek, reads transliterated as M-I-X-A-H-A, or Michael. Curators at the museum speculate that the tattoo was a symbol worn for religious and spiritual protection, though they declined to offer additional details.

Placing the name of a powerful heavenly protector on one's body by a tattoo or amulet was very common in antiquity, said Curator Tilly. "Christian women who were pregnant often placed amulets with divine or angelic names on bands on their abdomens to insure a safe delivery of their child," she said. "Placing the name on the inner thigh, as with this mummy, may have had some meaning for the hopes of childbirth or protection against sexual violation, as in 'This body is claimed and protected.' Michael is an obvious identity for a tattoo, as this is the most powerful of angels."
Christian Gnostics, religious cultists in that era, were especially interested in the names and functions of intermediary beings between humans and the divine, Tilley noted.

She added that Christians were not the only ones to use the names of angelic powers in ancient days. "Jews of antiquity were fascinated by the identity and nature of angels," she said. Villanova University biology professor Michael Zimmerman, who also has used advanced technologies to study Egyptian mummies, said this kind of find has been sought for years.

London's British Museum will reveal what it has learned about this and seven other mummies in "Ancient Lives: New Discoveries," an exhibition scheduled to run from May 22 to Nov. 30. John Taylor, lead curator of the ancient Egypt and Sudan department at the museum, told a local newspaper over the weekend that the exhibition will tell the story of the lives of eight people from antiquity, portraying them as full human beings, rather than as archeological objects.

Using sophisticated medical imaging usually reserved to study strokes and heart attacks, the research team discovered that these eight ancient individuals, whose remains have been held in the museum for some time, had many of the same traits that modern man does, including dental problems, high cholesterol levels and tattoos. The exhibition portrays one mummy that dates back to 3,500 B.C., as well as the tattooed female, aged between 20 and 35, who lived and died about 1,300 years ago. Researchers pointed out that regular Egyptians -- not only the royals -- were mummified. The tattooed mummy, the remains of which were found less than a decade ago, was so well preserved that archaeologists could nearly discern the tattoo on the inner thigh of her right leg with the naked eye. But medical infrared technology helped them see it clearly.


An investigation centered around a new skull from Dmanisi (Republic of Georgia) concludes that the cave site may have hosted not one but two Homo species, one living around 1.8 million years ago and another several hundred thousand years later. [Dmanisi cave controversy, Past Horizons, October 21, 2013]

The Pleistocene site has yielded an impressive assemblage of hominin fossils, opening fresh perspectives for understanding the nature of the first Eurasian human settlers, and providing important data for reassessing the origin and evolution of the genus - however, the authors of a new study published in PLOS ONE have put forward a different interpretation.

Based on one of the lower jaws recovered previously (D2600), and which is considerably larger than the other ones found at the site, and which also morphologically fits with the newly described skull (D4500), the researchers point out the remarkable shape differences that do not depend on body size or sex. They state that the larger fossil exhibits a mosaic of primitive and derived features absent from the smaller specimens D211 and D2735, flagging the presence of a separate species. The small jaws come from a population closely related to early African Homo populations, with the larger jaw belongs to a poorly understood species - Homo georgicus.

Dmanisi excavation director David Lordkipanidze of the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi disagrees with their conclusions, believing that shape similarities among skulls that fit the lower jaws indicate that only one Homo species occupied the site. Geologic studies show that the Dmanisi fossils are no younger than 1.76 million years old, he adds. However, the new study suggests the accumulation could cover an undetermined period of time. Most researchers acknowledge the high degree of size and shape differences at Dmanisi, although their interpretations differ.

According to Lordkipanidze and his team, the large variability exhibited by the Dmanisi hominins would lessen the differences used to identify species such as Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo ergaster or Homo erectus. All of these would thus belong to the same species, representing regional variants of a single lineage that would have inhabited the Eurasian and African continents during a considerable large period. However, if they
belonged to the same lineage, Dmanisi hominins would exhibit a sexual size difference greater than that observed in modern humans and chimpanzees.

The new study's authors expect that future discoveries at Dmanisi and revisions of the fossil record will shed light on the interpretation of these hominins, saying the evidence available at present suggests the first dispersion out of Africa was probably more complex than previously supposed, that different ecological niches may have been present in the area where the fossils were found, and that the possibility of there having been two species should be further explored.
Source: PLOS ONE


Ground-breaking research by an expert from the University of New England shows that our 'misunderstood cousins,' the Neanderthals, may well have spoken in languages not dissimilar to the ones we use today.

Pinpointing the origin and evolution of speech and human language is one of the longest running and most hotly debated topics in the scientific world. It has long been believed that other beings, including the Neanderthals with
whom our ancestors shared Earth for thousands of years, simply lacked the necessary cognitive capacity and vocal hardware for speech.

Associate Professor Stephen Wroe, a zoologist and palaeontologist from UNE, along with an international team of scientists and the use of 3D x-ray imaging technology, made the revolutionary discovery challenging this notion
based on a 60,000 year-old Neanderthal hyoid bone discovered in Israel in 1989. It was virtually indistinguishable from that of our own species. This led to some people arguing that this Neanderthal could speak," A/Professor Wroe said. However advances in 3D imaging and computer modelling allowed A/Professor Wroe's team to revisit the question.

"By analyzing the mechanical behavior of the fossilized bone with micro x-ray imaging, we were able to build models of the hyoid that included the intricate internal structure of the bone. We then compared them to models of modern humans. Our comparisons showed that in terms of mechanical behavior, the Neanderthal hyoid was basically indistinguishable from our own, strongly suggesting that this key part of the vocal tract was used in the same way.

"From this research, we can conclude that it's likely that the origins of speech and language are far, far older than once thought."

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by University of New England.