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Monday, November 26, 2007

Jade Empire

Ancient jade study sheds light on sea trade
Mon Nov 19, 2007 10:07pm GMT


By Tan Ee Lyn


HONG KONG (Reuters) - Over 100 ancient jade artifacts in museums across southeast Asia have been traced back to Taiwan, shedding new light on sea trade patterns dating back 5,000 years, researchers said.


Using X-ray spectrometers, the international team of scientists analyzed 144 jade ornaments dating from 3,000 BC to 500 AD and found that at least 116 originated from Fengtian in eastern Taiwan.


"The chemical composition of jade reveals its origin and ... their analysis determined the relative amounts of iron, magnesium, and silicon in the jade," the scientists wrote in a paper published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


"Based on elemental composition, 116 artifacts were identified as originating in Fengtian. The source of the others remains unknown."


Fengtian jade has a distinctive translucent green hue and black spots.


The 144 artifacts were unearthed in archaeological excavations in Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand.


ANCIENT FACTORIES


Odds and ends of Fengtian jade were found at several sites in the Philippines, Thailand and southern Vietnam, which the lead researcher Hung Hsiao-chun said may have been workshops.


"Fengtian jade was shipped to these workshops in southeast Asia, which dated from 500 BC to 100 AD. They were very small and they churned out these ornaments that were then exported to other places," said Hung, of the Australian National University in Canberra.


"What's really interesting is their products (from different countries) were very similar," she told Reuters in a telephone interview.


Jade earrings, beads, bracelets and pendants, some depicting two- headed animals, were popular in southeast Asia during the early Iron Age between 500 BC and 500 AD.


Prior to this period, however, Taiwan's jade ornaments were likely to have been crafted back home in Fengtian.


"There was a very huge workshop in Fengtian, dating back to 3,000 BC," Hung said, adding that one of the earliest pieces of Fengtian jade found in the Philippines dates back to 2,000 BC.


"Before, researchers thought all the jade in the Philippines was from China or Vietnam. With our analysis ... we found that most of the ornamental jade in the Philippines was from Taiwan."


The findings of Hung and her team revealed one of the largest prehistoric trades in semiprecious stone.


"Their seafaring methods must have been very superior, even back then," Hung said.


"What we know now is the origin of the jade. We need to find out who these craftsmen were and what tools they used. We know very little about their manufacturing process."
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Night of the Killer Comet

The serpent’s tails coil together menacingly. A horn juts sharply from its head. The creature looks as if it might be swimming through a sea of stars. Or is it making its way up a sheer basalt cliff? For Bruce Masse, an environmental archaeologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, there is no confusion as he looks at this ancient
petroglyph, scratched into a rock by a Native American shaman. “You can’t tell me that isn’t a comet,” he says.


In Masse’s interpretation, the petroglyph commemorates a comet that streaked across the sky just a few years before Europeans came to this area of New Mexico. But that event is a minor blip compared to what he is really after. Masse believes that he has uncovered evidence that a gigantic comet crashed into the Indian Ocean several thousand years ago and nearly wiped out all life on the planet. What’s more, he
thinks that clues about the catastrophe are hiding in plain sight, embedded in the creation stories of cultural groups around the world.
His hypothesis depends on a major reinterpretation of many different mythologies and raises questions about how frequently major asteroid impacts occur. What scientists know about such collisions is based mainly on a limited survey of craters around the world and on the moon. Only 185 craters on Earth have been identified, and almost all are on dry land, leaving largely unexamined the 70 percent of the planet covered by water. Even among those on dry land, many of the craters have been recognized only recently. It is possible that Earth has been a target of more meteors and comets than scientists have suspected.


Masse’s epiphany came while poring over Hawaiian oral histories regarding the goddess Pele and wondering what they might reveal about the lava flows that episodically destroy human settlements and create new tracts of land. He reasoned that even though the stories are often clouded by exaggerations and mystical explanations, many may refer to actual incidents. He tested his hypothesis by cross-checking carbon-14 ages for the lava flows against dates included in royal Hawaiian
genealogies. The result: Several flows matched up with the specific reigns associated with them in the oral histories. Other myths, Masse theorizes, hold similar clues.


Masse’s biggest idea is that some 5,000 years ago, a 3-mile-wide ball of rock and ice swung around the sun and smashed into the ocean off the coast of Madagascar. The ensuing cataclysm sent a series of 600-foot-high tsunamis crashing against the world’s coastlines and injected plumes of superheated water vapor and aerosol particulates into the atmosphere. Within hours, the infusion of heat and moisture
blasted its way into jet streams and spawned superhurricanes that pummeled the other side of the planet. For about a week, material ejected into the atmosphere plunged the world into darkness. All told, up to 80 percent of the world’s population may have perished, making it the single most lethal event in history.


Why, then, don’t we know about it? Masse contends that we do. Almost every culture has a legend about a great flood, and—with a little reading between the lines—many of them mention something like a comet on a collision course with Earth just before the disaster. The Bible describes a deluge for 40 days and 40 nights that created a flood so great that Noah was stuck in his ark for two weeks until the water
subsided. In the Gilgamesh Epic, the hero of Mesopotamia saw a pillar of black smoke on the horizon before the sky went dark for a week. Afterward, a cyclone pummeled the Fertile Crescent and caused a massive flood. Myths recounted in indigenous South American cultures also tell of a great flood.


“These stories are all exactly what you would expect from the survivors of acelestial impact,” Masse says, leafing through 2,000-year-old drawings by Chinese astronomers that show comets of all shapes and sizes. “When a comet rounds the sun, oftentimes its tail is still being blown forward by the solar winds so that it actually precedes it. That is why so many descriptions of comets in mythology
mention that they are wearing horns.” In India, he notes, a celestial fish described as “bright as a moonbeam,” with a horn on its head, warned of an epic flood that brought on a new age of man.


Among 175 flood myths, Masse found two of particular interest. A Hindu myth describes an alignment of the five bright planets that has happened only once in the last 5,000 years, according to computer simulations, and a Chinese story mentions that the great flood occurred at the end of the reign of Empress Nu Wa. Cross-checking historical records with astronomical data, Masse came up with a date
for his event: May 10, 2807 B.C.


On its own, the mythological evidence is weak, as even Masse recognizes. “Mythology can help us hypothesize about events that might have occurred,” he says, “but to prove the reality of them, we have to go beyond myths and search for physical evidence.”


In 2004, at a conference of geologists, astronomers, and archaeologists, Masse outlined his evidence for a world-ravaging impact in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Ted Bryant, a geomorphologist at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales,
Australia, was intrigued and enlisted the help of Dallas Abbott, an assistant professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. In 2005, they formed the Holocene Impact Working Group (referring to the geological period covering the last 11,000 years) to seek out the geological signatures of a megatsunami. If a 600-foot-high wave ravages a coastline, it should leave a lot of
debris behind. In the case of waves generated by asteroid impacts, the debris they leave in their wake is believed to form gigantic, wedge-shaped sandy structures—known as chevrons—that are sometimes packed with deep-oceanic microfossils dredged up by the tsunami.


When Abbott began searching satellite images on Google Earth, she saw dozens of chevrons along shorelines and inland in Africa and Asia. The shape and size of these chevrons suggest that they might have been formed by waves emanating from the impact of a comet slamming into the deep ocean off Madagascar. “The chevrons in Madagascar associated with the crater were filled with melted microfossils from the bottom of the ocean. There is no explanation for their presence other than a cosmic impact,” she says. “People are going to have to start taking this theory a lot more seriously.” The next step is to perform carbon-14 dating on the fossils to see if they are indeed 5,000 years old.


Meanwhile, Bryant contends that chevrons found (pdf) 4 miles inland from the shore of Madagascar were formed by a wave that traveled 25 miles along the coast, moving almost parallel to the shoreline. “Neither erosion nor any other terrestrial process could have caused these formations. The biggest marine landslide ever recorded happened 7,200 years ago off the coast of Norway, and there was a tsunami, but
it was a far cry from leaving deposits 200 meters above sea level,” Bryant says.


Not everyone is convinced, to say the least. “I don’t believe the evidence of a crater off Madagascar, and the impetus is on Abbott to prove it,” says Jay Melosh, an impact expert at the University of Arizona and an outspoken critic of the theory. To make a case for the impact, Melosh says, Abbott “should be finding layers of glassy droplets and fused rock in sea-core samples, the sorts of things we find at all other similar impact sites.”


On the other hand, a lot remains unknown about impacts. As recently as 60 years ago, some geologists believed that the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona—now considered the prototypical impact scar—was caused by a volcanic explosion, and they regarded impacts as a minor if not inconsequential influence on Earth’s history. Just 25 years ago, Luis and Walter Alvarez raised eyebrows with their idea that an asteroid collision helped kill off the dinosaurs. So Abbott continues to hunt for evidence that will clinch the idea that Noah’s flood was yet another example of extraterrestrial meddling. “It is still up to us to prove it, but if we have unequivocal impact ejecta,” she says, Melosh “is going to have to eat his words.”
Check it out on Discover Magazine
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Stone Age Camp Found In Germany


Stone Age Camp Found In Germany
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 120,000-year-old Stone Age hunting camp in a coal mine in Germany. It is a find of great European importance, researchers say.

Open-cast coal mines may get a bad press, but in Germany they're still big business -- the country is the world's largest producer of lignite, or brown coal. Now another advantage of open-cast mines has been discovered -- they can conceal a rich seam of archaeological sites.


DPA
Archaeologists have discovered over 600 stone tools at the 120,000-year-old site.
Archaeologists have found the remains of a 120,000-year-old Stone Age hunting camp in an open-cast lignite mine near Inden in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

"We'll never find such a camp ever again," archaeologist Jürgen Thissen from the Rhineland Commission for Historical Sites said in Bonn Monday. "There isn't another one in the whole of Germany."

He added that the find was the first of its kind in the region, and was of European importance.

Thissen and his assistants came across postholes of three shelters in the open-cast mine last August. Two fireplaces with traces of fires were also found, as were over 600 stone tools and the stone chips left over from their production. Among the stone tools found were a stone knife, serrated blades, and so-called "blanks" (pieces of stone ready to be shaped into tools).


A hand ax was discovered in the mine in December 2005, prompting a full excavation. The team of archaeologists used the mine's mechanical shovel to remove 30,000 tons of soil, laying bare 3,000 square meters of ground that had last been exposed during the Eemian or Sangamon interglacial era which lasted from 128,000 to 117,000 B.C.E. approximately.

According to Thissen, the camp would have been used temporarily by one or more groups of hunters and gatherers during a summer hunting expedition. The climate in northern Germany at the time would have been similar to the Mediterranean today.

News of the sensational new find comes just a week after the announcement that a prehistoric village had been found (more...) near Stonehenge in southern England. That village dates back only to 2,600 B.C.E., however -- practically newly built in comparison to the Stone Age camp.
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Saturday, November 17, 2007

In Georgia, a missing link?

DMANISI, Georgia—The forested bluff that overlooks this sleepy Georgian hamlet seems an unlikely portal into the mysteries surrounding the dawn of man.

Think human evolution, and one conjures up the wind-swept savannas and badlands of East Africa's Great Rift Valley. Georgians may claim their ancestors made Georgia the cradle of wine 8,000 years ago, but the cradle of mankind lies 3,300 miles away, at Tanzania's famed Olduvai Gorge.

But it is here in the verdant uplands of southern Georgia that David Lordkipanidze, a paleoanthropologist, has been unearthing one of the largest and most significant troves of prehistoric human fossils ever found outside of the Great Rift Valley. In doing so, he has begun to change fundamental beliefs about human evolution, and about early man's migration out of Africa.Full Article
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Police expert restores image of prehistoric man


Zhao Chengwen, a professor at the China Criminal Police Institute, at work in his office.

An expert in police forensics has successfully reproduced the head image of a prehistoric man that lived one million years ago in Yunxian, central China's Hubei province, a cradle of Chinese human ancestors. The "Yunxian Man" is believed to have lived earlier than the prehistoric "Peking Man".

Zhao Chengwen, senior professor at the China Criminal Police Institute, restored the ancient man's head image based on a fossil skull excavated in 1990 from Yunxian, a county in northwestern part of Hubei province.

The Yunxian Man fossil skull is believed by scientists to belong to homo erectus, a predecessor of homo sapiens that walked on their two legs with an upright body posture. The fossil skull is the only wholly preserved skull of a homo erectus in China.

Before this feat, Professor Zhao had successfully reproduced images of some 20 ancient people based on their remains, either a mummified body or a piece of skull.

The expert said that the restored Yunxian Man image could well provide concrete reference for research on the relationship between homo erectus and homo sapiens that lived in prehistoric northern and southern China.
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Cacao beans were first used for alcohol, research finds


People who lived in present-day Honduras about 3,400 years ago fermented the pulp of the plant before they began using it to make cocoa, archaeologists say.
By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 13, 2007
Humans began exploiting cacao beans for alcohol before they started using them to make chocolate, according to new findings from a remote Honduran village that push the earliest known use of cacao back about 500 years.

Residue scraped from pottery vessels dating to 1400 BC to 1100 BC indicates that residents of the Ulua Valley fermented the sweet pulp of the chocolate plant to make an alcoholic drink well before they began grinding the bitter seeds and mixing them with honey and chiles to produce the equivalent of modern cocoa.

The consumption of fermented cacao is much more recent than the production of wine and beer, which date to about 5400 BC in Iran and 7000 BC in China.

The chocolate drinks, which had an alcohol content of about 5%, had a special role in feasting, entertaining and binding indigenous groups together, said archaeologist John S. Henderson of Cornell University, who led the team reporting the find Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Henderson and archaeologist Rosemary A. Joyce of UC Berkeley have been excavating at Puerto Escondido in the alluvial valley of the Ulua River for more than a decade. The site has been called the Cradle of Chocolate because of its fertile soil and perfect conditions for cacao beans.

The beans were used as currency by the Olmecs and other peoples in the region for hundreds of years. Money literally "grew on trees," Henderson said.

Puerto Escondido has been continuously occupied since about 2000 BC by a largely agrarian people that shared a loose-knit society with the peoples around them, he said. The identity of the people who lived there in the second millennium BC is not clear, but they may have been precursors of the Olmec, whose civilization began to emerge around 1100 BC.

Before the current study, the oldest known use of cacao was marked by the discovery of a bottle containing traces of the material excavated from a grave in Colha in northern Belize. The bottle dated to 600 BC.

Archaeologist Patrick E. McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, who was involved in dating early uses of fermented beverages around the world, heard about Henderson and Joyce's efforts to date cacao use at Puerto Escondido and volunteered his services.

McGovern was able to extract traces of theobromine, the characteristic marker of Central American cacao, from the porous surfaces of pottery shards they sent him. "The results were astounding," he said. "Every vessel that he had chosen and was tested gave a positive signal for theobromine."

Although no traces of alcohol remain in the vessels, the pottery was of a type that is still used for alcoholic drinks. Pottery characteristically used for nonalcoholic chocolate drinks did not appear until a few hundred years later, the team said.

Henderson speculates that the story is not over yet and that they may find evidence of cacao use even earlier than 1500 BC.

"We're being conservative," he said. "I think it goes back much farther than that."

thomas.maugh@latimes.com

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Mammoth hunters' camp site found in Russia's Far East

KHABAROVSK, November 12 (RIA Novosti) - Archaeologists have found a 15,000 year-old hunters' camp site from the Paleolithic era near Lake Evoron in Russia's Far East, a source in the Khabarovsk archaeology museum said on Monday.


"The site dates back to the end of the Ice Age, a period which is poorly studied" Andrei Malyavin, chief of the museum's archaeology department said. "That is why any new site from this period is a discovery in itself."


The site, found during a 2007 archaeological expedition to Lake Evoron, is the largest of four Stone Age sites, discovered near the Amur River so far, and was most likely established by mammoth hunters.


"We came to this conclusion after studying flint pikes, arrowheads and a stone scraper," Malyavin said, adding that a comprehensive archaeological excavation could take a couple of years.


In 2006, archaeologists discovered an Iron Age burial mound around 2,500 years old containing a unique fragment from an iron dagger, which had been preserved in the Amur Region's acidic soil.




Full Article in Russian
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Prehistoric women had passion for fashion


Prehistoric women had passion for fashion By Ljilja Cvekic
Sun Nov 11, 10:38 PM ET



PLOCNIK, Serbia (Reuters) - If the figurines found in an ancient European settlement are any guide, women have been dressing to impress for at least 7,500 years.

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Recent excavations at the site -- part of the Vinca culture which was Europe's biggest prehistoric civilization -- point to a metropolis with a great degree of sophistication and a taste for art and fashion, archaeologists say.

In the Neolithic settlement in a valley nestled between rivers, mountains and forests in what is now southern Serbia, men rushed around a smoking furnace melting metal for tools. An ox pulled a load of ore, passing by an art workshop and a group of young women in short skirts.

"According to the figurines we found, young women were beautifully dressed, like today's girls in short tops and mini skirts, and wore bracelets around their arms," said archaeologist Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic.

The unnamed tribe who lived between 5400 and 4700 BC in the 120-hectare site at what is now Plocnik knew about trade, handcrafts, art and metallurgy. Near the settlement, a thermal well might be evidence of Europe's oldest spa.

"They pursued beauty and produced 60 different forms of wonderful pottery and figurines, not only to represent deities, but also out of pure enjoyment," said Kuzmanovic.

The findings suggest an advanced division of labor and organization. Houses had stoves, there were special holes for trash, and the dead were buried in a tidy necropolis. People slept on woolen mats and fur, made clothes of wool, flax and leather and kept animals.

The community was especially fond of children. Artifacts include toys such as animals and rattles of clay, and small, clumsily crafted pots apparently made by children at playtime.

COPPER AGE

One of the most exciting finds for archaeologists was the discovery of a sophisticated metal workshop with a furnace and tools including a copper chisel and a two-headed hammer and axe.

"This might prove that the Copper Age started in Europe at least 500 years earlier than we thought," Kuzmanovic said.

The Copper Age marks the first stage of humans' use of metal, with copper tools used alongside older stone implements. It is thought to have started around the 4th millennium BC in south-east Europe, and earlier in the Middle East.

The Vinca culture flourished from 5500 to 4000 BC on the territories of what is now Bosnia, Serbia, Romania and Macedonia.

It got its name from the present-day village of Vinca, 10 km east of Belgrade on the Danube river, where early 20th-century excavations uncovered the remains of eight Neolithic villages.

The discovery of a mine -- Europe's oldest -- at the nearby Mlava river suggested at the time that Vinca could be Europe's first metal culture, a theory now backed up by the Plocnik site.

"These latest findings show that the Vinca culture was from the very beginning a metallurgical culture," said archaeologist Dusan Sljivar of Serbia's National Museum. "They knew how to find minerals, to transport them and melt them into tools."

The metal workshop in Plocnik was a room of some 25 square meters, with walls built out of wood coated with clay.

The furnace, built on the outside of the room, featured earthen pipe-like air vents with hundreds of tiny holes in them and a prototype chimney to ensure air goes into the furnace to feed the fire and smoke comes out safely.

"In Bulgaria and Cyprus, where such workshops have also been found, they didn't have chimneys but blew air on the fire with straws, exposing man to heat and carbon dioxide," Sljivar said.

COLOURFUL MINERALS

He said the early metal workers very likely experimented with colorful minerals that caught their eye -- blue azurite, bright green malachite and red cuprite, all containing copper -- as evidenced by malachite traces found on the inside of a pot.

The settlement was destroyed at some point, probably in the first part of the fifth millennium, by a huge fire.

The Plocnik site was first discovered in 1927 when the then Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was building a rail line from the southern city of Nis to the province of Kosovo.

Some findings were published at the time but war, lack of funds and objections from farmers meant it was investigated only sporadically until digging started in earnest in 1996.

"The saddest thing for us is always the moment when we finish our work and everything has to be covered up with earth again," Kuzmanovic said. "That's the easiest for the state, conservation is very expensive and the land owners want to work in their fields."

But there was some hope that the latest excavation would be preserved due to its importance, Kuzmanovic added.

"We dream of uncovering the entire town one day, and people will be able to see prehistoric life at its fullest," she said.

For a table on Europe's prehistory, click on

(Editing by Ellie Tzortzi and Sara Ledwith)
Full Article here
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Pre-Maya Cave Paintings in the Yucatan

Mexico City, Nov 15 - Mexican anthropologists have discovered some 5,000-year-old cave paintings predating the Maya civilisation on Yucatan peninsula, Spanish news agency EFE reported.

According to Carlos Augusto of the Faculty of Anthropological Sciences at the Autonomous University of the Yucatan, they found some 60 paintings of man-like figures at the Kab cavern situated near the famous Chichen Itza archaeological site. There are also drawings of animal figures, birds or canines, Augusto said.

Anthropologists attribute them to the pre-Maya epoch, between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago.

Augusto also noted that there are also Mayan 'Ajau' symbols and pottery in the cave from the classical period of that civilisation showing that the cave was occupied at various times over the course of human history.

There are also drawings of crosses that suggest that it was occupied during the epoch of the Spanish conquest, he added.

The cave, made up of tunnels between three and five kilometres long, is a virtual labyrinth eight metres below ground.

He said that the cave 'shows the existence of symbolic thinking in Mesoamerica, when the human groups were still hunters and gatherers', something that he said was of 'extraordinary importance'.


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Women Warriors of Cambodia

Women warriors may have battled in ancient Cambodia


TOKYO (AFP) -- Archaeologists have found female skeletons buried with metal swords in Cambodian ruins, indicating there may have been a civilisation with female warriors, the mission head said Thursday.


The team dug up 35 human skeletons at five locations in Phum Snay in northwestern Cambodia in research earlier this year, said Japanese researcher Yoshinori Yasuda, who led the team.


"Five of them were perfect skeletons and we have confirmed all of them were those of females," Yasuda told AFP. The skeletons were believed to date back to the first to fifth century AD.


The five were found buried together with steel or bronze swords, and helmet-shaped objects, said Yasuda, who is from the government-backed International Research Center for Japanese Studies.


"It is very rare that swords are found with women. This suggests it was a realm where female warriors were playing an active role," he said.


"Women traditionally played the central role in the rice-farming and fishing societies," he said. "It's originally a European concept that women are weak and therefore should be protected."


"The five skeletons were well preserved because they had been buried in important spots at the tombs," he said.


It was the first time that large-scale research was conducted on the Phum Snay relics, which were found in 1999.


It is believed there was a civilisation inhabited with several thousand rice-farming people between the first to fifth century.
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Wushan Man

Chinese Scientists Conclude Wushan Man Is Oldest Human Fossil In China


November 13, 2007 9:57 p.m. EST


Windsor Genova - AHN News Writer


Beijing, China (AHN) - Chinese archeologists have concluded that the two million years old human fossils found in Wushan County, Chongqing municipality from 1985 to 1988 belong to the earliest human species in China.


The lower jawbone fragment, an incisor and more than 230 pieces of stone tools of the so-called Wushan Man pre-dated the fossils of the Yuanmou Man by 300,000 years, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.


The Yuanmou Man was discovered in southwestern Yunnan Province in the 1960s. It was previously regarded as the oldest human species found in China.


Huang Wanbo, a professor with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said various dating techniques corroborated earlier findings that the geological layer containing the Wushan Man fossils and artifacts is two to 2.04 million years old.


Huang said his team of experts dug up and examined more stone tools and animal fossils at the Longgupo Site in Wushan Mountain during excavations from 1997 to 1999 and 2003 to 2006. British, Canadian and French experts joined Chinese archeologists in the diggings.


The professor said more diggings at Longgupo will be done next year to find more evidence.

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Excavations reveal ancient civilization

Excavations reveal ancient civilization with a sense of style
Neolithic Vinca proved to be a metallurgical culture


Reuters


PLOCNIK, Serbia (Reuters) - If the figurines found in an ancient European settlement are any guide, women have been dressing to impress for at least 7,500 years.


Recent excavations at the site - part of the Vinca culture which was Europe's biggest prehistoric civilization - point to a metropolis with
a great degree of sophistication and a taste for art and fashion, archaeologists say.


In the Neolithic settlement in a valley nestled between rivers, mountains and forests in what is now southern Serbia, men rushed
around a smoking furnace melting metal for tools. An ox pulled a load of ore, passing by an art workshop and a group of young women in short skirts. "According to the figurines we found, young women were beautifully dressed, like today's girls in short tops and mini skirts, and wore bracelets around their arms," said archaeologist Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic.


The unnamed tribe who lived between 5400 and 4700 BC in the 120- hectare site at what is now Plocnik knew about trade, handcrafts, art and metallurgy. Near the settlement, a thermal well might be evidence of Europe's oldest spa.
Reuters


These Neolithic figurines, one of a girl in a short skirt and ornate top (left) and another showing the head of a goddess (right), were found in the Plocnik archaeological site in southern Serbia. Excavation finds point to a metropolis with a great degree of sophistication.


"They pursued beauty and produced 60 different forms of wonderful pottery and figurines, not only to represent deities, but also out of pure enjoyment," said Kuzmanovic.


The findings suggest an advanced division of labor and organization. Houses had stoves, there were special holes for trash, and the dead were buried in a tidy necropolis. People slept on woollen mats and fur, made clothes of wool, flax and leather, and kept animals.


The community was especially fond of children. Artefacts include toys such as animals and rattles of clay, and small, clumsily crafted pots apparently made by children at playtime.


One of the most exciting finds for archaeologists was the discovery of a sophisticated metal workshop with a furnace and tools including a copper chisel and a two-headed hammer and axe. "This might prove that the Copper Age started in Europe at least 500 years earlier than we thought," Kuzmanovic said.


The Copper Age marks the first stage of humans' use of metal, with copper tools used alongside older stone implements.


It is thought to have started around the 4th millennium BC in southeast Europe, and earlier in the Middle East. The Vinca culture flourished from 5500 to 4000 BC on the territories of what is now Bosnia, Serbia, Romania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.


It got its name from the present-day village of Vinca, 10 km east of Belgrade on the Danube River, where early 20th-century excavations uncovered the remains of eight Neolithic villages.


The discovery of a mine - Europe's oldest - at the nearby Mlava river suggested at the time that Vinca could be Europe's first metal culture, a theory now backed up by the Plocnik site.


"These latest findings show that the Vinca culture was from the very beginning a metallurgical culture," said archaeologist Dusan Sljivar of Serbia's National Museum. "They knew how to find minerals, to transport them and melt them into tools." The metal workshop in Plocnik was a room of some 25 square meters, with walls built out of wood coated with clay. The furnace, built on the outside of the room, featured earthen pipe-like air vents with hundreds of tiny holes in them and a prototype chimney to ensure air goes into the furnace to feed the fire and smoke comes out safely.


"In Bulgaria and Cyprus, where such workshops have also been found, they didn't have chimneys but blew air on the fire with straws, exposing man to heat and carbon dioxide," Sljivar said.


He said the early metal workers very likely experimented with colorful minerals that caught their eye - blue azurite, bright green malachite and red cuprite, all containing copper - as evidenced by malachite traces found on the inside of a pot.


The settlement was destroyed at some point, probably in the first part of the 5th millennium, by a huge fire.


The Plocnik site was first discovered in 1927 when the then Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was building a rail line from the southern city of Nis to the province of Kosovo. Some findings were published at the time but war, lack of funds and objections from farmers meant it was investigated only sporadically until digging started in earnest in 1996.


"The saddest thing for us is always the moment when we finish our work and everything has to be covered up with earth again," Kuzmanovic said. "That's the easiest for the state; conservation is very expensive and the land owners want to work in their fields." But there was some hope that the latest excavation would be preserved due to its importance, Kuzmanovic added. "We dream of uncovering the entire town one day, and people will be able to see prehistoric life at its fullest," she said.


These Neolithic figurines, one of a girl in a short skirt and ornate top (left) and another showing the head of a goddess (right), were found in the Plocnik archaeological site in southern Serbia. Excavation finds point to a metropolis with a great degree of sophistication.


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Monday, November 12, 2007

Stone Age feminism?

Stone Age feminism?
Females joining hunt may explain Neanderthal Demise


By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff | November 10, 2007


The Neanderthal extinction some 30,000 years ago remains one of the great riddles of evolution, with rival theories blaming everything from genocide committed by "real" humans to prehistoric climate change.


But a recent study introduces another explanation: Stone Age feminism. Among Neanderthals, hunting big beasts was women's work as well as men's, so it's a safe bet that female hunters got stomped, gored, and worse with appalling frequency. And a high casualty rate among fertile women - the vital "reproductive core" of a tiny population - could well have meant demographic disaster for a species already struggling to survive among monster bears, yellow-fanged hyenas, and cunning Homo
sapien newcomers.


A spate of recent discoveries has yielded intriguing clues about humanity's closest cousin. Neanderthals and humans split from a common ancestor some 500,000 years ago. Neanderthals had Europe to themselves until Homo sapiens started swarming out of Africa about 45,000 years ago - the beginning of the end for these archetypical cave dwellers, although they hung on for 15 millennia.


No other prehistoric people had quite the same kinship with humans: just 2,000 generations ago, the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, Neanderthals walked among us and we among them. They might have been our lovers. Almost certainly they were our rivals, competing for the same giant elk and reindeer.


Then they were gone.


But these relatives are still rooted in our consciousness. Look at the Geico commercials, with the not-quite-human character taking offense at a car insurance company's offer of website access "so easy a caveman could do it." The gag, of course, is that Neanderthals are enough like humans to deserve respect - a sensitivity not many people would extend to more apelike members of the family tree.


"If Lucy were alive, we'd put her in a zoo," said Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, using the nickname of a primitive hominid forebear who lived 3.2 million years ago.


"If a Neanderthal were to come along, we'd think he was kind of weird. But we might also wonder whether to admit him to Harvard," Lieberman said. "They remain this touchstone species that evokes strong emotions."


It's only in the past few years that scientists have reached broad consensus on what Neanderthals were - and weren't. "Neanderthals were a species of archaic humans that evolved in Europe separately" from modern humans, he said. "They were very much like us . . . But they weren't us."


Among the new findings:


# In addition to immense noses, elongated skulls, and barrel chests, some Neanderthals boasted flaming red hair, according to an international research team led by Harvard's Holger Roempler. This suggests they might have been pale-skinned, not the swarthy knuckle- draggers of the popular imagination. But they were still likely very hairy.


# Neanderthals possessed a gene known to underlie speech. The presence of the FOXP2 gene in two skeletons uncovered in the El Sidron cave in northern Spain suggests Neanderthals were capable of human-like language.


# The range of Neanderthals was much greater than scientists had previouslyimagined, extending to the heart of Asia.


Svante Paabo, head of genetics at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, last month identified mitochondrial DNA taken from bones found in Siberia's Altay mountains as belonging to Neanderthals. The location lies 2,000 miles beyond what was previously regarded as the eastern limit of their territory. That find was a surprise because scientists have long thought that Asia of that era belonged solely to another archaic human species, Homo erectus.


"This puts Neanderthals on the doorstep to Mongolia and China," said Paabo. "So perhaps we will some day find evidence of a Neanderthal Marco Polo," who met and mingled with those vanished inhabitants of the Far East.


Meanwhile, Paabo is working on an audacious scheme to reconstruct the full Neanderthal genome from DNA recovered from fragments of bone. "This would be the first time that anyone has sequenced the entire genome of an extinct organism," he said.


On other fronts, scientists are searching for proof that Neanderthals and humans interbred. So far, there's no genetic evidence that these cousins, if they kissed, produced offspring.


"If they did do it, as everyone wonders, it didn't have an evolutionary effect," said Lieberman. "The question really says more about human's prurient interests."


Almost as provocatively, a husband-wife anthropological team has raised the possibility that female derring-do may have contributed to Neanderthals' demise.


The University of Arizona's Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner, use archeological evidence to argue that Neanderthal females - unlike Homo sapien women of the Upper Paleolithic period - joined men in hunts at a time when stabbing giant beasts with a sharpish stone affixed to a stick represented the cutting edge of technology.


That's courageous, but probably bad practice for a population that never numbered much more than 10,000 individuals. The loss of a few males to a flailing hoof or slashing antler is no big deal, in the long run. But losing females of child-bearing age could bring doom to a hard-pressed species.


"All elements of [Neanderthal] society appear to have been involved in the main subsistence pursuit" of hunting large animals, Kuhn said. "There's not much evidence of classic female roles.


"Putting the reproductive core of the population - pregnant women, mothers of infants, children themselves - at such danger could have put Neanderthals as a whole at serious demographic disadvantage," he said.


Not only would women suffer casualties, Kuhn said, their full participation in the hunt would mean they were not harvesting wild
grains and other foods that could sustain their roving bands when game was scarce.


What finished off the Neanderthals is still bitterly disputed by paleoanthropologists and others in the field.


On one side are those who think Neanderthals were "culturally" overwhelmed by modern humans who just happened to possess better tools and weapons - throwing spears, for example, not jabbing spears - or adopted customs more appropriate for the Ice Age. From early days, human women appear to have sewed hide clothing, tended fires, and gathered vegetables rather than risking their lives on the hunt.


On the other side are those who believe modern humans were inherently superior, possessing "cognitive advantages" - read: more smarts - that made their ascent and Neanderthal decline inevitable. Cavefolk simply couldn't compete effectively with the more clever new kids on the block.


"Neanderthals were smart, sophisticated. They mastered fire. They made tools. But modern humans had selectively advantageous [genetic] traits that gave them an edge," said Richard G. Klein, a Stanford University paleoanthropologist. "Even tiny advantages in cognition, communication skills, and memory would have had huge downstream effects over time."


There are other plausible explanations for the Neanderthal extinction. Warming at the end of the Ice Age surely wasn't easy for robust people built for the cold. Or an epidemic could have so depopulated Neanderthal bands that the survivors couldn't replenish the species. A more sinister idea is that early humans wiped them out in a prehistoric genocide.


"On the other hand, humans and Neanderthals coexisted for thousands of years, so I think talk about genocide says more about how modern humans think," said Paabo. "What finally happened could be really boring. Maybe Neanderthals ran out of reindeer to hunt. So they dwindled and died. Species can disappear without us killing them."
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Sunday, November 4, 2007

New finds ignite controversy over ape and human evolution

Pictures at the cites, did gorillas separate from humans much earlier
than DNA would indicate?

Week of Nov. 3, 2007; Vol. 172, No. 18
Fossil Sparks
New finds ignite controversy over ape and human evolution


Bruce Bower


Fifty years ago, British anatomist Wilfrid Le Gros Clark explained in a lecture why evolutionary scientists argue so vehemently about how ancient apelike and humanlike creatures eventually gave way to modern humans. "Every fossil relic which appears to throw light on connecting links in man's ancestry always has, and always will, arouse controversy," he stated, "and it is right that this should be so, for
it is very true that the sparks of controversy often illuminate the way to truth."





DENTAL PLAN. Three Chororapithecus teeth (top) are shown aligned with the corresponding teeth of a female gorilla. Suwa


Le Gros Clark was no stranger to wringing the truth out of bits of fossilized skeleton. In 1953, he assisted in unmasking the infamous Piltdown hoax. For more than 40 years, researchers had assumed that skull and jaw fragments collected from a British gravel pit came from a previously unknown early human species. The finds actually consisted of an orangutan's lower jaw and a modern man's skull.


But Le Gros Clark knew that genuine fossil discoveries ignite brighter sparks of controversy than any cranial con job ever could. Given limited evidence about long-gone populations of our predecessors, researchers devise competing evolutionary scenarios that are often difficult to disprove and that can easily accommodate whatever ancient bones turn up next.


Scientific reactions to the latest fossil finds and analyses underscore Le Gros Clark's point. Consider a handful of 10-million- year-old teeth recently unearthed in Ethiopia and attributed by their discoverers to a direct ancestor or close relative of the gorilla. If the scientists are right, ancient gorillas initially diverged from human ancestors more than 10 million years ago, several million years
before DNA-based analyses date the split. However, some researchers regard the ancient teeth as remnants of an extinct ape that probably bore no relation at all to gorillas.


Further along evolution's path lie new fossil finds in Kenya that tell a disputed story about the emergence of direct human ancestors. Scientists who uncovered the ancient braincase and partial upper jaw say that this evidence, combined with prior fossils, indicates that two Homo species lived simultaneously in eastern Africa from about 1.9 million to 1.4 million years ago. In this scenario, one species died
out and the other led to modern humans. But one prominent anthropologist rejects that conclusion, placing both new fossils in a single species that preceded Homo sapiens.


Finally, a research team recently argued that its new analysis of fossil teeth from sites in and beyond Africa supports the controversial notion that human ancestors trekked from Africa into Asia well before 2 million years ago and then colonized Europe from Asia. Critics of the work say that more fossil evidence is needed to
overturn this team's conclusion that Africans migrated into Asia no more than 1.8 million years ago and eventually settled Europe as well.


"It's possible that hominids [the fossil ancestors of people] left Africa as early as 2 million years ago," says anthropologist Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, "but it's hard to untangle the geographic patterns of their movements."


Pieces of ape


In February 2006, a field assistant working with fossil hunters in Ethiopia's Chorora Formation, a series of sediment layers dated at between 10 million and 11 million years old, found an ape's canine tooth. One year later, the researchers returned to the site and found eight more teeth from the same ancient-ape species, which they dubbed Chororapithecus abyssinicus.





SHRUNKEN HEAD? A small, newly discovered Homo erectus cranium, shown from above, contrasts with a large, previously unearthed skull from the same species.
Spoor and J. Reader/National Museums of Kenya


Anthropologist Gen Suwa of the University of Tokyo and his coworkers
see signs of gorilla ancestry in the fossils. Computerized tomography scans show that the gorilla-size teeth contain thick enamel suitable for shredding foods such as stems and leaves, the scientists report in the Aug. 23 Nature. Modern gorillas display slightly thinner dental enamel but eat the same types of vegetation. Crests on the chewing surfaces of the ancient teeth look like early versions of the more-
pronounced crests in present-day gorillas, the researchers note.


Chororapithecus represents either an early, direct ancestor of gorillas or a dead-end primate that happened to evolve gorillalike
teeth, in their view.


Precious few African-ape fossils from between 12 million and 7 million years ago have been recovered. Some scientists have speculated that the line of ancestral apes from which chimpanzees, gorillas, and people emerged came from Asia and Europe and later spread into Africa. Chororapithecus suggests instead that this evolutionary process began in Africa, Suwa's team holds.


Moreover, the new finds indicate that an evolutionary split of direct gorilla ancestors from apelike precursors of people occurred more than 10 million years ago, the investigators say. In contrast, analyses of modern human and ape DNA place that split at about 8 million years
ago.


DNA studies also estimate that the split of chimp from human ancestors happened 6 million years ago, and that the human-orangutan split occurred about 14 million years ago.


Given the age of Chororapithecus, Suwa's group puts the human- orangutan split at roughly 20 million years ago, the human-gorilla split at about 12 million years ago, and the human-chimp split at 9 million years ago.


Suwa's conclusion that the Ethiopian fossils come from either a gorilla ancestor or an evolutionary cousin of ancient gorillas makes sense, remarks anthropologist Michel Brunet of the University of Poitiers in France. The teeth of the oldest known hominid, which lived about 7 million years ago, look "completely different" from those of Chororapithecus, Brunet says.


The French researcher's team unearthed the ancient hominid's nearly complete skull in central Africa (SN: 7/13/02, p. 19). Many
investigators accept that specimen as the oldest fossil ancestor of people, but others regard it as an ancient ape.


Chororapithecus also has a disputed identity. The new find could easily have come from an ancient ape that had nothing to do with gorilla ancestors but evolved one or a few gorillalike dental traits on its own, says anatomist John Kelley of the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Ethiopian fossils have virtually nothing in common with the teeth of modern gorillas, aside from crests on their chewing
surfaces that would have aided in grinding up vegetation, Kelley asserts.


Suwa will keep looking for more pieces of ape. "There is no way to predict future finds at Chorora," he says.


Separate paths


Scientists have long regarded Homo habilis and Homo erectus as the first two links in an evolutionary chain that ended with the appearance of modern humans. In this view, the relatively small- brained H. habilis evolved about 2 million years ago from earlier African hominids. It evolved into the larger-brained H. erectus by
around 1.6 million years ago.


New fossil finds challenge that portrait of our distant ancestors, say anatomist Fred Spoor of University College London and his coworkers. H. habilis and H. erectus evolved independently of each other, Spoor's team contends. Rather than one species giving way to the next, both species lived simultaneously in eastern Africa for roughly 500,000 years, the scientists report in the Aug. 9 Nature.


That conclusion rests on an analysis of two fossils unearthed in Kenya in 2000. One fossil consists of a piece of upper jaw. Chemical studies of volcanic-ash layers above and below the find place its age at 1.44 million years.


The jaw contains six teeth, running from a canine tooth in front to a wisdom tooth in back. The size and shape of the teeth, as well as evidence that the roof of the mouth was wide and shallow, align the fossil with H. habilis, according to Spoor's group.


The second fossil consists of a small braincase with an estimated age of 1.55 million years. This specimen bears several traits unique to H.
erectus, including a bony ridge running over the top of the head and a delicate jaw joint.


Since the two species coexisted in the same region for such a long time, each must have had separate origins between 3 million and 2 million years ago, the researchers contend. Few hominid fossils have
turned up from that period.


H. sapiens apparently evolved from H. erectus, possibly via an intermediate species, in Spoor's view. H. habilis was a sister species
of H. erectus and eventually hit an evolutionary dead-end.


The newly discovered fossil brain case belonged to the smallest known H. erectus individual. The find thus indicates a size range for H. erectus fossils of eastern Africa that almost equals that for modern gorillas. The gorilla pattern reflects males' large size advantage over females, a condition that may also have applied to male and female H. erectus, says study coauthor Susan C. Antón of New York
University.


If so, then H. erectus males may have mated with multiple females and
tried to monopolize access to them, as male gorillas do.


Such conclusions don't sit well with Berkeley's White. He classifies both new fossil finds as H. erectus and as valuable additions to the
fossil record, but hardly the stuff of major evolutionary revisions.


White sees Spoor's paper as part of an ongoing scientific movement to increase the number of species and evolutionary branches on the hominid family tree. In contrast, White argues that early hominids usually evolved from one species to the next, without branching into
multiple species (SN: 4/15/06, p. 227).


"What's interesting is how few hominid lineages there were," White says. He regards early hominids, or australopithecines, as one such lineage that evolved into a second, the Homo lineage, more than 2 million years ago. A group of species called robust australopithecines, which died out 1.2 million years ago, qualifies as
a third hominid lineage, in his view.


Eastern origins


Teeth sometimes tell contested evolutionary tales. That adage applies to a new analysis of hominid teeth conducted by researchers who have found 400,000-year-old skeletons of Neandertal ancestors in Spain and the 1.77-million-year-old remains of an early Homo species in central Asia (SN: 9/22/07, p. 179). The scientists suspect that, perhaps 2 million to 3 million years ago, Asian hominids began to move west,
exerting a huge impact on the evolution of Neandertals and other Homo species in western Asia and Europe.


That suggestion contrasts with the traditional view that hominids left Africa around 1.8 million years ago and evolved into species such as Neandertals after reaching Europe and other locales. Asian hominids of the time evolved separately and eventually died out, according to this
perspective.


A team led by Maria Martinón-Torres of the National Center of Human Evolution Studies in Burgos, Spain, has examined 51 anatomical traits
on more than 5,000 hominid teeth. Fossils came from African australopithecines and from African, Asian, and European Homo species, including H. sapiens.


Up to the appearance of Neandertals in Europe around 130,000 years ago
and modern H. sapiens in Africa 200,000 years ago, dental features fall into two geographic categories, the researchers report in the Aug. 14 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. African teeth display one suite of characteristics, while Asian and European teeth share a different dental signature.


Asian hominids apparently made a substantial genetic contribution to the evolution of later European species, the scientists say.


However, anthropologist David Frayer of the University of Kansas in Lawrence says that Martinón-Torres and her coworkers need larger numbers of fossils, especially of H. sapiens, to make their case. Moreover, the researchers didn't consider several dental traits that differ between Neandertals and Asian hominids, he argues.


To paraphrase Le Gros Clark, let the sparks of controversy fly. They may burn brightly enough to illuminate a bit of evolutionary truth.


If you have a comment on this article that you would like considered for publication in Science News, send it to edit...@sciencenews.org. Please include your name and location.


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https://www.kable.com/pub/scnw/ subServices.asp.


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References:


Dennell, R., and W. Roebroeks. 2005. An Asian perspective on early
human dispersal from Africa. Nature 438(Dec. 22/29):1099-1104.
Abstract available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature04259.


Martinón-Torres, M., et al. 2007. Dental evidence on the hominin
dispersals during the Pleistocene. Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences 104(Aug. 14):13279-13282. Abstract available at
http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/104/33/13279.


Spoor, F., et al. 2007. Implications of new early Homo fossils from
Ileret,, east of Lake Turkana, Kenya. Nature 448(Aug. 9):688-691.
Abstract available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature05986.


Suwa, G., et al. 2007. A new species of great ape from the late
Miocene epoch in Ethiopia. Nature 448(Aug. 23):921-924. Abstract
available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature06113.


Further Readings:


Bower, B. 2007. Walking small: Humanlike legs took Homo out of Africa.
Science News 172(Sept. 22):179. Available at
http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20070922/fob1.asp.


______. 2006. Branchless evolution: Fossils point to single hominid
root. Science News 169(April 15):227. Available at
http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060415/fob1.asp.


______. 2002. Evolution's surprise: Fossil find uproots our early
ancestors. Science News 162(July 13):19. Available at
http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20020713/fob1.asp.


Sources:


Susan Anton
Department of Anthropology
New York University
25 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10003


Michel Brunet
Laboratoire de Géobiologie
Biochronolgie et Paéontologie Humaine
Université de Poitiers
86022 PIUTUERS Cedex
France


Robin Dennell
Department of Archaeology
University of Sheffield
Sheffield S1 4E5
United Kingdom


David Frayer
Department of Anthropology
622 Fraser Hall
University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS 66045


Jay Kelley
Department of Oral Biology
College of Dentistry
University of Illinois, Chicago
Chicago, IL 60612


Maria Martinón-Torres
Centro Nacional de Investigacíón Sobre la Evolución Humana
Avenida de la Paz 28
09004 Burgos
Spain


Wil Roebroeks
Department of Archaeology
Leiden University
P.O. Box 9515
2300RA Leiden
Netherlands


Fred Spoor
Evolutionary Anatomy Unit
Department of Anatomy
University College London
Rockerfeller Building, University Street
London WC1E 6JJ
United Kingdom


Gen Suwa
The University Museum
University of Tokyo
Hongo, Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo 113003
Japan


Tim White
Department of Integrative Biology
3101 Valley Life Sciences Building
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3160


http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20071103/bob9.asp



>From Science News, Vol. 172, No. 18, Nov. 3, 2007, p. 280.


http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20071103/bob9.asp
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Thursday, November 1, 2007

Navigating by Clouds

Ancient sea travellers had heads in the clouds


By Nick Squires
Last Updated: 2:06am GMT 31/10/2007


A stone tool found on a remote Pacific island has provided evidence that early Polynesians travelled 2,500 miles by canoe using only the stars, clouds and seabirds as navigational aids.


Scientists have found that the stone adze, found on a coral atoll in what is now French Polynesia, was quarried from volcanic rock in Hawaii, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.


It was transported about 1,000 years ago by Polynesian voyagers in wooden canoes, either as a chunk of uncut rock used for ballast, or as
a gift or memento. advertisement


Its Hawaiian provenance confirms what Pacific peoples have long been told through folklore - that their ancestors were among the most skilled navigators in history.


Archaeologists and historians have likened their ability to find new islands in the vastness of the Pacific as akin to sending a rocket into space and hoping it will hit a planet.


Dr Marshall Weisler, of the University of Queensland, said the journey between Hawaii and Tahiti "now stands as the longest uninterrupted maritime voyage in human prehistory".


He said it was "mind-boggling" how Polynesian settlers found their way from one speck of land to another and back again, colonising the last uninhabited parts of the planet.


They are believed to have used signs such as tides, the presence of driftwood and the flight of seabirds, which return to roost on land at night.


They also closely observed the underside of clouds, which reflect whatever lies beneath them - a darker tinge indicates the presence of land.


Proving that such a feat was possible, in 1976 a reconstructed ocean- going canoe, the Hokule'a, successfully sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti.


The adze was found by an archeologist in the 1930s on a coral island in the Tuamotu archipelago in French Polynesia, but has only recently been subjected to chemical testing.


It started its journey on Kaho'olawe island in Hawaii. "Before beginning their voyage south from Hawaii, the ancient voyagers most likely stopped at the westernmost tip of the island, traditionally named Lae o Kealaikahiki, which literally means 'the cape or headland on the way to Tahiti'," Dr Weisler said.


"Here they apparently collected rocks, like that from which the adze was subsequently made, to take on their voyage, either as ballast or as a gift."


FULL ARTICLE HERE
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