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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Oldest Dutchman

The parallel with the "dating" of a 13000 yo find in Florida in 1916
to "a few hundred years" seems appropriate. As the techniques of
dating archaeological finds improve more 370,000-600,000 yo's will
emerge.

Neanderthal may not be the oldest Dutchman
By Henk-Sjoerd Oosterhoff
Created 26 March 2010 15:48
Neanderthal may not be the oldest Dutchman


People may well have been roaming the land we now call the Netherlands
for far longer than was assumed until recently. There is evidence to
suggest that the country was home to the forebears of the
Neanderthals. Amateur archaeologist Pieter Stoel found materials used
by the oldest inhabitants in the central town of Woerden. These
artefacts were shown to be at least 370,000 years old, which takes us
back to long before the time of the Neanderthals.


Our ancient forebears are often described as cavemen but that is not
entirely accurate. There were no caves in this environment, explains
Pieter Stoel:


"No, they cannot be specifically described as cave dwellers. There
were no caves here in the Low Countries. They can best be described as
people who travelled through the country along the rivers, where they
could easily hunt the animals that came to the water to drink. At the
time when they possibly roamed the Netherlands, the North Sea was dry,
which would have enabled them to walk to England for example."


Unique


Pieter Stoel is an amateur archaeologist. For 14 years, he has
conducted research in his spare time, alongside his day job as high
school physics and chemistry teacher. But next year he intends to
leave the classroom behind him and focus completely on his research.
He describes the find in Woerden as unique.


"It consists of splinters and cores of flint. There are no hand axes,
as they were not used by this culture. These items were sucked out of
a sump pit at a depth of between 27 and 36 metres."


Research institute TNO has studied the layers of soil and determined
the age of the objects raised during the dredging work. The remarkable
conclusion is that they are at least 370,000 years old.


"That’s a record. They may even be up to 600,000 years old, but that’s
something we have yet to prove."


Follow-up research is needed to show whether the artefacts actually
come from the layers at the bottom of the pit or whether they were
shifted by the dredging work. A layer by layer study is now being
carried out to see which artefacts are located where.


"We are still awaiting conclusive evidence."


Rewriting history


A similar find has already been made in the British town of Pakefield.
This makes sense given that Pakefield and Woerden are only 225
kilomtres apart as the crow flies. During that period, the two
countries were not separated by the sea. It could well be that the
forebears of the Neanderthals walked from Woerden to Pakefield.


"It was a pleasant enough climate and all they had to do was follow
the Meuse and the Rhine."


Pieter Stoel’s discovery may end up rewriting history. Until now, the
assumption was that the ancestors of the Dutch walked from France to
England and only arrived in the Netherlands at a later date. But the
archaeologist now thinks the opposite might be just as plausible.


"There may even have been various migration flows. There may well have
been people who made hand axes and who migrated from France to
England. But it is also plausible that people whose culture did not
include the hand axe arrived in England from Europe, via Germany and
the Netherlands."


Homo sapiens


Pieter Stoel stops short of concluding that the British are therefore
descended from the Dutch. It could be the case, but all things are
relative. The archaeologist is quick to add that we - homo sapiens-
ultimately originate from Africa.


http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/neanderthal-may-not-be-oldest-dutchman
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on New Hominid

DNA identifies new ancient human
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

The finger bone was unearthed in 2008 at Denisova Cave
Scientists have identified a previously unknown type of ancient human
through analysis of DNA from a finger bone unearthed in a Siberian cave.


The extinct "hominin" (humanlike creature) lived in Central Asia between
48,000 and 30,000 years ago.


An international team has sequenced genetic material from the fossil
showing that it is distinct from that of Neanderthals and modern humans.


Details of the find, dubbed "X-woman", have been published in Nature
journal.


Professor Chris Stringer, human origins researcher at London's Natural
History Museum, called the find "a very exciting development".


"This new DNA work provides an entirely new way of looking at the still
poorly-understood evolution of humans in central and eastern Asia."


The discovery raising the intriguing possibility that three forms of
human - Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and the species represented by
X-woman - could have met each other and interacted in southern Siberia.


Origin unknown


The tiny piece of finger bone was uncovered by archaeologists working at
Denisova Cave in Siberia's Altai mountains in 2008. An international
team of researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA from the bone and
compared the genetic code with those from modern humans and Neanderthals.


Mitochondrial DNA comes from the cell's powerhouses and is passed down
the maternal line only. The analysis carried out by Johannes Krause from
the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig,
Germany, and colleagues revealed the human from Denisova last shared a
common ancestor with modern humans and Neanderthals about one million
years ago.


This is known as the divergence date: essentially, when this human's
ancestors split away from the line that eventually led to Neanderthals
and ourselves.


The Neanderthal and modern human evolutionary lines diverged much later,
around 500,000 years ago. This shows that the individual from Denisova
is the representative of a previously unknown human lineage that derives
from a hitherto unrecognised migration out of Africa.


"Whoever carried this mitochondrial genome out of Africa about a million
years ago is some new creature that has not been on our radar screens so
far," said co-author Professor Svante Paabo, also from the Max Planck
Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.


The divergence date of one million years is too young for the Denisova
hominin to have been a descendent of Homo erectus, which moved out of
Africa into Asia some two million years ago.


And it is too old to be a descendent of Homo heidelbergensis, another
ancient human thought to have originated around 650,000 years ago.


Slice of time


The research contributes to a more complex emerging picture of humankind
during the Late Pleistocene, the period when modern humans left Africa
and started to colonise the rest of the world.


Professor Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, has
previously argued that "a time slice at a point in the late Pleistocene
would reveal a range of human populations spread across parts of Africa,
Eurasia and Oceania.


"Some would have been genetically linked to each other, behaving as
sub-species, while the more extreme populations may well have behaved as
good species with minimal or no interbreeding."


It was long known that modern humans may have overlapped with
Neanderthals in Europe, apparently for more than 10,000 years. But in
2004, researchers discovered that a dwarf species of human, dubbed "The
Hobbit", was living on the Indonesian island of Flores until 12,000
years ago - long after modern humans had colonised the area.


Neanderthals appear to have been living at Okladnikov Cave in the Altai
mountains some 40,000 years ago. And a team led by Professor Anatoli
Derevianko, from the Russian Academy of Sciences, has also found
evidence of a modern human presence in the region at around the same time.


Professor Stringer commented: "Another intriguing question is whether
there might have been overlap and interaction between not only
Neanderthals and early moderns in Asia, but also, now, between either of
those lineages and this newly-recognised one."


"The distinctiveness of the mitochondrial DNA patterns so far suggests
that there was little or no interbreeding, but more extensive data will
be needed from other parts of the genome, of from the fossils, for
definitive conclusions to be reached."
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Possible new human ancestor found in Siberia

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor Maggie Fox, Health And Science Editor – Wed Mar 24, 2:03 pm ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Genetic material pulled from a pinky finger bone found in a Siberian cave shows a new and unknown type of pre-human lived alongside modern humans and Neanderthals, scientists reported on Wednesday.

The creature, nicknamed "Woman X" for the time being, could have lived as recently as 30,000 years ago and appears only distantly related to modern humans or Neanderthals, the researchers reported.

"It really just looked like something we had never seen before," Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told a telephone briefing.

"It was a sequence that looked something like humans but really quite different."

Writing in Nature, Krause and colleagues said they sequenced DNA from the mitochondria, a part of the cell, which is passed down virtually intact from a woman to her children. They compared it to DNA from humans, Neanderthals and apes.

The sequence indicates the hominin's line diverged about a million years ago from the line that gave rise to both humans and Neanderthals and that split about 500,000 years ago.

That makes it younger than Homo erectus, the pre-human that spread out of Africa to much of the world about 1.9 million years ago.

"It is some new creature that has not been on our radar screen so far," said Svaante Paabo, a colleague of Krause's who specializes in analyzing ancient DNA.

And it would have lived near to both modern humans and Neanderthals. "There were at least three ... different forms of humans in this area 40,000 years ago," Paabo said.

Krause and Paabo are careful not to name the creature a new species just yet. They are now working to sequence nuclear DNA -- the DNA that makes up most of the genetic code, which will tell a great deal more about "Woman X".

NEW SCIENCE OF EVOLUTION

The genetic sequence tells scientists little about what the creature would have looked like or whether it interacted with other humans living in the Altai mountains of Siberia, where the pinky finger bone was found.

The work, done using a DNA sequencer made by Illumina Ltd, suggests a new way is opening to identify the ancestors of humanity. Krause and Paabo had only a tiny fragment of bone to work with and cannot reconstruct a skeleton in the time-honored manner of most paleontologists.

But there may be more there. The cold, dry conditions of the Altai mountains preserve the DNA. Stone tools also have been found in the area, as well as the bones of woolly mammoths but only tantalizing fragments of human bone and teeth.

Researchers have sequenced DNA from mammoths frozen in Siberia and the same team has sequenced DNA from Neanderthals.

Paabo and Krause said it is theoretically possible the creature is related to another potential third species of human -- Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "hobbit" -- which lived on an island in modern-day Indonesia about 17,000 years ago.

The team has tried without success to get DNA from hobbit bones. Most skeletons of pre-humans have been found in warm places such as Africa, but hot, wet conditions break down DNA.Source
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Monday, March 22, 2010

A Tree Carving in California: Ancient Astronomers? Options

A Tree Carving in California: Ancient Astronomers?
By Matt Kettmann Tuesday, Feb. 09, 2010


The counterclockwise rotation of stars around Polaris as viewed from
Painted Rock in Carrizo Plain, Calif. The glyph on the "scorpion tree"
appears to portray Ursa Major in relation to Polaris


Rick Bury


*


Though local lore held that the so-called "scorpion tree" had been the
work of cowboys, paleontologist Rex Saint Onge immediately knew that
the tree was carved by Indians when he stumbled upon it in the fall of
2006. Located in a shady grove atop the Santa Lucia Mountains in San
Luis Obispo County, the centuries-old gnarled oak had the image of a
six-legged, lizard-like being meticulously scrawled into its trunk,
the nearly three-foot-tall beast topped with a rectangular crown and
two large spheres. "I was really the first one to come across it who
understood that it was a Chumash motif," says Saint Onge, referring to
the native people who painted similar designs on rock formations from
San Luis Obispo south through Santa Barbara and into Malibu.


Amazingly, Saint Onge had just identified the West Coast's only known
Native American arborglyph, one long hidden behind private property
signs. But the discoveries didn't stop there. After spending more time
at the site, Saint Onge realized that the carved crown and its
relation to one of the spheres was strikingly similar to the way the
constellation Ursa Major — which includes the Big Dipper — related to
the position of Polaris, the North Star. "But as a paleontologist, I
live my life looking down at the ground," says Saint Onge, who runs an
archaeological-consulting firm out of nearby Arroyo Grande. "I didn't
know much about astronomy at all."


He quickly learned that the constellation rotates around the North
Star every 24 hours, that its placement during sunset could be used to
tell the seasons and that the Chumash people also revered this
astronomical relationship in their language and cosmology. "It's the
third largest constellation in the sky and they saw it every single
night for tens of thousands of years," says Saint Onge. "It was like
the TV being stuck on the same channel playing the same show nonstop."
It became increasingly obvious to Saint Onge that the arborglyph and
related cave paintings weren't just the work of wild-eyed, drug-
induced shamans — which has been a leading theory for decades — but
that the ancient images were deliberate studies of the stars and
served as integral components of the Chumash people's annual calendar.
"This gives us an insight into what the indigenous people of Central
California were doing," says Saint Onge, who published his theory last
fall in the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology. "It
wasn't just the daily simpleton tasks of hunter-gatherers. They were
actually monitoring the stars."
Saint Onge isn't the first to speculate that Chumash paintings might
have astronomical implications. The anthropologist Travis Hudson did
so back in the 1970s with his book Crystals in the Sky, which combined
his observations of rock art with the cultural data recorded nearly a
century earlier by legendary ethnographer John P. Harrington. But when
others went into the field to check out Hudson's claims, "much of it
was pretty unconvincing," explains anthropologist John Johnson of the
Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. "That's what caused people to
get skeptical about archaeoastronomical connections."


That reluctance ruled for three decades until Saint Onge presented his
findings to Johnson, a bookish researcher who isn't one to rock the
academic boat with unsubstantiated suggestions. But Johnson was so
impressed that he co-authored the journal article and is now quite
open to the idea that the rock art he's studied his whole adult life
might have something to say about the stars. "Whether we're right or
not, I don't know, but we keep finding things that strengthen the
idea," says Johnson. "And if we keep finding ethnographic support for
it, I feel we're on safer ground."


Neither man knows how long ago the tree was carved — though they
speculate that a Chumash family that lived on a nearby hillside until
they all died in the 1918 flu epidemic may have tended to the
arborglyph as the bark and lichen grew back — but they're just
relieved that Saint Onge was able to find it at all. "The upkeep of
the motif itself has gone by the wayside and it's not long for the
world," says Saint Onge, explaining that carpenter ants are attacking
the limbs, "so I think it was a good thing that we came across it when
we did."


Johnson and Saint Onge are most satisfied that the arborglyph is
confirming what they've long known: that, despite centuries of being
classified by historians as merely hunter-gatherers, the Chumash lived
in a very complex and sophisticated society. Those sentiments are
echoed loudly by Joe Talaugon, a 79-year-old Chumash elder who visited
the site early on with Saint Onge and is also a co-author of the
study. Although he says that the Chumash people's traditions were
"stripped" by the Spanish mission system that ruled California 200
years ago, Talaugon believes that the arborglyph and its implications
empower the ongoing cultural renaissance among those of Chumash
descent. In recent years, Chumash revivalists have built and paddled
plank canoes into the sea, developed a linguistic textbook and learned
to perform the music and dancing of yesteryear.


"Chumash people are realizing that they do have a connection to their
ancestors, so they want to renew that," says Talaugon, a retired
construction worker who founded the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in
northern Santa Barbara County to rejuvenate the Chumash culture and
spiritual beliefs. "It's important to me as an elder that we tell the
truth about our history," says Talaugon. "The tree carving opened up a
lot of avenues to do so."
Source
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Erratic Ice Age Sea Levels

Sea levels erratic during latest ice age
Cave research finds new evidence of surprising rise 81,000 years ago


By Sid Perkins
Web edition : Thursday, February 11th, 2010


Pic at the citation
HIGH-RISE EVIDENCEThe mineral crusts on high-and-dry formations in
coastal caves of Majorca indicate that during the latest ice age, sea
level briefly and inexplicably rose more than one meter higher than
today’s level.© B.P.


Cave formations along the coast of an island in the Mediterranean Sea
hold evidence that sea level can rise and fall abruptly during an ice
age, a finding that casts some doubt on current notions about how
those lengthy cold spells develop and progress.


At the height of an ice age, immense volumes of water are locked up in
land-based ice sheets, and ocean levels can be as much as 130 meters
below where they are today. By contrast, when that ice melts during
warm periods, sea level can be a few meters higher than the modern-day
standard, says Jeffrey Dorale, a paleoclimatologist at the University
of Iowa in Iowa City. Now, Dorale and his colleagues report in the
Feb. 12 Science that during a brief interval well within the most
recent ice age, sea level suddenly and inexplicably rose to a height
more than one meter above today’s.


Evidence supporting that conclusion comes from cave formations on the
Spanish island of Majorca, the researchers say. As sea levels rose and
fell, waters sloshing into coastal caves left crusts of minerals on
their walls and floors as well as on existing cave formations, Dorale
says.


Radioisotope dating of mineral crusts in one cave along Majorca’s
southern coast indicates that sea level sat about 2.6 meters higher
than today between 121,000 and 116,000 years ago, during the last warm
spell between ice ages. That level is consistent with sea level data
gathered at other sites worldwide, Dorale notes.


But three samples from other crusts in the same cave — samples
deposited about 1.5 meters above modern-day sea level — yielded
surprising results. Those crusts formed around 81,000 years ago, well
after the most recent ice age — which lasted from roughly 110,000
until 10,000 years ago — had begun, Dorale says. Similar analyses of
samples from nearby caves show that between 80,000 and 82,000 years
ago, sea level ranged between 1.25 and 1.6 meters above today’s
standard.


“The [team’s] results are strong but not absolutely watertight,”
comments R. Lawrence Edwards, a paleoclimatologist at the University
of Minnesota in Minneapolis. One possible confounding factor, for
instance, could be the rebound of Earth’s crust in the region since
the end of the most recent ice age. After the ice mass smothering
Northern Europe melted and ran to the sea, pressure from viscous
material at the top of Earth’s mantle would have lifted the area,
thereby influencing apparent sea level.


But Dorale and his colleagues contend that tectonic uplift hasn’t
affected their data. He cites similar analyses of now-submerged
mineral crusts in Majorcan caves indicating sea level was about 20
meters below today’s level about 85,000 years ago and about 15 meters
below the modern standard about 79,000 years ago — readings that match
most data gleaned elsewhere at those times.


Studies at a handful of sites worldwide have noted that sea level
reached an exceedingly brief and similarly enigmatic high point around
81,000 years ago, says Dorale. Those results have been controversial
and, for the most part, have been “politely ignored because they don’t
fit the presumed pattern” of how ice ages develop and progress, he
says.


Scientists have long noted erratic dips and jumps in sea level during
Earth’s ice ages, but debate has typically focused on the magnitude of
those swings, says Dorale. The new findings are somewhat disturbing
because they suggest that at some points during an ice age, sea level
can rise as much as 2 meters over the course of a century. “It’s tough
to explain how to melt that much ice that fast,” he admits.
Source
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Ancient Passage Through Americas

Full Article
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Cave Scribbles Really Writing After All?

THE first intrepid explorers to brave the 7-metre crawl through a perilously
narrow tunnel leading to the Chauvet caves in southern France were rewarded
with magnificent artwork to rival any modern composition. Stretching a full
3 metres in height, the paintings depict a troupe of majestic horses in deep
colours, above a pair of boisterous rhinos in the midst of a fight. To the
left, they found the beautiful rendering of a herd of prehistoric cows. "The
horse heads just seem to leap out of the wall towards you," says Jean
Clottes, former director of scientific research at the caves and one of the
few people to see the paintings with his own eyes.


When faced with such spectacular beauty, who could blame the visiting
anthropologists for largely ignoring the modest semicircles, lines and
zigzags also marked on the walls? Yet dismissing them has proved to be
something of a mistake. The latest research has shown that, far from being
doodles, the marks are in fact highly symbolic, forming a written "code"
that was familiar to all of the prehistoric tribes around France and
possibly beyond. Indeed, these unprepossessing shapes may be just as
remarkable as the paintings of trotting horses and tussling rhinos,
providing a snapshot into humankind's first steps towards symbolism and writing.


Until now, the accepted view has been that our ancestors underwent a
"creative explosion" around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, when they suddenly
began to think abstractly and create rock art. This idea is supported by the
plethora of stunning cave paintings, like those at Chauvet, which started to
proliferate across Europe around this time. Writing, on the other hand,
appeared to come much later, with the earliest records of a pictographic
writing system dating back to just 5000 years ago.


Few researchers, though, had given any serious thought to the relatively
small and inconspicuous marks around the cave paintings. The evidence of
humanity's early creativity, they thought, was clearly in the elaborate
drawings.


While some scholars like Clottes had recorded the presence of cave signs at
individual sites, Genevieve von Petzinger, then a student at the University
of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, was surprised to find that no one
had brought all these records together to compare signs from different
caves. And so, under the supervision of April Nowell, also at the University
of Victoria, she devised an ambitious masters project. She compiled a
comprehensive database of all recorded cave signs from 146 sites in France,
covering 25,000 years of prehistory from 35,000 to 10,000 years ago.


What emerged was startling: 26 signs, all drawn in the same style, appeared
again and again at numerous sites (see illustration). Admittedly, some of
the symbols are pretty basic, like straight lines, circles and triangles,
but the fact that many of the more complex designs also appeared in several
places hinted to von Petzinger and Nowell that they were meaningful -
perhaps even the seeds of written communication.


---------------------------------------------------
Source
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Solomon's Wall Discovered

By MATTI FRIEDMAN, Associated Press Writer
Mon Feb 22, 11:00 am ET


JERUSALEM – An Israeli archaeologist said Monday that ancient
fortifications recently excavated in Jerusalem date back 3,000 years
to the time of King Solomon and support the biblical narrative about
the era.


If the age of the wall is correct, the finding would be an indication
that Jerusalem was home to a strong central government that had the
resources and manpower needed to build massive fortifications in the
10th century B.C.
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Earlier Dates for Ancient Indian Population

Newly Discovered Archaeological Sites In India Reveals Ancient Life


LONDON, Feb 23 (Bernama) -- Newly discovered archaeological sites in
southern and northern India have revealed how people lived before and
after the colossal Toba volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago, according
to Press Trust of India (PTI) on Tuesday.


The international and multidisciplinary research team, led by Oxford
University in collaboration with Indian institutions, has uncovered
what it calls 'Pompeii-like excavations' beneath the Toba ash.


The seven-year project examines the environment that humans lived in,
their stone tools, as well as the plants and animal bones of the time.


"This suggests that human populations were present in India prior to
74,000 years ago, or about 15,000 years earlier than expected based on
some genetic clocks," said project director Michael Petraglia, Senior
Research Fellow in the School of Archaeology at the University of
Oxford.


The team has concluded that many forms of life survived he super-
eruption, contrary to other research which has suggested significant
animal extinctions and genetic bottlenecks.


According to the team, a potentially ground-breaking implication of
the new work is that the species responsible for making the stone
tools in India was Homo sapiens.


Stone tool analysis has revealed that the artefacts consist of cores
and flakes, which are classified in India as Middle Palaeolithic and
are similar to those made by modern humans in Africa.


"Though we are still searching for human fossils to definitively prove
the case, we are encouraged by the technological similarities.


An area of widespread speculation about the Toba super-eruption is
that it nearly drove humanity to extinction.


The fact that the Middle Palaeolithic tools of similar styles are
found right before and after the Toba super-eruption, suggests that
the people who survived the eruption were the same populations, using
the same kinds of tools, says Petraglia.


The research agrees with evidence that other human ancestors, such as
the Neanderthals in Europe and the small brained Hobbits in
Southeastern Asia, continued to survive well after Toba.


Although some scholars have speculated that the Toba volcano led to
severe and wholesale environmental destruction, the Oxford-led
research in India suggests that a mosaic of ecological settings was
present, and some areas experienced a relatively rapid recovery after
the volcanic event.


The team has not discovered much bone in Toba ash sites, but in the
Billasurgam cave complex in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, the researchers
have found deposits which they believe range from at least 100,000
years ago to the present.


They contain a wealth of animal bones such as wild cattle, carnivores
and monkeys.


They have also identified plant materials in the Toba ash sites and
caves, yielding important information about the impact of the Toba
super-eruption on the ecological settings.

Source
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The Hobbit World Takeover

Homo floresiensis and Homo erectus may be close kin. The spread of the
3 foot men around Asia into the islands of Indonesia also brings to
mind other islands with "little" men in legend. The menhunes of
Hawaii, those elves in Iceland and other places, all the "myths" that
might hide big Sapiens cleaning out the little people.


How a hobbit is rewriting the history of the human race


The discovery of the bones of tiny primitive people on an Indonesian
island six years ago stunned scientists. Now, further research
suggests that the little apemen, not Homo erectus, were the first to
leave Africa and colonise other parts of the world, reports Robin
McKie


* Robin McKie
* The Observer, Sunday 21 February 2010


A painting of what researchers believe Homo floresiensis may have
looked like. Illustration: Peter Schouten


It remains one of the greatest human fossil discoveries of all time.
The bones of a race of tiny primitive people, who used stone tools to
hunt pony-sized elephants and battle huge Komodo dragons, were
discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004.


The team of Australian researchers had been working in a vast
limestone cavern, called Liang Bua, in one of the island's remotest
areas, when one scientist ran his trowel against a piece of bone.
Carefully the group began scraping away the brown clay in which pieces
of a tiny skull, and a little lower jaw, were embedded.


This was not any old skull, they quickly realised. Although small, it
had special characteristics. In particular, it had adult teeth. "This
was no child, but a tiny adult; in fact, one of the smallest adult
hominids ever found in the fossil record," says Mike Morwood, of
Australia's University of Wollongong and a leader of the original
Flores expedition team.


The pieces of bone were carefully wrapped in newspaper, packed in
cardboard boxes and then cradled on the laps of scientists on their
journey, by ferry and plane, back to Jakarta. Then the pieces of
skull, as well as bones from other skeletons found in Liang Bua, were
put together.


The end result caused consternation. These remains came from a species
that turned out to be only three feet tall and had the brain the size
of an orange. Yet it used quite sophisticated stone tools. And that
was a real puzzle. How on earth could such individuals have made
complex implements and survived for aeons on this remote part of the
Malay archipelago?


Some simply dismissed the bones as the remains of deformed modern
humans with diseases that had caused them to shrink: to them, they
were just pathological oddities, it was alleged. Most researchers
disagreed, however. The hobbits were the descendants of a race of far
larger, ancient humans who had thrived around a million years ago.
These people, known as Homo erectus, had become stranded on the island
and then had shrunk in an evolutionary response to the island's
limited resources.


That is odd enough. However, new evidence suggests the little folk of
Flores may be even stranger in origin. According to a growing number
of scientists, Homo floresiensis is probably a direct descendant of
some of the first apemen to evolve on the African savannah three
million years ago. These primitive hominids somehow travelled half a
world from their probable birthplace in the Rift Valley to make their
homes among the orangutans, giant turtles and rare birds of Indonesia
before eventually reaching Flores.


It sounds improbable but the basic physical similarity between the two
species is striking. Consider Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old member of
Australopithecus afarensis. She had a very small brain, primitive
wrists, feet and teeth and was only one metre tall, but was still
declared "the grandmother of humanity" after her discovery in Ethiopia
in 1974. Crucially, analysis of Lucy's skeleton shows it has great
similarities with the bones of H. floresiensis, although her species
died out millions of years ago while the hobbits hung on in Flores
until about 17,000 years ago. This latter figure is staggeringly close
in terms of recent human evolution and indicates that long after the
Neanderthals, our closest evolutionary relatives, had disappeared from
the face of the Earth around 35,000 years ago, these tiny, distant
relatives of Homo sapiens were still living on remote Flores.


The crucial point about this interpretation is that it explains why
the Flores people had such minuscule proportions. They didn't shrink
but were small from the start – because they came from a very ancient
lineage of little apemen. They acquired no diseased deformities, nor
did they evolve a smaller stature over time. They were, in essence, an
anthropological relic and Flores was an evolutionary time capsule. In
research that provides further support for this idea, scientists have
recently dated some stone tools on Flores as being around 1.1 million
years old, far older than had been previously supposed.


The possibility that a very primitive member of the genus Homo left
Africa, roughly two million years ago, and that a descendant
population persisted until only several thousand years ago, is one of
the more provocative hypotheses to have emerged in anthropology during
the past few years," David Strait of the University of Albany told
Scientific American recently. This view is backed by Professor Chris
Stringer of the Natural History Museum, London. "We are still
grappling with what this discovery has done for our thinking and our
conventional scenarios."


In addition, Mike Morwood says he has now uncovered stone tools on
nearby Sulawesi. These could be almost two million years old, he
believes, which suggests the whole region was populated by very
ancient humans for a startlingly long part of human prehistory. "This
is going to put the cat among the pigeons," Morwood says.


However, it is the hobbits' similarity to ancient African apemen that
provides the most compelling evidence for their ancient origins. In
the Journal of Human Evolution, a team led by Debbie Argue of the
Australian National University, recently reported that analysis of H.
floresiensis shows they most closely resemble apelike human ancestors
that first appeared around 2.3 million years ago in Africa. In other
words, their stock may be not quite as old as Lucy's but probably
comes from a hominid, known as Homo habilis, that appeared on the
evolutionary scene not long after Lucy's species disappeared. Homo
habilis's features now seem to match, most closely, those of H.
floresiensis.


Consider those hobbit feet, for example. The skeleton unearthed on
Flores had a foot that was 20cm in length. This produces a ratio of 70
per cent when compared with the length of the hobbit's thigh bone. By
contrast, men and women today have foot-to-thigh bone ratios of 55 per
cent. The little folk of Flores had singularly short legs and long,
flapper feet, very similar to those of African apemen, even though
limbs like these would have made their long march from Africa to
Flores a painful business.


Similarly, the hands of H. floresiensis were more like apes than those
of evolved humans, their wrists possessing trapezoid bones that would
have made the delicate art of stone tool-making very difficult. Their
teeth show primitive traits while their brains were little bigger than
those of chimpanzees, though CT scans of skull interiors suggest they
may have had cognitive skills not possessed by apes.


Nevertheless, this little apeman, with poor physique, a chimp-sized
brain and only a limited ability to make tools, now appears to have
left Africa, travelled thousands of miles and somehow colonised part,
if not all, of south-east Asia two million years ago.


Scientists had previously assumed only a far more advanced human
ancestor, such as Homo erectus, was capable of undertaking that task
and only managed to do so about a million years ago when our
predecessors had evolved powerful physiques, a good gait and the
beginnings of intellect. Without these, we would have got nowhere, it
was implied.


Then along came little H. floresiensis which, quite simply, has "no
business being there," says Morwood. And you can see what he means.
Apart from the sheer improbability of a jumped-up ape travelling from
Africa to Indonesia, there is the particular puzzle of how it got to
Flores.


Primitive hominids were almost certainly incapable of sailing. So how
did it arrive on the island in the first place? It is a puzzle,
although Stringer believes the region's intense tectonic activity is
significant. "After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, people were
found far out at sea clinging to rafts of vegetation. Things like that
could have happened regularly in the past and people could have been
swept out to sea and washed ashore on Flores. Alternatively, there
could have been short-lived connections between now separate islands."


Thus, ancient African apemen travelled half the world, made homes
across Indonesia and, in one case, were washed out to sea to end up
colonising a remote island that was already populated with pygmy
elephants, called stegadons, and giant Komodo dragons, which are still
found on the island. It is a truly fantastic tale, worthy of Rider
Haggard, and it has turned the study of human evolution on its head.


And then there is the report that dates the stone tools found on
Flores as being 1.1 million years old. "That is utterly remarkable on
its own," adds Morwood. "Until we found these dates, the longest
period of island isolation that we knew about occurred on Tasmania
where the aboriginal people were cut off from mainland Australia
11,000 years ago. We thought that was an amazing length of time. But
now we have found an island where early humans were cut off from the
rest of evolution for more than a million years." In addition, there
are those completed digs carried out by Morwood which suggest that
some type of human being was making stone implements up to two million
years ago.


A crucial aspect to this ...
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Pre-Clovis Askans

At the Serpentine Hot Springs site in Alaska, numerous fluted points
have been found. They date to 12,000 years ago, making them more
recent than Clovis. The site is located in what was once Beringia, the
land bridge between Siberia and Alaska during the last Ice Age.
Beringia was still dry at this point. These represent a late
"backwash" from south to north. The First Americans may have traveled
along the Pacific Coast and then crossed over in Central America up
the Atlantic Coast. This would explain the many Clovis sites on the
East Coast. The Clovis culture eventually moved northwards to Alaska,
where the blades have been found at Serpentine Hot Springs at a date
almost 1000 years after Clovis developed. These later blades even made
their way into Asia, where one of this type has been found in
Kamchatka.
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3D Smithsonian Artifacts

Smithsonian is stepping up it's site- check out these cool 3-D images of ancient artifacts!
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Paisley Cave Pre-Clovis

The Winter 2009/2010 edition of American Archaeology has an update on
Dennis Jenkins work at Paisley Cave, where Jenkin's team found human
coprolites that have been dated as Pre-Clovis, 1000 years older than
existing Clovis artifacts, and matching the Pre-Clovis dates at Monte
Verde in Chile. There were doubters in the archaeological community
when the data was announced. Jenkins proceeded to work on his finds
since then to satisfy the doubters that his dates are correct.


Jenkins first took DNA samples from all 67 students, site visitors and
researchers to make sure their DNA did not contaminate the coprolite
DNA, and the data shows there is no contamination from them. The
coprolites were tested at two different locations, in Florida and
Oxford, by using accelerator mass spectrometry and the dates at both
labs were the same, the coprolites are 14,300 years old.


Leading critics said that burrowing animals in the cave could have
upset the stratigraphy and that the obsidian hydration dates that
Jenkins got to match the radiocarbon dates are often not reliable. One
group of critics felt that the coprolites had every indication of
being produced by herbivores. Jenkins pointed out that there are 161
species of edible plants in the area and thus, human feces could look
like an herbivore's. And, to close that argument, Jenkins tests showed
that there was no herbivore DNA found in the coprolites. One critic
pointed out that other artifacts in association with the coprolites
had not been found.


Jenkins and his team carried out an extensive field season in 2009.
Many obsidian and chert flakes were found and a few stone tools. A
tool made from a bison horn was found and a bone tool with teeth along
the edge dated to 14,000 years ago. It could be a mammoth bone tool.
And those who had doubts about a good stratigraphy went to the site in
2009 and came back satisfied that the stratigraphy had not been
disturbed after doing extensive research. 900 human coprolites have
now been unearthed. These have all been sent for testing to various
labs around the world. A twig of sagebrush associated with human
artifacts has been tested at 14,500 years old. In November, Jenkin's
team found a scraper tool that was dated to 14,230 years ago, thus
making it the oldest tool ever found in the Americas.


Here is the story I posted on that discovery;


November 5, 2009
Oldest Tool in the Americas Uncovered


In a very important report in Nature Magazine, Dennis Jenkins, the
archaeologist who found the pre-Clovis human coprolites dated to
14,000-14,270 years old in Paisley Cave in Oregon, now claims to have
found the oldest human artifact ever found in the Americas--a scraper
like tool that dates back to 14,230 years ago. The date was calculated
by way of sediment and radiocarbon dating. The tool was found in a
rock shelter in the caves near Paisley, Oregon. There were some
criticisms of the dating of the coprolites because no human artifacts
were found with them. This discovery of a tool strengthens the
veracity of the earlier claim.


DNAindia has the story here;
NEW (11/09); DNAindia.com; Oldest American Artifact Unearthed Dates
Back to 14,230 Years


And the original story of the Paisley Cave discovery is here;


April 2, 2008


Oldest Biological Evidence of First Americans Found in Coprolites in
Oregon Cave


Archaeologists in Oregon have found fossilized human feces that appear
to be the oldest biological evidence of humans in North America. The
feces or coprolites in archaeological terms date back to 12,500 BCE,
pre-dating the Clovis people by 1000 years. DNA analysis of the
coprolites show the folks who lived in a cave in Oregon at 12,500 BCE
are closely related to modern Native Americans and come from Eastern
Asia. The coprolites were uncovered at Paisley Caves, 220 miles from
Portland.
There is some controversy in the findings since there were traces of
wolves, coyotes and foxes found in the coprolites as well meaning that
there could be some question about the actual age of the human DNA in
the coprolites.

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Hobbit Debate settled

'Hobbits' Are a New Human Species, According to Statistical Analysis of Fossils
ScienceDaily (Nov. 19, 2009) — Researchers from Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York have confirmed that Homo floresiensis is a genuine ancient human species and not a descendant of healthy humans dwarfed by disease. Using statistical analysis on skeletal remains of a well-preserved female specimen, researchers determined the "hobbit" to be a distinct species and not a genetically flawed version of modern humans.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Details of the study appear in the December issue of Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society, published by Wiley-Blackwell.

In 2003 Australian and Indonesian scientists discovered small-bodied, small-brained, hominin (human-like) fossils on the remote island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago. This discovery of a new human species called Homo floresiensis has spawned much debate with some researchers claiming that the small creatures are really modern humans whose tiny head and brain are the result of a medical condition called microcephaly.

Researchers William Jungers, Ph.D., and Karen Baab, Ph.D. studied the skeletal remains of a female (LB1), nicknamed "Little Lady of Flores" or "Flo" to confirm the evolutionary path of the hobbit species. The specimen was remarkably complete and included skull, jaw, arms, legs, hands, and feet that provided researchers with integrated information from an individual fossil.

The cranial capacity of LB1 was just over 400 cm, making it more similar to the brains of a chimpanzee or bipedal "ape-men" of East and South Africa. The skull and jawbone features are much more primitive looking than any normal modern human. Statistical analysis of skull shapes show modern humans cluster together in one group, microcephalic humans in another and the hobbit along with ancient hominins in a third.

Due to the relative completeness of fossil remains for LB1, the scientists were able to reconstruct a reliable body design that was unlike any modern human. The thigh bone and shin bone of LB1 are much shorter than modern humans including Central African pygmies, South African KhoeSan (formerly known as 'bushmen") and "negrito" pygmies from the Andaman Islands and the Philippines. Some researchers speculate this could represent an evolutionary reversal correlated with "island dwarfing." "It is difficult to believe an evolutionary change would lead to less economical movement," said Dr. Jungers. "It makes little sense that this species re-evolved shorter thighs and legs because long hind limbs improve bipedal walking. We suspect that these are primitive retentions instead."

Further analysis of the remains using a regression equation developed by Dr. Jungers indicates that LB1 was approximately 106 cm tall (3 feet, 6 inches) -- far smaller than the modern pygmies whose adults grow to less than 150 cm (4 feet, 11 inches). A scatterplot depicts LB1 far outside the range of Southeast Asian and African pygmies in both absolute height and body mass indices. "Attempts to dismiss the hobbits as pathological people have failed repeatedly because the medical diagnoses of dwarfing syndromes and microcephaly bear no resemblance to the unique anatomy of Homo floresiensis," noted Dr. Baab.
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Hobbit goes back 1 million years....

Five years of Homo floresiensis
Leslie C. Aiello *
Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, New York, NY 10016

email: Leslie C. Aiello (laiello@wennergren.org)

*Correspondence to Leslie C. Aiello, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10016

Keywords
hobbit • Laron syndrome • ME cretinism • island dwarfism • brain evolution • human evolution


Abstract
Since Homo floresiensis was first described in October 2004 there has been a lively debate over its status. Is it a late surviving species of early Homo or merely a modern individual afflicted with disordered growth and one of the many syndromes resulting in microchephaly? Recently the discovery team has published a series of articles providing detailed descriptions of the hominin material, its geomorphological context, and the associated archaeology and faunal material (Morwood and Jungers: J Hum Evol 57 ([2009]) 437-648). In addition, other researchers have put forward new hypotheses for possible pathologies including Laron's Syndrome and Myxoedematous Endemic (ME) Cretinism. Here I review this new information and conclude that the evidence supports the hypothesis that Homo floresiensis is a late-surviving species of early Homo with its closest morphological affinities to early African pre-erectus/ergaster hominins. Although this hypothesis requires fundamental paradigm changes in our understanding of human evolution, it provides a more economical explanation for H. floresiensis than do the alternatives. None of the current explanations for microcephaly and disordered growth account for the range of features observed in H. floresiensis. Neither do they provide explanations for why a pathological condition in modern humans would mimic so closely the morphology observed in earlier hominins. This conclusion is based on the current evidence for H. floresiensis and on the particular pathological explanations that have appeared in the literature. There is no doubt that controversy over H. floresiensis will continue until new and conclusive evidence is available to settle the debate one way or another. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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