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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Oldest Domesticated Dog

PLoSOne has a study on remains of a domesticated dog in Siberia ca.
33,000 ybp. This appears to be the earliest known such find,
approximately contemporaneous with one found in Europe.
The study suggests multiple instances of domestication, with the oldest
remains being of a different species than later dogs.
http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0022...
Or:
http://tinyurl.com/7az6gbg
The abstract:
"Background
Virtually all well-documented remains of early domestic dog (Canis
familiaris) come from the late Glacial and early Holocene periods (ca.
14,000–9000 calendar years ago, cal BP), with few putative dogs found
prior to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ca. 26,500–19,000 cal BP). The
dearth of pre-LGM dog-like canids and incomplete state of their
preservation has until now prevented an understanding of the
morphological features of transitional forms between wild wolves and
domesticated dogs in temporal perspective.
"Methodology/Principal Finding
We describe the well-preserved remains of a dog-like canid from the
Razboinichya Cave (Altai Mountains of southern Siberia). Because of the
extraordinary preservation of the material, including skull, mandibles
(both sides) and teeth, it was possible to conduct a complete
morphological description and comparison with representative examples of
pre-LGM wild wolves, modern wolves, prehistoric domesticated dogs, and
early dog-like canids, using morphological criteria to distinguish
between wolves and dogs. It was found that the Razboinichya Cave
individual is most similar to fully domesticated dogs from Greenland
(about 1000 years old), and unlike ancient and modern wolves, and
putative dogs from Eliseevichi I site in central Russia. Direct AMS
radiocarbon dating of the skull and mandible of the Razboinichya canid
conducted in three independent laboratories resulted in highly
compatible ages, with average value of ca. 33,000 cal BP.
"Conclusions/Significance
The Razboinichya Cave specimen appears to be an incipient dog that did
not give rise to late Glacial – early Holocene lineages and probably
represents wolf domestication disrupted by the climatic and cultural
changes associated with the LGM. The two earliest incipient dogs from
Western Europe (Goyet, Belguim) and Siberia (Razboinichya), separated by
thousands of kilometers, show that dog domestication was multiregional,
and thus had no single place of origin (as some DNA data have suggested)
and subsequent spread."
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ancient Aliens: Aliens and the Creation of Man on History

I was glad to see that they had Ian Tattersal, an actual scientist, on Ancient Aliens tonight. Unfortunately he didn't get to rebut any of the more nonsensical comments from the usual Ancient Alien theorists and the directors made it out to look like he was agreeing with some of their more outlandish claims.
For instance, if you don't study anthropology avidly you would probably come away from the show thinking that all the speakers on the program are in agreement that the size of man's brain abruptly went from ape-size to the size it is now, and that the hominid brain suddenly split into two hemispheres. In actuality, it's the fringe speakers who believe this; Ian only affirmed that symbolic thought seems to have happened suddenly in homo sapiens after leaving Africa.
The hominid brain did not grow in size in an unfathomably quick time period. From the fossil records, we can see that the brain increased from 400cc to around 1200 cc in about 6 million years at a relatively constant rate. Also, the brain didn't form into two hemispheres suddenly in homo sapien sapient as the show implied.
Furthermore, Ian's stance on symbolic thought is disputed; other scientists claim that there is evidence of symbolic thought in stone carvings, musical instruments, and religious practices dating long before the Upper Paleolithic...and in some cases even before the reign of the Neanderthals over 300,000 years ago. The progression of symbolic thought, when looked at in light of this, has a marked and gradual developement process which grows more complex through the ages; it didn't just happen one day, or one millenia, or even over a few thousand years. It began and grew as our minds became better and more adapted to it.
The show also put forth the concept that we had to have been altered in order not to lose our hair, only briefly describing the dynamics that the mainstream uses to describe our nakedness. Neither did it mention other theories such as the "Aquatic Ape Theory," which some consider fringe science but which is still more popular and accepted in scientic circles than "the aliens had to do it!"
Giorgio Tsoukalos, editor of the Legendary Times, says it makes no sense that man should lose his hair just to immediately go into the north and have to make clothes to replace it. But in reality, hominids were confined to mostly tropical areas for at least the first 5 million years of their existence and we don't know when they lost their hair. It is only 750,000 years ago that we Homo Antecessor first ventured into the north, past the treelines, and into the tundra. And it isn't until 40,000 years ago that homo sapiens sapient followed in his footsteps, coming there from the new species 140,000 years of previous development in the tropics.
In the program, Giorgio also mentioned the FOXP2 gene as being the catalyst that brought speech to mankind, stating that it had no precursors and came from nowhere.
A simple search in Wikipedia will show anyone who is curious that FOXP2 protiens are found in other mammals as well as songbirds, reptiles, and fish.
"We found that contrary to previous reports, FoxP2 is not highly conserved across all nonhuman mammals but is extremely diverse in echolocating bats."
Mr. Legendary Times seems to be reading Sitchen and Van Donniken books published decades ago without bothering to check recent updates in science before getting on national TV, and History Channel doesn't even allow real scientists or critics to call him on it. It's all in the ratings I guess.
Next, the show made it out to seem that the larynx and other organs that contribute to human speech cannot be found in any other animal and that it appeared suddenly with no evolutionary steps. Actually, it is controversial whether neanderthal and erectus could form all the words that we do because there isn't a lot of fossil evidence left that can tell us that. While other hominids may have had a more "primitive" larynx than we do if you're looking at it from our perspective, most scientists agree that even early forms of the genus homo had some kind of language. Other wise things we know that the did, such as mass sea travel and upholding larger communities than apes, would not have been possible.
The show makes it out as if without a human larynx, speech is not posssible, and that there is no reason for us to have formed our type of larynx, and that it could only have been introduced to us via visitors from outer space.
The truth is that walking upright necessitates an alteration in the larynx because of the way it would be repositioned. I imagine that if our larynx had evolved in a different way to compensate an upright posture that we would have had to create different words to go along with our voices...while the ancient alien theorists seem to believe that we wouldn't be able to speak at all. Even apes can speak with in sign language, you guys. I mean gimme a break.
Also, if the formation of a larynx that can produce human language must needs to be helped along by genetic engineering from aliens...I wonder why those aliens needed to genetically alter parakeets and parrots and other "talkin" birds?
Something to think about.
To sum up my complaints I'll say this: it took a lot of coincidences for life to form on this planet, and for that life to ultimately produce mankind. The Big Bang in still inconceivable without an Unmoved Mover, the conditions for life on a planet cannot even yet be duplicated in a lab with forced coincidences being introduced by scientists, and if a meteor hadn't struck Pantagonia during the age of the dinosaurs then mammals would never have become bigger than a mouse. Indeed, if that meteor had struck during the time of the dinosaurs but just a little bit sooner than it did, there would have been no mammals yet and reptiles would have just re-populated the earth again. And if Africa had not slammed into Eurasia at the exact perfect time in the evolution of apes, hominids would never have formed. And maybe if the Ice Ages hadn't proceeded exactly like they did,hominids would never have become as intelligent as we are now.
But I see no need for any genetic altering in order to explain the very documented progression of human evolution. There is no longer any "missing link" to speak of and the timeline has all transitional forms in the human record pretty well documented, with no miraculous genetic links evident.
Not saying there's no life on other planets, or even that they didn't visit (or are visiting) here. Just that we don't need them to explain our evolution, and that we'll always still need God to explain it...aliens or no.
We need God to explain life because without an Unmoved Mover, there can be no movement, and hence no "Big Bang." We may need God to explain the global coincidences I listed above, but not to explain why we are different anatomically from the animals; there's still no evidence or reason for genetic alterations of the human species.
And believing that aliens produced the coincidences, genetic or otherwise, that led to mankind is no less scientific than believing in a Creator. After all, if you explain it all with aliens then how do you explain why and and how the aliens themselves evolved? You still need an Unmoved Mover for the Big Bang. And in order for aliens to be going around the universe altering life, you still need natural evolution to have happened in order for those aliens to have formed. The first aliens to have gone around altering worlds would have had to have evolved without any help from outside forces at all, or by the help of a supreme being.
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Cultural Diversification Also Drives Human Evolution

Cultural Diversification Also Drives Human Evolution
ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2011) — Changes in social structure and cultural practices can also contribute to human evolution, according to a study that has recently been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), contributed to by the lecturer Mireia Esparza and assistant Neus Martínez-Abadías, from the Anthropology Unit of the UB's Department of Animal Biology.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The study, coordinated by the expert Rolando González-José from the Patagonian National Research Center (CENPAT-CONICET, Argentina), examines physical, genetic, geographical and climatic patterns affecting over 1,200 people from the Baniwa, Ticuna, Yanomami, Kaingang, Xavánte and Kayapó indigenous groups of the Brazilian Amazon and Central Plateau.
According to the experts behind the study, one of the most interesting results is the rapid rate of morphological change in the Xavánte, which is up to 3.8 times faster than in the other groups studied. The changes observed in the Xavánte -- who have larger heads, narrower faces and broader noses -- follow an integration pattern of human skull shape recently described in the literature. "This study demonstrates that when selection acts in the same direction as integration patterns, evolution is favoured," explain the researchers Mireia Esparza and Neus Martínez-Abadías, who co-authored another recent study on morphometric patterns and the evolutionary potential of the human skull ( see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111220102244.htm).
The study suggests that this divergence is also independent of the Xavánte's geographical separation from other population groups and differences in climate. According to the team of experts, the combination of cultural isolation and sexual selection could be the driving force behind the changes observed. To conclude their study, the authors hypothesize that gene-culture co-evolution could in fact be the dominant model throughout the history of the human evolutionary lineage.
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The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Universidad de Barcelona, via AlphaGalileo.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.
Journal Reference:
T. Hunemeier, J. Gomez-Valdes, M. Ballesteros-Romero, S. de Azevedo, N. Martinez-Abadias, M. Esparza, T. Sjovold, S. L. Bonatto, F. M. Salzano, M. C. Bortolini, R. Gonzalez-Jose. Cultural diversification promotes rapid phenotypic evolution in Xavante Indians. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1118967109
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Universidad de Barcelona (2011, December 22). Cultural diversification also drives human evolution. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 3, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/12/111222161213.htm
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Father and son in the wai’a ceremony at the Xavánte village of Etéñitepa. (Credit: Francisco M. Salzano)
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http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111222161213.htm

See Also:
Mind & Brain
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Evolution
Science & Society
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Scientific Conduct
Reference
Genetic drift
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Homo rudolfensis
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'Hobbit' Skull Study Finds Hobbit Is Not Human

HereScienceDaily (Jan. 20, 2009) — In a an analysis of the size, shape and asymmetry of the cranium of Homo floresiensis, Karen Baab, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Anatomical Scienes at Stony Brook University, and colleagues conclude that the fossil, found in Indonesia in 2003 and known as the “Hobbit,” is not human.See Also:

They used 3-D shape analysis to study the LB1 skull of the hobbit and found the shape of the skull to be consistent with a scaled down human ancestor but not modern humans. Their findings, reported in the current online edition of the Journal of Human Evolution, add to the evidence that the hobbit is a new species.
The question as to whether the hobbit was human or another species remains controversial. Some scientists claim the hobbit was a diminutive human that suffered from some type of disease that causes microcephaly, which results in abnormal growth of the brain and causes the cranium to be much smaller than the normal human cranium. But Dr. Baab and co-author Kieran McNulty, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, believe their findings counter the microcephaly theory.
“A skull can provide researchers with a lot of important information about a fossil species, particularly regarding their evolutionary relationships to other fossil species,” explains Dr. Baab. “The overall shape of the LB1 skull, particularly the part that surrounds the brain (neurocranium) looks similar to fossils more than 1.5 million years older from Africa and Eurasia, rather than modern humans, even though Homo floresiensis is documented from 17,000 to 95,000 years ago.”
To carry out the study, Dr. Baab and colleagues collected 3D landmark data on the LB1 skull and a large sample of fossils representing other extinct hominin species, as well as a comparative sample of modern humans and apes. They performed several analyses of different regions of the skulls. Taken together, these analyses indicated that the LB1 skull shape is that of a scaled down Homo fossil not a scaled down modern human.
The results of the analysis of the asymmetry of the skulls, which refers to differences between the right and left sides of the skull, refutes the suggestion that the LB1 skull was that of a modern human with a diagnosis of microcephaly. In modern humans, a high degree of asymmetry may indicate that the individual was diseased. At least one scientific study on the asymmetry of LB1 supported the argument that this individual had microcephaly. Conversely, Dr. Baab and colleagues found the degree of asymmetry of the LB1 skull was not unexpectedly high and therefore not supportive of the diagnosis of microcephaly.
“The degree of asymmetry in LB1 was within the range of apes and was very similar to that seen in other fossil skulls,” says Dr. Baab. “We suggest that the degree of asymmetry is within expectations for this population of hominins, particular given that the conditions of the cave in Indonesia in which the skull was preserved may have contributed to asymmetry.”
Dr. Baab recognizes that the controversy as to the evolutionary origins of Homo floresiensis will continue, perhaps without an answer. However, all the evidence that she and colleagues illustrate in their article “Size, shape, and asymmetry in fossil hominins: The status of the LB1cranium based on 3D morphometric analyses,” suggest that Homo floresiensis was most likely the diminutive descendant of a species of archaic Homo.
The results of this study are also in line with what other researchers in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University have found regarding the rest of the hobbit skeleton. Drs. William Jungers and Susan Larson have documented a range of primitive features in both the upper and lower limbs of Homo floresiensis, highlighting the many ways that these hominins were unlike modern humans.
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Human Skull Is Highly Integrated: Study Sheds New Light On Evolutionary Changes ScienceDaily (Dec. 20, 2011) — Scientists studying a unique collection

ScienceDaily (Dec. 20, 2011) — Scientists studying a unique collection of human skulls have shown that changes to the skull shape thought to have occurred independently through separate evolutionary events may have actually precipitated each other.

Researchers at the Universities of Manchester and Barcelona examined 390 skulls from the Austrian town of Hallstatt and found evidence that the human skull is highly integrated, meaning variation in one part of the skull is linked to changes throughout the skull.
The Austrian skulls are part of a famous collection kept in the Hallstatt Catholic Church ossuary; local tradition dictates that the remains of the town's dead are buried but later exhumed to make space for future burials. The skulls are also decorated with paintings and, crucially, bear the name of the deceased. The Barcelona team made measurements of the skulls and collected genealogical data from the church's records of births, marriages and deaths, allowing them to investigate the inheritance of skull shape.
The team tested whether certain parts of the skull -- the face, the cranial base and the skull vault or brain case -- changed independently, as anthropologists have always believed, or were in some way linked. The scientists simulated the shift of the foramen magnum (where the spinal cord enters the skull) associated with upright walking; the retraction of the face, thought to be linked to language development and perhaps chewing; and the expansion and rounding of the top of the skull, associated with brain expansion. They found that, rather than being separate evolutionary events, changes in one part of the brain would facilitate and even drive changes in the other parts.
"We found that genetic variation in the skull is highly integrated, so if selection were to favour a shape change in a particular part of the skull, there would be a response involving changes throughout the skull," said Dr Chris Klingenberg, in Manchester's Faculty of Life Sciences.
"We were able to use the genetic information to simulate what would happen if selection were to favour particular shape changes in the skull. As those changes, we used the key features that are derived in humans, by comparison with our ancestors: the shift of the foramen magnum associated with the transition to bipedal posture, the retraction of the face, the flexion of the cranial base, and, finally, the expansion of the braincase.
"As much as possible, we simulated each of these changes as a localised shape change limited to a small region of the skull. For each of the simulations, we obtained a predicted response that included not only the change we selected for, but also all the others. All those features of the skull tended to change as a whole package. This means that, in evolutionary history, any of the changes may have facilitated the evolution of the others."
Lead author Dr Neus Martínez-Abadías, from the University of Barcelona, added: "This study has important implications for inferences on human evolution and suggests the need for a reinterpretation of the evolutionary scenarios of the skull in modern humans."
The research, funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (USA) and the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, is published in the journal Evolution.Source
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77,000-Year-Old Evidence for 'Bedding' and Use of Medicinal Plants Uncovered at South African Rock Shelter

ScienceDaily (Dec. 8, 2011) — Researchers have discovered the earliest evidence for the intentional construction of plant "bedding."

An international team of archaeologists, with the participation of Christopher Miller, junior professor at the University of Tübingen, is reporting 77,000-year-old evidence for preserved plant bedding and the use of insect-repelling plants in a rock shelter in South Africa. This discovery is 50,000 years older than earlier reports of preserved bedding and provides a fascinating insight into the behavioural practices of early modern humans in southern Africa.
The team, led by Lyn Wadley of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in collaboration with Christopher Miller (University of Tübingen, Germany), Christine Sievers and Marion Bamford (University of the Witwatersrand), and Paul Goldberg and Francesco Berna (Boston University, USA), is reporting the discovery in the journal Science, available online this week.
The ancient bedding was uncovered during excavations at Sibudu rock shelter (KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa), where Prof. Wadley has been digging since 1998. At least 15 different layers at the site contain plant bedding, dated between 77,000 and 38,000 years ago. The bedding consists of centimetre-thick layers of compacted stems and leaves of sedges and rushes, extending over at least one square meter and up to three square meters of the excavated area. Christine Sievers, of the University of the Witwatersrand, was able to identify several types of sedges and rushes used in the construction of the bedding.
The oldest evidence for bedding at the site is particularly well-preserved, and consists of a layer of fossilized sedge stems and leaves, overlain by a tissue-paper-thin layer of leaves, identified by botanist Marion Bamford as belonging to Cryptocarya woodii, or River Wild-quince. The leaves of this tree contain chemicals that are insecticidal, and would be suitable for repelling mosquitoes. "The selection of these leaves for the construction of bedding suggests that the inhabitants of Sibudu had an intimate knowledge of the plants surrounding the shelter, and were aware of their medicinal uses. Herbal medicines would have provided advantages for early human health, and the use of insect-repelling plants adds a new dimension to our understanding of human behaviour 77,000 years ago" said Lyn Wadley, honorary professor at the University of the Witwatersrand.
"The inhabitants would have collected the sedges and rushes from along the uThongathi River, located directly below the site, and laid the plants on the floor of the shelter. The bedding was not just used for sleeping, but would have provided a comfortable surface for living and working," said Wadley. Microscopic analysis of the bedding, conducted by Christopher Miller, junior-professor for geoarchaeology at the University of Tübingen, suggests that the inhabitants repeatedly refurbished the bedding during the course of occupation.
The microscopic analysis also demonstrated that after 73,000 years ago, the inhabitants of Sibudu regularly burned the bedding after use. "They lit the used bedding on fire, possibly as a way to remove pests. This would have prepared the site for future occupation and represents a novel use of fire for the maintenance of an occupation site," said Miller.
The preserved bedding is also associated with the remains of numerous fireplaces and ash dumps. Beginning at 58,000 years ago, the number of hearths, bedding and ash dumps increases dramatically. The archaeologists believe that this is a result of increased occupation of the site. In the article, the archaeologists argue that the increased occupation may correspond with changing demographics within Africa at the time. By around 50,000 years ago, modern humans began expanding out of Africa, eventually replacing archaic forms of humans in Eurasia, including the Neanderthals.
This discovery adds to a long list of important finds at Sibudu over the past decade, including perforated seashells, believed to have been used as beads, and sharpened bone points, likely used for hunting. Wadley and others have also presented early evidence from the site for the development of bow and arrow technology, the use of snares and traps for hunting and the production of glue for hafting stone tools.
The discovery is particularly well timed, since future work at the site may be in jeopardy. Local officials are planning the construction of large housing tracts near Sibudu that would irreparably damage the site and prevent future excavation. Wadley and her colleagues hope that this discovery will emphasize the importance of Sibudu as an irreplaceable cultural resource for South Africa and the rest of the world.Source
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Monday, January 2, 2012

Ancient DNA Provides New Insights Into Cave Paintings of Horses

ScienceDaily (Nov. 7, 2011) — An international team of researchers has used ancient DNA to shed new light on the realism of horses depicted in prehistoric cave paintings.

Miniature horse
The team, which includes researchers from the University of York, has found that all the colour variations seen in Paleolithic cave paintings -- including distinctive 'leopard' spotting -- existed in pre-domestic horse populations, lending weight to the argument that the artists were reflecting their natural environment.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is also the first to produce evidence for white spotted phenotypes in pre-domestic horses. Previous ancient DNA studies have only produced evidence for bay and black horses.
Archaeologists have long debated whether works of art from the Paleolithic period, particularly cave paintings, are reflections of the natural environment or have deeper abstract or symbolic meanings.
This is particularly true of the cave painting "The Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle" in France, which dates back more than 25,000 years and clearly depicts white horses with dark spots.
The dappled horses' spotted coat pattern bears a strong resemblance to a pattern known as 'leopard' in modern horses. However, as some researchers believed a spotted coat phenotype unlikely at this time, pre-historians have often argued for more complex explanations, suggesting the spotted pattern was in some way symbolic or abstract.
Researchers from the UK, Germany, USA, Spain, Russia and Mexico genotyped and analysed nine coat-colour loci in 31 pre-domestic horses dating back as far as 35,000 years ago from Siberia, Eastern and Western Europe and the Iberian Peninsula. This involved analysing bones and teeth specimens from 15 locations.
They found that four Pleistocene and two Copper Age samples from Western and Eastern Europe shared a gene associated with leopard spotting, providing the first evidence that spotted horses existed at this time.
In addition, 18 horses had a bay coat colour and seven were black, meaning that all colour phenotypes distinguishable in cave paintings -- bay, black and spotted -- existed in pre-domestic horse populations.
Professor Michi Hofreiter, from the Department of Biology at the University of York, said: "Our results suggest that, at least for wild horses, Paleolithic cave paintings, including the remarkable depictions of spotted horses, were closely rooted in the real-life appearance of animals.
"While previous DNA studies have produced evidence for bay and black horses, our study has demonstrated that the leopard complex spotting phenotype was also already present in ancient horses and was accurately depicted by their human contemporaries nearly 25,000 years ago.
"Our findings lend support to hypotheses that argue that cave paintings constitute reflections of the natural environment of humans at the time and may contain less of a symbolic or transcendental connotation than often assumed."
The data and laboratory work were led by Dr Melanie Pruvost, from the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and the Department of Natural Sciences at the German Archaeological Institute, both in Berlin. The results were replicated in laboratories at the University of York.
Dr Pruvost said: "We are just starting to have the genetic tools to access the appearance of past animals and there are still a lot of question marks and phenotypes for which the genetic process has not yet been described. However, we can already see that this kind of study will greatly improve our knowledge about the past. Knowing that leopard spotting horses were present during the Pleistocene in Europe provides new arguments or insights for archaeologists to interpret cave arts."
Dr Arne Ludwig, from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, added: "Although taken as a whole, images of horses are often quite rudimentary in their execution, some detailed representations, from both Western Europe and the Ural mountains, are realistic enough to at least potentially represent the actual appearance of the animals when alive.
"In these cases, attributes of coat colours may also have been depicted with deliberate naturalism, emphasizing colours or patterns that characterised contemporary horses."
Exact numbers of Upper Paleolithic sites with animal depictions are uncertain because of ongoing debates about the taxonomic identification of some images and dating. However, art of this period has been identified in at least 40 sites in the Dordogne-Périgord region, a similar number in coastal Cantabria and around a dozen sites in both the Ardèche and Ariège regions.
Where animal species can be confidently identified, horses are depicted at the majority of these sites.
Professor Terry O'Connor from the University of York's Department of Archaeology was involved in the interpretation of the results. He said: "Representations of animals from the Paleolithic period have the potential to provide first-hand insights into the physical environment that humans encountered thousands of years ago. However, the motivation behind, and therefore the degree of realism in these depictions is hotly debated.
"The depictions of horses at Pech-Merle in particular have generated a great deal of debate. The spotted horses are featured in a frieze which includes hand outlines and abstract patterns of spots. The juxtaposition of elements has raised the question of whether the spotted pattern is in some way symbolic or abstract, especially since many researchers considered a spotted coat phenotype unlikely for Paleolithic horses.
"However, our research removes the need for any symbolic explanation of the horses. People drew what they saw, and that gives us greater confidence in understanding Paleolithic depictions of other species as naturalistic illustrations."
Leopard complex spotting in modern horses is characterised by white spotting patterns that range from horses having a few white spots on the rump to horses that are almost completely white. The white area of these horses can also have pigmented oval spots known as 'leopard spots'.
Dr. Monika Reissmann, from Humboldt University's Department for Crop and Animal Sciences, explained: "This phenotype was in great demand during the Baroque Age. But in the following centuries the leopard complex phenotype went out of fashion and became very rare. Today leopard complex is a popular phenotype in several horse breeds including Knabstrupper, Appaloosa and Noriker and breeding efforts have intensified again because there is a growing interest in the restoration of these horses."
The fact that four out of 10 of the Western European horses from the Pleistocene had a genotype indicative of the leopard complex phenotype, suggests that this phenotype was not rare in Western Europe during this period.
However, bay seems to have been the most common colour phenotype in pre-domestic times with 18 out of the 31 samples having bay genotypes. This is also the most commonly painted phenotype in the Paeolithic period.READ IT HERE
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New Giant Lizard in Phillipines

New species of giant lizard found in Philippines
April 6, 2010

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A Varanus bitatawa, pictured in 2009 in the Philippines. Scientists reported on the "spectacular" discovery a previously unknown species of fruit-eating lizard as big as a full-grown man. Astonished researchers found the secretive but brightly-coloured beast, a close cousin of the fearsome Komodo Dragons of Indonesia, in a hard-to-reach river valley of northern Luzon Island in the Philippines.
Biologists on Wednesday reported the spectacular discovery of a species of giant lizard, a reptile as long as a full-grown man is tall, and endowed with a double penis.

5

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The secretive but brightly-coloured beast, a monitor lizard, is a close cousin of the Komodo Dragon of Indonesia.
But unlike the fearsone Dragon, it is not a carnivore, nor does it feast on rotting meat. Instead, it is entirely peaceable and tucks into fruit.
Dubbed Varanus bitatawa, the lizard measures two metres (6.5 feet) in length, according to the account, published by Britain's Royal Society.
It was found in a river valley on northern Luzon Island in the Philippines, surviving loss of habitat and hunting by local people who use it for food.
How many of the lizards have survived is unclear.
The species is almost certainly critically endangered, and might well have disappeared entirely without ever being catalogued had a large male specimen not been rescued alive from a hunter last June.
Finding such a distinctive species in a heavily populated, highly deforested location "comes as an unprecedented surprise," note the authors, writing in the journal Biology Letters.
The only finds of comparable importance in recent decades are the Kipunji monkey, which inhabits a tiny range of forest in Tanzania, and the Saola, a forest-dwelling bovine found only in Vietnam and Laos.
V. bitatawa has unique markings and an unusual sexual anatomy, according to the study.
Its scaly body and legs are a blue-black mottled with pale yellow-green dots, while its tail is marked in alternating segments of black and green.
Males have a double penis, called hemipenes, also found in some snakes and other lizards.
The two penises are often used in alternation, and sometimes contain spines or hooks that serve to anchor the male within the female during intercourse.
V. bitatawa has a relative in southern Luzon, V. olivaceus, but the species are separated by three river valleys and a gap of 150 kilometers (95 miles) and may never have met up.
One reason that the new lizard has gone undetected, the researchers speculate, is that it never leaves the forests of its native Sierra Madre mountains to traverse open spaces.
The discovery "adds to the recognition of the Philippines as a global conservation hotspot and a regional superpower of biodiversity," the authors conclude.
The giant lizard should become a "flagship species" for conservation efforts aimed at preserving the remaining forests of northern Luzon, which are rapidly disappearing under the pressure of expanding human population and deforestation.More
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New Giant Lizard: Komodo Cousin "A Nasty Piece of Work"

New Giant Lizard: Komodo Cousin "A Nasty Piece of Work"
Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
October 6, 2009
A possible new species of giant prehistoric lizard—bigger and badder than the deadly Komodo dragon—may have stalked the ancient Australian outback, a new study says.

Three fossilized bones of the mysterious 13-foot-long (4-meter-long) lizard were collected in 1966 in western Timor island, part of Indonesia (Timor map).


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When study leader Scott Hocknull recently examined the fossils, he was "astounded" to find that they belonged neither to the Komodo dragon—the only giant lizard species alive today—nor Megalania, a 16-foot-long (5-meter-long) extinct monster that's among the largest lizards known to have ever lived.

Giant Lizard "a Nasty Piece of Work"

The "tantalizing bones"—which date to the middle of the Pleistocene epoch (1.8 million to 11,500 years ago)—are unique enough that Hocknull suspects they represent a new species. But only "more fossils and time will tell," said Hocknull, senior curator of geosciences at Australia's Queensland Museum.

The newfound predator would have lived in open landscapes alongside giant tortoises, dwarf elephants, and perhaps even the extinct human ancestral species Homo erectus, Hocknull said.

Like the Komodo, the lizard would have ambushed its prey.

(Related: "Komodo Dragons Kill With Venom, Researchers Find.")

"Being a large terrestrial carnivore," he said, "it would have been quite a nasty piece of work."

Komodo Dragon Born in Australia?

The new analysis also notes that numerous Komodo dragon fossils at least 300,000 years old have recently been found in Australia. This is among the evidence that the animals originated, and evolved into their giant form, on the island continent, then radiated west to what is now Indonesia, the study says.

And though the new giant lizard has yet to be definitively identified as a new species, "one thing is for sure," Hocknull said: There were many more giant lizards in Australia than anybody knew.

Climate accounts for some of his certainty. Australia began to dry up about eight million years ago, creating a perfect environment for lizards, Hocknull said.

To keep up with the ever increasing sizes of their prey, prehistoric Australian lizards got beefier over time—culminating in the titanic Megalania.

But just as Australia's giant lizards were "on their way up in the evolutionary stake," they suddenly died out, Hocknull said.

No one knows how the sole survivor, the Komodo dragon, managed to scrape by in Indonesia yet disappeared in its Australian birthplace.

"Climate, or humans, or both?" Hocknull said. "The jury will remain out on this one for a while."Source
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Viking Blood Courses Through Veins Of Many A Northwest Englander

ScienceDaily (Feb. 8, 2008) — The blood of the Vikings is still coursing through the veins of men living in the North West of England — according to a new study.
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Fossils & Ruins
Archaeology
Ancient Civilizations
Early Humans
Fossils
Early Climate
Anthropology
Reference
The Genographic Project
Introduction to genetics
Multiregional hypothesis
Recent single-origin hypothesis
Focusing on the Wirral in Merseyside and West Lancashire the study of 100 men, whose surnames were in existence as far back as medieval times, has revealed that 50 per cent of their DNA is specifically linked to Scandinavian ancestry.
The collaborative study, by The University of Nottingham, the University of Leicester and University College London, reveals that the population in parts of northwest England carries up to 50 per cent male Norse origins, about the same as modern Orkney.
Stephen Harding, Professor of Physical Biochemistry in the School of Biosciences said; “DNA on the male Y-chromosome is passed along the paternal line from generation to generation with very little change, providing a powerful probe into ancestry. So a man's Y-chromosome type is a marker to his paternal past. The method is most powerful when populations rather than individuals are compared with each other. We can also take advantage of the fact that surnames are also passed along the paternal generations. Using tax and other records the team selected volunteers who possess a surname present in the region prior to 1600. This gets round the problems of large population movements that have occurred since the Industrial revolution in places like Merseyside.”
After their expulsion from Dublin in 902AD the Wirral Vikings, initially led by the Norwegian Viking INGIMUND, landed in their boats along the north Wirral coastline. Place names still reflect the North West's Viking past. Aigburth, Formby, Crosby, Toxteth, Croxteth are all Viking names — even the football team Tranmere is Viking. Thingwall is the name of a Viking parliament or assembly (Thingvellir in Iceland) and the only two in England are both in the North West — one in Wirral and one in Liverpool.
The results of this research have just been published by Molecular Biology and Evolution. The 14-strong research team, funded by the Wellcome Trust and a Watson-Crick DNA anniversary award from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), was led by the University of Nottingham's Professor Stephen Harding and Professor Judith Jesch and the University of Leicester's Professor Mark Jobling.Source
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Archaeologists Find Blade 'Production Lines' Existed as Much as 400,000 Years Ago

ScienceDaily (Oct. 17, 2011) — Archaeology has long associated advanced blade production with the Upper Palaeolithic period, about 30,000-40,000 years ago, linked with the emergence of Homo Sapiens and cultural features such as cave art. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University have uncovered evidence which shows that "modern" blade production was also an element of Amudian industry during the late Lower Paleolithic period, 200,000-400,000 years ago as part of the Acheulo-Yabrudian cultural complex, a geographically limited group of hominins who lived in modern-day Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

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Prof. Avi Gopher, Dr. Ran Barkai and Dr. Ron Shimelmitz of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations say that large numbers of long, slender cutting tools were discovered at Qesem Cave, located outside of Tel Aviv, Israel. This discovery challenges the notion that blade production is exclusively linked with recent modern humans.
The blades, which were described recently in the Journal of Human Evolution, are the product of a well planned "production line," says Dr. Barkai. Every element of the blades, from the choice of raw material to the production method itself, points to a sophisticated tool production system to rival the blade technology used hundreds of thousands of years later.
An innovative product
Though blades have been found in earlier archaeological sites in Africa, Dr. Barkai and Prof. Gopher say that the blades found in Qesem Cave distinguish themselves through the sophistication of the technology used for manufacturing and mass production.
Evidence suggests that the process began with the careful selection of raw materials. The hominins collected raw material from the surface or quarried it from underground, seeking specific pieces of flint that would best fit their blade making technology, explains Dr. Barkai. With the right blocks of material, they were able to use a systematic and efficient method to produce the desired blades, which involved powerful and controlled blows that took into account the mechanics of stone fracture. Most of the blades of were made to have one sharp cutting edge and one naturally dull edge so it could be easily gripped in a human hand.
This is perhaps the first time that such technology was standardized, notes Prof. Gopher, who points out that the blades were produced with relatively small amounts of waste materials. This systematic industry enabled the inhabitants of the cave to produce tools, normally considered costly in raw material and time, with relative ease.
Thousands of these blades have been discovered at the site. "Because they could be produced so efficiently, they were almost used as expendable items," he says.
Prof. Cristina Lemorini from Sapienza University of Rome conducted a closer analysis of markings on the blades under a microscope and conducted a series of experiments determining that the tools were primarily used for butchering.
Modern tools a part of modern behaviors
According to the researchers, this innovative industry and technology is one of a score of new behaviors exhibited by the inhabitants of Qesem Cave. "There is clear evidence of daily and habitual use of fire, which is news to archaeologists," says Dr. Barkai. Previously, it was unknown if the Amudian culture made use of fire, and to what extent. There is also evidence of a division of space within the cave, he notes. The cave inhabitants used each space in a regular manner, conducting specific tasks in predetermined places. Hunted prey, for instance, was taken to an appointed area to be butchered, barbequed and later shared within the group, while the animal hide was processed elsewhere.Here
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Portuguese Hybrid 30,000-Year-Old Child's Teeth Shed New Light On Human Evolution

30,000-Year-Old Child's Teeth Shed New Light On Human Evolution
ScienceDaily (Jan. 7, 2010) — The teeth of a 30,000-year-old child are shedding new light on the evolution of modern humans, thanks to research from the University of Bristol published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The teeth are part of the remarkably complete remains of a child found in the Abrigo do Lagar Velho, Portugal and excavated in 1998-9 under the leadership of Professor João Zilhão of the University of Bristol. Classified as a modern human with Neanderthal ancestry, the child raises controversial questions about how extensively Neanderthals and modern human groups of African descent interbred when they came into contact in Europe.
'Early modern humans', whose anatomy is basically similar to that of the human race today, emerged over 50,000 years ago and it has long been the common perception that little has changed in human biology since then.
When considering the biology of late archaic humans such as the Neanderthals, it is thus common to compare them with living humans and largely ignore the biology of the early modern humans who were close in time to the Neanderthals.
With this in mind, an international team, including Professor Zilhão, reanalysed the dentition of the Lagar Velho child (all of its deciduous -- milk -- teeth and almost all of its permanent teeth) to see how they compared to the teeth of Neanderthals, later Pleistocene (12,000-year-old) humans and modern humans.
Employing a technique called micro-tomography which uses x-rays to create cross-sections of 3D-objects, the researchers investigated the relative stages of formation of the developing teeth and the proportions of crown enamel, dentin and pulp in the teeth.
They found that, for a given stage of development of the cheek teeth, the front teeth were relatively delayed in their degree of formation. Moreover, the front teeth had a greater volume of dentin and pulp but proportionally less enamel than the teeth of recent humans.
The teeth of the Lagar Velho child thus fit the pattern evident in the preceding Neanderthals, and contrast with the teeth of later Pleistocene (12,000-year-old) humans and living modern humans.
Professor Zilhão said: "This new analysis of the Lagar Velho child joins a growing body of information from other early modern human fossils found across Europe (in Mladeč in the Czech Republic, Peştera cu Oase and Peştera Muierii in Romania, and Les Rois in France) that shows these 'early modern humans' were 'modern' without being 'fully modern'. Human anatomical evolution continued after they lived 30,000 to 40,000 years ago."
The team was led by Priscilla Bayle (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, France) and Roberto Macchiarelli (Université de Poitiers, France) and included Erik Trinkaus (Professor of Anthropology at Washington University, St.-Louis, Cidália Duarte (Câmara Municipal do Porto, Portugal), and Arnaud Mazurier (CRI-Biopôle-Poitiers, France).Source
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Ancient Teeth Raise New Questions About Origins of Modern Humans

Ancient Teeth Raise New Questions About Origins of Modern Humans
ScienceDaily (Feb. 9, 2011) — Eight small teeth found in a cave near Rosh Haain, central Israel, are raising big questions about the earliest existence of humans and where we may have originated, says Binghamton University anthropologist Rolf Quam.

Part of a team of international researchers led by Dr. Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University, Qaum and his colleagues have been examining the dental discovery and recently published their joint findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
Excavated at Qesem cave, a pre-historic site that was uncovered in 2000, the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern humans, Homo sapiens, which have been found at other sites is Israel, such as Oafzeh and Skhul -- but they're a lot older than any previously discovered remains.
"The Qesem teeth come from a time period between 200,000 -- 400,000 years ago when human remains from the Middle East are very scarce," Quam said. "We have numerous remains of Neandertals and Homo sapiens from more recent times, that is around 60,00 -- 150,000 years ago, but fossils from earlier time periods are rare. So these teeth are providing us with some new information about who the earlier occupants of this region were as well as their potential evolutionary relationships with the later fossils from this same region."
The teeth also present new evidence as to where modern humans might have originated. Currently, anthropologists believe that modern humans and Neandertals shared a common ancestor who lived in Africa over 700,000 years ago. Some of the descendants of this common ancestor migrated to Europe and developed into Neandertals. Another group stayed in Africa and evolved into Homo sapiens, who later migrated out of the continent. If the remains from Qesem can be linked directly to the Homo sapiens species, it could mean that modern humans either originated in what is now Israel or may have migrated from Africa far earlier that is presently accepted.
But according to Quam, the verdict is still out as to what species is represented by these eight teeth, which poses somewhat of a challenge for any kind of positive identification.
"While a few of the teeth come from the same individual, most of them are isolated specimens," Quam said. "We know for sure that we're dealing with six individuals of differing ages. Two of the teeth are actually deciduous or 'milk' teeth, which means that these individuals were young children. But the problem is that all the teeth are separate so it's been really hard to determine which species we're dealing with."
According to Quam, rather than rely on individual features, anthropologists use a combination of characteristics to get an accurate reading on species type. For instance, Neandertal teeth have relatively large incisors and very distinctive molars and premolars whereas Homo sapiens teeth are smaller with incisors that are straighter along the 'lip' side of the face. Sometimes the differences are subtle but it's these small changes that make having a number of teeth from the same individual that much more important.
But even though Quam and the team of researchers don't know for sure exactly who the teeth belong to, these dental 'records' are still telling them a lot about the past.
"Teeth are evolutionarily very conservative structures," Quam said. "And so any differences in their features can provide us with all sorts of interesting information about an individual. It can tell us what they ate, what their growth and development patterns looked like as well as what their general health was like during their lifetime. They can also tell us about the evolutionary relationships between species, all of which adds to our knowledge of who we are and where we came from."
Excavation continues at the Qesem site under the direction of Professor Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University. The archaeological material already recovered includes abundant stone tools and animal remains, all of which are providing researchers with a very informative 'picture' of daily life and hunting practices of the site's former inhabitants.
"This is a very exciting time for archeological discovery," Quam said. "Our hope is that the continuing excavation at the site will result in the discover of more complex remains which would help us pinpoint exactly which species we are dealing with."
Quam continues to be in touch with the on-site archeologists and hopes to collaborate in the project when and if more complete human remains are recovered.Source
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