January 29, 2015

The hands have it

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 7:53 pm

Early Human Ancestors Had Tool-Using Hands

Matthew Skinner and Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent, and their colleagues from University College London, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and the Vienna University of Technology, have found skeletal evidence that supports the archaeological evidence for tool use by Australopithecus africanus, an early human ancestor. The team members examined the internal spongey bone structure, called trabeculae, of modern human hands, and the trabecular bone structure in the hands of chimpanzees, and they found clear differences between the two.

January 28, 2015

And older still!

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 7:53 pm

Oldest human remains outside of Africa found in Israel

Researchers say they’ve found evidence of modern man’s exodus out of Africa. Scientists say a newly unearthed skull in Israel is roughly 55,000 years old. It is the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens outside of Africa, and proof that modern man set up shop in Middle East before colonizing the European continent.
“It’s amazing,” lead study author Israel Hershkovitz, an anthropologist at Tel Aviv University, told the Guardian. “This is the first specimen we have that connects Africa to Europe.”

Don’t have much to add.

December 16, 2014

Five minutes before the first person said “Ouch! Damn it, that’s hot!”

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 8:55 am

Cave Find Suggests When Humans Figured Out Fire

Early humans first began to master fire around 350,000 years ago, helping to drive the development of complex culture among our ancestors, new archaeological evidence has revealed.
Flint fragments discovered in a cave in the limestone cliffs of Mount Carmel, close to Haifa on the Mediterranean coast of northern Israel, have provided the oldest signs of humans controlling fire.
The Tabun Cave is an archaeological site that holds evidence of having being inhabited by humans and their ancestors for around 500,000 years.

It’s problematic because fire occurs naturally. I find it a bit odd that they weren’t finding actual hearth features here, although they could be in another area awaiting discovery. That would more or less seal the deal that they were controlling it at the time, although it doesn’t say whether or not they were actually starting it themselves (you could keep a single naturally-started fire going indefinitely).

The fact that it was flints is also neat. Heating chert (the larger class of material to which flint belongs) changes the character of the stone to (generally) improve its knappability. So they apparently (maybe, hard to tell if they were doing it intentionally) knew that heating stone changed its properties.

December 3, 2014

Hmmmmm. . . . .

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 8:04 pm

World’s oldest engraving discovered

The chiselled shell, dating back between 540,000 and 430,000 years, was among the iconic fossil collection established in the 19th century by Eugène Dubois, at Trinil, in Java, Indonesia, where he discovered the first Homo erectus.

The discovery was made by chance among hundreds of images shells, photographed to determine if they belonged to a natural or man-made assemblage, says Dr Stephen Munro, a biological anthropologist from Australian National University, and curator at the National Museum of Australia, who co-authored the report, published today in Nature.

I dunno, there’s nothing I can see in the included photos (see here too) that screams “artificial” to me. You be the judge.

Related: Paleolithic Venus Discovered in France

November 27, 2014

A tribute to Lucy

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 1:37 pm

Not that one: The “Lucy” fossil rewrote the story of humanity

Forty years ago, on a Sunday morning in late November 1974, a team of scientists were digging in an isolated spot in the Afar region of Ethiopia.
Surveying the area, paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson spotted a small part of an elbow bone. He immediately recognised it as coming from a human ancestor. And there was plenty more. “As I looked up the slopes to my left I saw bits of the skull, a chunk of jaw, a couple of vertebrae,” says Johanson.
It was immediately obvious that the skeleton was a momentous find, because the sediments at the site were known to be 3.2 million years old. “I realised this was part of a skeleton that was older than three million years,” says Johanson. It was the most ancient early human – or hominin – ever found. Later it became apparent that it was also the most complete: fully 40% of the skeleton had been preserved.

I went to see Lucy when it had the traveling exhibit a few hers ago and was extremely moved by seeing it firsthand. Really, I literally got a bit choked up. This little pre-human that was so like us but so not, and there it was sitting right in front of me after 3+ million years. Johanson’s book was also one of those seminal books I read when I was just getting into anthro/archy and it helped push me into the major full time. Looking back, I probably should have gone into pays a nth instead of archy, but oh well. Probably the biggest impact she had on hominid evolutionary thinking at the time was her bipedalism. Before Lucy, we didn’t really know which came first, bipedalism or larger brains, but she — being a regular biped — solidified that sequence. A. afarensis has seen been ‘demoted somewhat to a probably-not direct ancestor, but she was clearly related.

So this long holiday weekend (for Americans anyway), take a bit of time out from your celebrations to raise a glass for this little bipedal hominid that died so many years ago.

August 5, 2014

Back to Flores we go

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 3:22 pm

Flores bones show features of Down syndrome, not a new ‘Hobbit’ human

In October 2004, excavation of fragmentary skeletal remains from the island of Flores in Indonesia yielded what was called “the most important find in human evolution for 100 years.” Its discoverers dubbed the find Homo floresiensis, a name suggesting a previously unknown species of human.

Now detailed reanalysis by an international team of researchers including Robert B. Eckhardt, professor of developmental genetics and evolution at Penn State, Maciej Henneberg, professor of anatomy and pathology at the University of Adelaide, and Kenneth Hsü, a Chinese geologist and paleoclimatologist, suggests that the single specimen on which the new designation depends, known as LB1, does not represent a new species. Instead, it is the skeleton of a developmentally abnormal human and, according to the researchers, contains important features most consistent with a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Among the key bits:

In the first place, they write, the original figures for cranial volume and stature are underestimates, “markedly lower than any later attempts to confirm them.” Eckhardt, Henneberg, and other researchers have consistently found a cranial volume of about 430 milliliters (26.2 cubic inches).
“The difference is significant, and the revised figure falls in the range predicted for a modern human with Down syndrome from the same geographic region,” Eckhardt said.
The original estimate of 3.5 feet for the creature’s height was based on extrapolation combining the short thighbone with a formula derived from an African pygmy population. But humans with Down syndrome also have diagnostically short thighbones, Eckhardt said.

I dunno, I’ve been skeptical of the new species designation since it was discovered. This probably doesn’t nail it down, but it’s made me more heavily weighted to the plain ol’ Homo sapiens sapiens side of things.

July 22, 2014

But this seems better researched

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 7:00 pm

Medieval Italian Skeleton Reveals Livestock Disease

A new genetic analysis of bony nodules found in a 700-year-old skeleton from Italy reveal that the man had brucellosis, a bacterial infection caught from livestock, when he died. It’s not clear if the disease killed the man, but he likely would have suffered from symptoms such as chronic fatigue and recurring fevers, according to the researchers who analyzed the bones.

This medieval Italian man joins many other long-dead people in getting a postmortem diagnosis of brucellosis. Signs of the disease have been found in skeletons from the Bronze Age and earlier. In fact, the disease predates modern humans: In 2009, researchers reported possible signs of brucellosis in a specimen of the human ancestor Australopithecus africanus, who lived more than 2 million years ago.

I would have thought this would be pretty common, with people living fairly intimately with much of their livestock.

February 10, 2014

I’m a tad bit skeptical

Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 12:07 pm

Mainly of the dating: 900,000 year old footprints of earliest northern Europeans discovered

Footprints left behind by what may be one our first human ancestors to arrive in Britain have been discovered on a beach in Norfolk.

The preserved tracks, which consisted of 49 imprints in a soft sedimentary rock, are believed to be around 900,000 years old and could transform scientists understanding of how early humans moved around the world.

The footprints were found in what scientists have described as a “million to one” discovery last summer when heavy seas washed sand off the foreshore in Happisburgh, Norfolk.

Not really skeptical, but I haven’t seen how they dated them, although I would assume that the formation they were found in was probably dated for geological reasons previously. Unfortunate that they were destroyed soon thereafter. (Conspiracy!)

January 18, 2014

A couple of historical items

Filed under: Historic, Media, Paleoanth, Pop culture — acagle @ 4:57 pm

Snipped from Althouse:

First, the history of Velveeta cheese

In America, James L. Kraft became perhaps the most recognizable face of processed cheese when he discovered that heated cheese with added emulsifying salts would form into a solid mass when cooled–and would keep much longer than non-processed cheese. Processed cheese was immediately welcomed by American consumers because of its consistent quality and increased stability.
In 1918, Frey figured out how to use similar technology to help recoup some of the factory’s waste. He learned that by adding a by-product of cheesemaking called whey, which is the liquid released from curds during the cheesemaking process, to the leftover Swiss bits, he could create a very cohesive end-product. Frey named the product Velveeta, and in 1923, the Velveeta Cheese Company became its own corporation.

I have no real history with Velveeta. I vaguely recall my parents always having some in the fridge but I honestly don’t recall ever consuming it. I don’t have anything particularly against it, but I don’t have much desire to eat it.

Also: What’s Wrong with the Paleo diet:

he paleo diet is hot. Those who follow it are attempting, they say, to mimic our ancient ancestors — minus the animal-skin fashions and the total lack of technology, of course. The adherents eschew what they believe comes from modern agriculture (wheat, dairy, legumes, for instance) and rely instead on meals full of meat, nuts, and vegetables — foods they claim are closer to what hunter-gatherers ate.

The trouble with that view, however, is that what they’re eating is probably nothing like the diet of hunter-gatherers, says Michael Pollan, author of a number of best-selling books on food and agriculture, including Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. “I don’t think we really understand … well the proportions in the ancient diet,” argues Pollan on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream below). “Most people who tell you with great confidence that this is what our ancestors ate — I think they’re kind of blowing smoke.”

He explains some of the rationale for cooking food and the changes that processing certain foods undergo to release more calories and nutrients. He makes the basic case, which I’ve made here many times, that there is no single “Paleo” diet: People in different areas and in different times ate whatever was available and it’s devilishly difficult to get anything like a precise read on what they were eating and in what quantities.

January 10, 2014


Filed under: Paleoanth — acagle @ 9:46 am

Light skin in Europeans stems from ONE 10,000-year-old ancestor who lived between India and the Middle East, claims study

Light skin in Europeans stems from a gene mutation from a single person who lived 10,000 years ago.

This is according to a new U.S. study that claims the colour is due to an ancient ancestor who lived somewhere between the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

Scientists made the discovery after identifying a key gene that contributes to lighter skin colour in Europeans.

I haven’t much to add. I was hoping Hawks would but nothing yet.

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