Friday, April 28, 2017

Dog family tree reveals hidden history of canine diversity

Genetic map showing how dog breeds are related provides a wealth of information about their origins.


A new family tree of dogs containing more than 160 breeds reveals the hidden history of man’s best friend, and even shows how studying canine genomes might help with research into human disease.
In a study published on 25 April in Cell Reports, scientists examined the genomes of 1,346 dogs to create one of the most diverse maps produced so far tracing the relationship between breeds1. The map shows the types of dog that people crossed to create modern breeds and reveals that canines bred to perform similar functions, such as working and herding dogs, don't necessarily share the same origins. The analysis even hints at an ancient type of dog that could have come over to the Americas with people thousands of years before Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World.
The new work could come as a surprise to owners and breeders who are familiar with how dogs are grouped into categories. “You would think that all working dogs or all herding dogs are related, but that isn’t the case,” says Heidi Parker, a biologist at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and a study author.
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Prehistoric human DNA is found in caves without bones in 'enormous scientific breakthrough'

Becky Miller sampling sediment for genetic analyses at the archaeological site of 
Trou Al'Wesse, Belgium 
CREDIT:  MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR EVOLUTIONARY ANTHROPOLOGY VIA AFP

International scientists have uncovered prehistoric human DNA of two extinct human relatives - the Neanderthals, and the Denisovans- from caves without bones, an advance that could shed new light on human history and evolution.

The technique could be valuable for reconstructing human evolutionary history, according to the study published on Thursday in the journal Science.

That's because fossilised bones, currently the main source of ancient DNA, are scarce even at sites where circumstantial evidence points to a prehistoric human presence.

"There are many caves where stone tools are found but no bones," said Matthias Meyer, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who co-authored the study.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Listen to the experts on the Stonehenge tunnel


Helen Ghosh, Kate Mavor and Duncan Wilson’s response to John Harris’s article about the Stonehenge tunnel (Letters, 27 April) entirely misses the point. The Stonehenge world heritage site landscape is unutterably precious and you tamper with it at your peril – you cannot make it come back. There should be perpetual inquiry here and the UK government, the National Trust and English Heritage either value that or they don’t. The tunnel scheme will clearly compromise the archaeology. Whose interest would that be in? It would be better to trust the experts. The joint statement from 21 archaeological specialists working at the Stonehenge site from 14 UK universities and the international Icomos-Unesco team report recently provided detailed and empirically based rebuttals of the tunnel plans and clearly highlight various dangers it poses to the area’s archaeology and sense of place.
Professor David Jacques
Blick Mead project director, University of Buckingham


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Digital App Brings To Life One Of Scotland's Key Prehistoric Settlement Sites

A new online digital resource has been launched to bring to life one of Scotland's most important prehistoric settlement landscapes.


Led by the University of Glasgow the new digital resource aims to widen public engagement with the ongoing archaeological research in Perthshire.

Supported by a grant from Historic Environment Scotland, the SERF Project app was developed in collaboration with the 3DVisLab at the University of Dundee. It incorporates 3D images, enabling the user to grab, rotate and closely examine some of the artefacts which have been unearthed at the hillfort sites. It also features drone aerial footage of the hillforts, superimposed with artist’s reconstructions of what the sites may have looked like.

Dr Tessa Poller, Director of the SERF hillforts project and an archaeologist at the University of Glasgow, said: "This app is about wider public engagement surrounding the work we are doing, to not only show people the geographical area where these hillforts lie but to also explain how, throughout the various discoveries we have already made, we are able to challenge perceptions about what life must have been like back then.


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Uffington hill carving was worshipped as 'sun horse' in prehistoric Britain


A huge prehistoric geoglyph depicting a galloping horse is traditionally thought to have been a symbol of ownership, territory or group identity for the prehistoric humans living on the Berkshire Downs. But now scholars are taking a second look at the 110-metre-long hillside carving. A new archaeological interpretation argues that it is a representation of a sun horse, a mythical beast that pulled the sun across the sky like a chariot.
The Uffington White Horse in the south of England is one of the oldest giant carved hill figures, or geoglyphs, in the world. The elongated, stylised horse is best visible from the sky, but was built millennia before a human would see it from that vantage point. It is thought to have been carved into the hillside, exposing the white chalk bedrock, in the late Second Millennium BCE or the early First Millennium BCE.
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Indonesian ‘Hobbits’ Not Related To Homo Erectus

The most comprehensive study on the bones of Homo floresiensis, a species of tiny human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, has found that they most likely evolved from an ancestor in Africa and not from Homo erectus as has been widely believed.


The study by The Australian National University (ANU) found Homo floresiensis, dubbed "the hobbits" due to their small stature, were most likely a sister species of Homo habilis -- one of the earliest known species of human found in Africa 1.75 million years ago.

Data from the study concluded there was no evidence for the popular theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, the only other early hominid known to have lived in the region with fossils discovered on the Indonesian mainland of Java.

Study leader Dr Debbie Argue of the ANU School of Archaeology & Anthropology, said the results should help put to rest a debate that has been hotly contested ever since Homo floresiensis was discovered.


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Primitive human 'lived much more recently'


A primitive type of human, once thought to be up to three million years old, actually lived much more recently, a study suggests.
The remains of 15 partial skeletons belonging to the species Homo naledi were described in 2015.
They were found deep in a cave system in South Africa by a team led by Lee Berger from Wits University.
In an interview, he now says the remains are probably just 200,000 to 300,000 years old.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Prehistoric cannibalism not just driven by hunger, study reveals

Humans are less nutritious than other forms of meat, findings show, indicating complex social motivations may be behind our ancestors’ cannibalism


Evidence of cannibalism found at a number of prehistoric sites indicate our ancestors as well as other hominins such as Neanderthals sometimes ate each other. 
Photograph: Nikola Solic/Reuters/Corbis

Thursday 6 April 2017 14.00 BST Last modified on Thursday 6 April 2017 14.14 BST
Cannibalism among prehistoric humans was more likely to have been driven by social reasons than the need for a hearty meal, research suggests.

Evidence of cannibalism, in the form of cut marks, tooth marks and tell-tale bone breakage has been found at a number of prehistoric sites, including in France, Spain and Belgium, revealing that our ancestors as well as other hominins such as Neanderthals and Homo antecessor at least occasionally ate each other.
But how common cannibalism was and to what extent it was driven by the need for nutrition has been a matter of debate, with remains from some sites showing evidence of ritual treatment.

The latest study adds weight to the idea that cannibalism might have been driven by more than the necessity of hunger.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Geologists reveal how violent 'Brexit 1.0' separated Britain from Europe

Bathymetry map of the strait of Dover showing prominent valley eroded through the centre. Note the rock ridge made of chalk in southern Britain and northern France which would have connected across the strait prior to breaching.
Photograph: Imperial College London/Professor Sanjeev Gupta and Dr Jenny Collier

Once attached to the European mainland, a new study shows how catastrophic flooding led to Britain becoming an island about 125,000 years ago

Brexit might be causing political chaos but whatever Theresa May has up her sleeve it is unlikely to be as catastrophic as the first separation of Britain from the continent.

A new study has revealed how giant waterfalls and, later, a megaflood severed our connection to France, resulting in the creation of island Britain and the watery moat of the English Channel.

“A chance series of geological events set the stage for Britain becoming an island,” said Sanjeev Gupta, professor of earth science at Imperial College London and co-author of the research.

“If it weren’t for these events, in a sense the history of Britain would have been completely different,” he added, pointing out that if the ridge had never been breached, Britain would have remained attached to northern France with easy access to the rest of Europe.

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Evidence of ancient 'geological Brexit' revealed


The UK has now started the formal process of leaving the EU, but scientists say they have evidence of a much earlier "Brexit".
They have worked out how a thin strip of land that once connected ancient Britain to Europe was destroyed.
The researchers believe a large lake overflowed 450,000 years ago, damaging the land link, then a later flood fully opened the Dover Strait.
The scars of these events can be found on the seabed of the English Channel.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

A decorated raven bone discovered in Crimea may provide insight into Neanderthal cognition


The cognitive abilities of Neanderthals are debated, but a raven bone fragment found at the Zaskalnaya VI (ZSK) site in Crimea features two notches that may have been made by Neanderthals intentionally to display a visually consistent pattern, according to a study by Ana Majkic at the Universite de Bordeaux and colleagues, published in the open access journal, PLOS ONE on March 29, 2017.
Majkic and colleagues conducted a mixed-methods study to assess whether the two extra notches on the ZSK raven bone were made by Neanderthals with the intention of making the final series of notches appear to be evenly spaced. First, researchers conducted a multi-phase experiment where recruited volunteers were asked to create evenly spaced notches in domestic turkey bones, which are similar in size to the ZSK raven bone. Morphometric analyses reveal that the equal spacing of the experimental notches was comparable to the spacing of notches in the ZSK raven bone, even when adjusted for errors in human perception. Archeological specimens featuring aligned notches from different sites were also analyzed and compared with the ZSK raven bone specimen.
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Iron Age chariot and horse found buried together in Yorkshire


The two Iron Age horses, once used to pull the chariot are examined on site by archaeologists 
Henry Hayhurst-France/David Wilson Homes

The Ancient Brits loved their wheels. Indeed they seem to have been so attached to their sports-car-style chariots that they may even have thought they could use them to get to the next world.

Academic knowledge about these elegant high status prehistoric British vehicles is now set to increase significantly, following the discovery of an ancient Briton buried inside his chariot in East Yorkshire.

Although around 20 other similar chariot graves have been found over the past century or so in the UK (mainly in Yorkshire), this new discovery, unearthed on the outskirts of the market town of Pocklington at the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds, is the only example ever excavated by modern archaeologists in which the two horses, used to pull the vehicle, were also interred.

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Crete’s Late Minoan Tombs Point Way To Early European Migration


Researchers at the University of Huddersfield have visited Rethymnon in Crete, to collect samples from the late Bronze Age Necropolis of Armenoi, one of the world's finest archaeological sites. DNA analysis of the ancient skeletal remains could provide fresh insights into the origins of European civilisation.


View of the Late Minoan necropolis at Armeni [Credit: West Crete]

Dr Ceiridwen Edwards and PhD student George Foody were permitted to take bone samples and teeth from over 110 of the more than 600 skeletons discovered in the Necropolis, a rock-hewn burial site from the Late Minoan period dating to more than 4,000 years ago. During their two-week visit, the Huddersfield researchers – part of a team that included colleagues from Oxford University and the Hellenic Archaeological Research Foundation – also took DNA swabs from more than 100 contemporary Cretans. They sought people whose grandmothers were from Crete in order to analyse links to the Minoan period.

When the ancient DNA samples are compared with those of modern Cretans, there is the potential to find solutions to many issues surrounding the ancient migration of people and culture to an island where the Bronze Age Minoans and their successors the Mycenaeans laid foundations for later European civilisation and culture.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Evidence Of Craft Specialisation In Bead Production In Upper Palaeolithic France?

The organization of bead production during the Aurignacian has significant implications for understanding the role of these artifacts in Upper Palaeolithic societies, and the evolution of symbolic behavior and social organization more generally.


French Upper Palaeolithic beads [Credit: University College London]

In a special issue of the Quaternary International on The Role of Art in Prehistoric Societies a case study of Early Aurignacian beads in ivory and soapstone are presented, and related production debris, from four sites (Abri Castanet, Abri de la Souquette, Grotte des Hyènes at Brassempouy, Grotte d’Isturitz) in the Aquitaine region of France.

The data from the case study are used to evaluate three hypothetical models of production and exchange in the given regional context, and are evaluated in terms of the current, common criteria for the recognition of craft specialization in the archaeological record.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

400,000-year-old fossil human cranium is oldest ever found in Portugal


 A large international research team, directed by the Portuguese archaeologist João Zilhão and including Binghamton University anthropologist Rolf Quam, has found the oldest fossil human cranium in Portugal, marking an important contribution to knowledge of human evolution during the middle Pleistocene in Europe and to the origin of the Neandertals.
The cranium represents the westernmost human fossil ever found in Europe during the middle Pleistocene epoch and one of the earliest on this continent to be associated with the Acheulean stone tool industry. In contrast to other fossils from this same time period, many of which are poorly dated or lack a clear archaeological context, the cranium discovered in the cave of Aroeira in Portugal is well-dated to 400,000 years ago and appeared in association with abundant faunal remains and stone tools, including numerous bifaces (handaxes).
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How a 400,000-year-old skull fragment hints at ancient 'unified humanity'

The mix of traits on this new specimen found in Portugal has encouraged researchers to rethink their way of describing and classifying ancient human fossils.



At one point, any new human fossil from hundreds of thousands of years ago might have drawn intrigue. If the new bones looked different from others that had been found before, they may have even been hailed as a new archaic human species, and given a taxonomic name in the genus Homo.

But some scientists say evidence is mounting that paleoanthropologists in the past may have been too quick to categorize hominin fossils as distinct species. 

So when a chunk of a 400,000-year-old skull was unearthed at the Gruta da Aroeira archaeological site in Portugal, the scientists who reveal its discovery in a paper published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences didn't try to assign a taxonomic name to the specimen as a reflection of that new thinking.

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Leopards Might Have Walked Alongside Neanderthals


Leopards may have roamed across Italy alongside Neanderthals, a new study finds.
Scientists analyzed an ancient, well-preserved bone discovered by amateur scientist Renato Bandera in the summer of 2014 and donated to the Paleoanthropological Museum of Po in San Daniele Po, Italy. The gray-brown fossil was the slender right shinbone of a leopard, and was found along the right bank of the Po River in northern Italy, near the harbor entrance of the city of Cremona. [In Photos: Rare and Beautiful Amur Leopards]
The region where this bone was discovered is well-known for its fossils. Other bones from this site have suggested that the area was once home to straight-tusked elephants, steppe bison, woolly mammoths, giant deer, rhinos and elk. However, fossils of carnivores such as bears, wolves, hyenas, foxes — and now, leopards — are very rare.
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Geoff Wainwright obituary

Influential archaeologist who helped to change the public experience of Stonehenge

Geoff Wainwright at Stonehenge, the proving ground for many of his ideas about the management of the historic environment. Photograph: Timothy Darvill

The young Geoff Wainwright once nervously approached Dame Kathleen Kenyonto inquire about employment prospects in archaeology. She apparently told him that without an inheritance or private income he had no hope. Luckily, he disregarded her advice and went on to become a big influence on archaeology in Britain and Europe.
Geoff, who has died aged 79, was fascinated by archaeology from an early age and in 1956, while still a student, excavated a Mesolithic settlement at Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire, two miles from his family home. His early excavations were traditional affairs, but led him to a realisation that empirical research required clearly defined questions, and methods that matched the scale of the problem.
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