Anthropology

Neanderthals ate dolphins and seals, researchers reveal

More than 80,000 years ago, Neanderthals were eating a wide range of food from the sea, according to the latest research, even hunting dolphins and seals. The study, which was led by the University of Gottingen in Germany, sheds new light on our extinct relatives. Excavation of a cave at Figueira Brava in Portugal provided evidence that Neanderthals looked to the sea for their food, as well as the land. “Their diet included mussels, crustaceans and fish as well as waterfowl and marine mammals such as dolphins and seals,” the researchers explain in a statement. A paper on the research has been published in the journal Science. Scientists were able to study deposits of calcite, a mineral, during the excavation of the cave, nearly 19 miles south of Lisbon. This meant that experts were able to date the excavated layers of the Figueira Brava cave to between 86,000 and 106,000 years, during the Neanderthal era. “The use of the sea as a source of food at that time has so far only been attributed to anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa,” the researchers explain. “Food from the sea is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other fatty acids that promote the development of brain tissue.” The findings increase our knowledge of Neanderthals. “The recent results of the excavation of Figueira Brava now confirm that if the habitual consumption of marine life played an important role in the development of cognitive abilities, this is as true for Neanderthals as it is for anatomically modern humans,” the researchers explained. The scientists have also noted that, more than 65,000 years ago, Neanderthals made paintings in three caves in the Iberian Peninsula. They also said that perforated and decorated seashells can be attributed to Neanderthals. In another recent study, experts analyzed seashells fashioned into tools that were discovered in Italy in 1949 to reveal how some Neanderthals had a much closer connection to the sea than was previously thought. In a separate study released last year, a team led by anthropologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University reported that many Neanderthals suffered from “swimmer’s ear,” bony growths that form in the ear canal through regular exposure to cold water or chilly air. Experts have been gaining new insight into Neanderthals in recent years. In 2018, for example, archaeologists in Poland identified the prehistoric bones of a Neanderthal child eaten by a large bird. In another study released in 2018, scientists suggested that climate change played a larger part in Neanderthals’ extinction than previously thought. Last year researchers in France reported that climate change drove some Neanderthals to cannibalism. The closest human species to homo sapiens, Neanderthals lived in Eurasia for around 350,000 years. Scientists in Poland report that Neanderthals in Europe mostly became extinct 35,000 years ago. However, there are a number of theories on the timing of Neanderthals’ extinction, with experts saying that it could have occurred 40,000, 27,000 or 24,000 years ago.

Fascinating!!  …until they just had to throw in the climate change part, without explaining how, or backing it up.  Typical..

Slow flow of human immigration may have doomed Neanderthals

What killed off the Neanderthals? It’s a big debate, and now a study says that no matter what the answer, they were doomed anyway. Our close evolutionary cousins enjoyed a long run in Europe and Asia, but they disappeared about 40,000 years ago after modern humans showed up from Africa. The search for an explanation has produced many theories including climate change, epidemics, or inability to compete with the modern humans, who may have had some mental or cultural edge. The new study isn’t intended to argue against those factors, but just to show that they’re not needed to explain the extinction, says Oren Kolodny of Stanford University. He and colleague Marcus Feldman present their approach in a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature Communications. They based their conclusion on a computer simulation that represented small bands of Neanderthals and modern humans in Europe and Asia. These local populations were randomly chosen to go extinct, and then be replaced by another randomly chosen population, with no regard for whether it represented the same species. Neither species was assumed to have any inherent advantage, but there was one crucial difference: Unlike the Neanderthals, the modern humans were supplemented by reinforcements coming in from Africa. It wasn’t a huge wave, but rather “a tiny, tiny trickle of small bands,” Kolodny said. Still, that was enough to tip the balance against the Neanderthals. They generally went extinct when the simulation was run more than a million times under a variety of assumptions. If survival was a game of chance, “it was rigged by the fact that there’s recurring migration,” Kolodny said. “The game was doomed to end with the Neanderthals losing.” Kolodny said the evidence that such migrations actually occurred is suggestive rather than conclusive. Such migrations would not be expected to leave much of an archaeological trace, he said. Experts in human origins said the paper could help scientists pin down the various factors that led to the Neanderthals’ demise. It fits in with other recent attempts to explain the extinction without assuming behavioral differences between Neanderthals and our ancestors, said Wil Roebroeks of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. The notion of such differences is largely disproven, he said. Katerina Harvati of the University of Tuebingen in Germany said while the new work could be useful in solving the extinction mystery, it doesn’t address the question of why modern humans dispersed from Africa into Europe and Asia. It’s important to figure out what was behind that, she said in an email.

Fascinating!!   🙂

9.7-million-year-old teeth discovery in Germany could re-write human history

The great ape teeth found in Eppelsheim last year could topple the understanding of our earliest history. Herbert Lutz, head of the excavation team, tells Deutsche Welle what the find means to him — and how it almost didn’t happen. A little over a year ago, a team of archaeologists in southwestern Germany uncovered two teeth where the Rhine River used to flow, in the town of Eppelsheim near Mainz. The news of the discovery was announced this week, because the team that performed the excavation wanted to make sure that what they had found was as significant as they initially thought. Herbert Lutz heads that team at the Natural History Museum in Mainz.

Fascinating!!  To read the rest of this article, click on the text above.   🙂

Scientists find oldest known specimens of the human species

The bones of ancient hunters unearthed in Morocco are the oldest known specimens of the human species, potentially pushing back the clock on the origin of modern Homo sapiens, scientists announced Wednesday. Found among stone tools and the ashes of ancient campfires, the remains date from about 300,000 years ago, a time when the Sahara was green and several early human species roamed the world, the scientists said. That makes them about 100,000 years older than any other fossils of Homo sapiens—the species to which all people today belong. “These dates were a big wow,” said anthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Leipzig, Germany. He led an international team of scientists who reported the discovery Wednesday in Nature. “This material represents the very roots of our species—the very oldest Homo sapiens found in Africa or anywhere.” Until now, most researchers believed that modern humankind emerged gradually from a population centered in East Africa around 200,000 years ago. Previous discoveries of early Homo sapiens fossils have been concentrated at sites in Ethiopia.

Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not Africa, scientists find

The history of human evolution has been rewritten after scientists discovered that Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not Africa. Currently, most experts believe that our human lineage split from apes around seven million years ago in central Africa, where hominids remained for the next five million years before venturing further afield. But two fossils of an ape-like creature which had human-like teeth have been found in Bulgaria and Greece, dating to 7.2 million years ago. The discovery of the creature, named Graecopithecus freybergi, and nicknameded ‘El Graeco’ by scientists, proves our ancestors were already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the earliest African hominid. An international team of researchers say the findings entirely change the beginning of human history and place the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans – the so-called Missing Link – in the Mediterranean region. At that time climate change had turned Eastern Europe into an open savannah which forced apes to find new food sources, sparking a shift towards bipedalism, the researchers believe. “This study changes the ideas related to the knowledge about the time and the place of the first steps of the humankind,” said Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. “Graecopithecus is not an ape. He is a member of the tribe of hominins and the direct ancestor of homo. “The food of the Graecopithecus was related to the rather dry and hard savannah vegetation, unlike that of the recent great apes which are leaving in forests. Therefore, like humans, he has wide molars and thick enamel. “To some extent this is a newly discovered missing link. But missing links will always exist , because evolution is infinite chain of subsequent forms. Probably El Graeco’s face will resemble a great ape, with shorter canines.” The team analysed the two known specimens of Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar tooth from Bulgaria. Using computer tomography, they were able to visualise the internal structures of the fossils and show that the roots of premolars are widely fused. “While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans,”, said lead researcher Professor Madelaine Böhme of the University of Tübingen. The lower jaw, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species was a hominid. The species was also found to be several hundred thousand years older than the oldest African hominid, Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in Chad. “We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said doctoral student Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who conducted this part of the study. Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added: “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.” During the period the Mediterranean Sea went through frequent periods of drying up completely, forming a land bridge between Europe and Africa and allowing apes and early hominids to pass between the continents. The team believe that evolution of hominids may have been driven by dramatic environmental changes which sparked the formation of the North African Sahara more than seven million years ago and pushed species further North. They found large amounts of Saharan sand in layers dating from the period, suggesting that it lay much further North than today. Professor Böhme added: “Our findings may eventually change our ideas about the origin of humanity. I personally don’t think that the descendants of Graecopithecus die out, they may have spread to Africa later. The split of chimps and humans was a single event. Our data support the view that this split was happening in the eastern Mediterranean – not in Africa. “If accepted, this theory will indeed alter the very beginning of human history.”

Indeed!!  This is definitely a bombshell revelation!  To read the rest of this article, and see some photos, click on the text above.  Fascinating!!   🙂

Fall from tree may have killed human ancestor Lucy, study suggests

The famous human ancestor known as Lucy walked the Earth, but it was her tree climbing that might have led to her demise, a new study suggests. An analysis of her partial skeleton reveals breaks in her right arm, left shoulder, right ankle and left knee — injuries that researchers say resulted from falling from a high perch such as a tree. Lucy likely died quickly, said John Kappelman, an anthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin, who published the findings Monday in the journal Nature. “I don’t think she suffered,” Kappelman said. But several other researchers, including Lucy’s discoverer, disagree. They contend most of the cracks in Lucy’s bones are well documented and came after her death from the fossilization process and natural forces such as erosion. How Lucy met her end has remained a mystery since her well-preserved fossil remains were unearthed more than four decades ago. Her discovery was significant because it allowed scientists to establish that ancient human ancestors walked upright before evolving a big brain. Lucy was a member of Australopithecus afarensis, an early human species that lived in Africa between about 4 million and 3 million years ago. The earliest humans climbed trees and walked on the ground. Lucy walked upright and occasionally used her long, dangling arms to climb trees. She was a young adult when she died. Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, called the study’s conclusion a “misdiagnosis.” The Texas researchers “appear to have focused only on the cracks that they could attribute to an imagined fall, ignoring the additional abundant cracks,” White said in an email. The split highlights the difficulty of pinpointing a cause of death from fossilized remains. Scientists rarely know how early humans died because skeletons are incomplete and bones tend to get crushed under sand and rocks. Over the years, Lucy’s discoverer Donald Johanson has tried to solve the mystery. Lucy’s skeleton, which is 40 percent complete, was recovered in Ethiopia in what was an ancient lake near fossilized remains of crocodiles, turtle eggs and crab claws. “There’s no definitive proof of how she died,” said Johanson of Arizona State University. The Texas team examined Lucy’s bones and used high-tech imaging. Kappelman said the scans revealed multiple broken bones and no signs of healing, suggesting the injuries occurred around the time of death. He reconstructed her final moments: The 3-foot-6-inch (1.06-meter) Lucy fell from at least 40 feet and hit the ground at 35 mph. She landed on her feet before twisting and falling. Such an impact would have caused internal organ damage. Fractures on her upper arms suggest she tried to break her fall. Kappelman theorized that Lucy’s walking ability may have caused her to be less adept at climbing trees, making her more vulnerable to falling from heights. Not everyone agrees that her tree-climbing skills were lacking. Other scientists point out that there have been documented falls by chimpanzees and orangutans, which spend more time in trees than Lucy’s species. “Without a time machine, how can one know that she didn’t just get unlucky and fall?” William Harcourt-Smith of the American Museum of Natural History said in an email.

Good point..  The fact is, nobody knows.  But, it is interesting!    🙂

Easter Island’s ancient civilization was not destroyed by warfare, experts say

New research conducted on artifacts from Easter Island is questioning the theory that the ancient civilization there was destroyed by warfare. Experts from Binghamton University studied hundreds of ancient items found on the shores of Easter Island, which is also known as Rapa Nui. Previously, the artifacts were thought to be spear points, but analysis reveals that they were likely general purpose tools. Carved from obsidian, or volcanic glass, thousands of the triangular objects, known as mata’a, litter the surface of the island. ‘We found that when you look at the shape of these things, they just don’t look like weapons at all,” explained Carl Lipo, professor of anthropology at Binghamton University and study lead, in a press release. “When you can compare them to European weapons or weapons found anywhere around the world when there are actually objects used for warfare, they’re very systematic in their shape. They have to do their job really well. Not doing well is risking death.” Lipo and his team analyzed “the shape variability” of a photo set of over 400 mata’a. “You can always use something as a spear. Anything that you have can be a weapon,” said Lipo. “But under the conditions of warfare, weapons are going to have performance characteristics. And they’re going to be very carefully fashioned for that purpose because it matters…You would cut somebody [with a mata’a], but they certainly wouldn’t be lethal in any way.” Some scientists have estimated, that, at its height, Easter Island’s population may have been as high as 20,000, but fell over centuries after the island’s trees and palms were cut down to build canoes and transport its famous giant statues. One theory suggests that the deforestation led to soil erosion, impacting the island’s ability to support wildlife and farming, and the collapse of its civilization. When the Dutch arrived at the island in 1722, its population was 3,000 or less. Only 111 inhabitants were living on Easter Island by 1877. Other experts, however, have questioned whether Easter Island ever supported a large population, citing instead the arrival of Europeans, who brought diseases and took islanders away as slaves. “What people traditionally think about the island is being this island of catastrophe and collapse just isn’t true in a pre-historic sense,” said Lipo. “Populations were successful and lived sustainably on the island up until European contact.” The Binghamton University study was published in the journal Antiquity.

Fascinating!!  Of course these pointy-headed electoids from Binghamton University had to throw a bunch of silly political correctness into it..  But, that aside…  very interesting!   L-)

Neanderthals wore eagle talons as jewelry 130,000 years ago

Long before they shared the landscape with modern humans, Neanderthals in Europe developed a sharp sense of style, wearing eagle claws as jewelry, new evidence suggests. Researchers identified eight talons from white-tailed eagles — including four that had distinct notches and cut marks — from a 130,000-year-old Neanderthal cave in Croatia. They suspect the claws were once strung together as part of a necklace or bracelet. “It really is absolutely stunning,” study author David Frayer, an anthropology professor at the University of Kansas, told Live Science. “It fits in with this general picture that’s emerging that Neanderthals were much more modern in their behavior.” [Top 10 Mysteries of the First Humans] The talons were first excavated more than 100 years ago at a famous sandstone rock-shelter site called Krapina in Croatia. There, archaeologists found more than 900 Neanderthal bones dating back to a relatively warm, interglacial period about 120,000 to 130,000 years ago. They also found Mousterian stone tools (a telltale sign of Neanderthal occupation), a hearth and the bones of rhinos and cave bears, but no signs of modern human occupation. Homo sapiens didn’t spread into Europe until about 40,000 years ago. The eagle talons were all found in the same archaeological layer, Frayer said, and they had been studied a few times before. But no one noticed the cut marks until last year, when Davorka Radov?i?, curator of the Croatian Natural History Museum, was reassessing some of the Krapina objects in the collection.

Cool!    🙂

Scientists say jaw bone fragment dating back 2.8 million years evidence of earlier evolution

A fragment of jaw bone dating back 2.8 million years is evidence that the first humans evolved more than 400,000 years earlier than previously thought, scientists reported Wednesday. The fossil, which was uncovered in the Afar region in northern Ethiopia, is dated very close to the time that the human, or “Homo” genus, or group, split away from more ape-like ancestors like Australopithecus afarensis, best known for the fossil skeleton Lucy discovered in 1974. Africa is a hotbed for human ancestor fossils, and scientists from Arizona State University have worked for years at the Ethiopia site, trying to find fossils from the dimly understood period when the Homo genus arose. Our species, called Homo sapiens, is the only surviving member of this group. The jaw fragment, which includes five teeth, was discovered in pieces one morning in January 2013 by Chalachew Seyoum, an Ethiopian graduate student at Arizona State. He said he spotted a tooth poking out of the ground while looking for fossils.

Fascinating!!   🙂