Friday, April 30, 2010

Humans Interbred with Neanderthals, Study Suggests

Humans today could be part Neanderthal, according to a new study that found our ancestors interbred with an extinct hominid species some millennia ago.

Neanderthals walked the Earth between about 130,000 and 30,000 years ago. While they co-existed with modern humans for a while, eventually they went extinct and we didn't. There has been intense scientific debate over how similar the two species were, and whether they might have mated with each other.

"The issue has been highly contentious for some time," said University of New Mexico genetic anthropologist Keith Hunley.

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lice hang ancient date on first clothes

For once lice are nice, at least for scientists investigating the origins of garments.

Using DNA to trace the evolutionary split between head and body lice, researchers conclude that body lice first came on the scene approximately 190,000 years ago. And that shift, the scientists propose, followed soon after people first began wearing clothing.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ancient Hereford ditch was 'royal city boundary'

A Bronze Age earth ditch has been found in Hereford which archaeologists say may have been used to mark the city's old tax boundary.

It is 5m (16ft) deep in places and was found using aerial, laser scanning equipment to map the land's contours.

The ditch has been filled in with earth over the years and now resembles only a slight depression at ground level.

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Nanostructure of 5,000-year-old mummy skin reveals insight into mummification process

Using cutting-edge microscopy techniques, researchers have gained insight into how human mummies can be extremely well-preserved for thousands of years. A team of scientists from Germany and Italy has investigated skin samples from Europe's oldest natural mummy, the 5,300-year-old "Iceman" who was buried in a glacier shortly after death in the Otzal Alps between Italy and Austria. The researchers found that the underlying structure of the mummy's skin is largely unaltered compared with the skin of a modern living human, likely maintaining its protective function due to dehydration.

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Stonehenge Down Under: Australians copy Neolithic rock structure to draw tourists

A full-sized replica of Stonehenge will be built on a beach in western Australia after a small town gave the green light for construction in a bid to draw tourists.

The shire council in Esperance, 460 miles south-west of Perth, has approved plans for the A$1.2m (£722,749) project, which it hopes will generate much-needed tourist revenue for the small coastal community – its only attraction at the moment is small piece of the US Skylab which fell onto a nearby farm in 1979.

"Stonehenge Down Under" is being spearheaded by the local Rotary club, which wants to build the structure from local pink granite on a council-owned site overlooking Twilight Beach, just outside the town.

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Ancient stones found in Devon

Archaeologists revealed today what they believe is a "spectacular" monument hundreds of years older than Stonehenge on one of the most remote peaks on Dartmoor in Devon.

The nine stones that make up the monument, which are up to 2.6 metres high but just 20cm wide, are lying flat but it is thought they originally stood in a long, thin line.

They were discovered at Cut Hill six years ago but experts have only just carbon-dated the stones to about 3,500BC. They appear to be aligned to mark the rising of the midsummer sun, which suggests they could have symbolic and astronomical purposes.

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Religious Beliefs Seen as Basis of Origins of Palaeolithic Art

The idea that palaeolithic art is based in religious beliefs isn't new. But for years, anthropologists, archaeologists and historians of art understood these artistic manifestations as purely aesthetic and decorative motives. Eduardo Palacio-Pérez, researcher at the University of Cantabria (UC), now reveals the origins of the theory.

"This theory is does not originate with the prehistorians, in other words, those who started to develop the idea that the art of primitive peoples was linked with beliefs of a symbolic-religious nature were the anthropologists," Eduardo Palacio-Pérez, author of the study and researcher at UC, said.

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Chinese Pigs 'Direct Descendants' of First Domesticated Breeds

Modern-day Chinese pigs are directly descended from ancient pigs which were the first to be domesticated in the region 10,000 years ago, a new archaeological and genetic study has revealed.

An international team of researchers, led by Durham University (UK) and the China Agricultural University, in Beijing, say their findings suggest a difference between patterns of early domestication and movement of pigs in Europe and parts of East Asia.

The research, published April 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, looked at the DNA sequences of more than 1,500 modern and 18 ancient pigs.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

“X-Woman” coexisted with Neanderthals and modern humans 40,000 years ago

Washington, March 25 (ANI): A new study has suggested that an unknown type of human, nicknamed “X-Woman,” coexisted with Neanderthals and our own species between 30,000 to 50,000 years ago.

According to a report in Discovery News, the as-of-yet-unnamed new human species represents the first time that a hominid has been described not from the structure of its fossilized bones, but from the sequence of its DNA.

Researchers focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), genes passed down from mothers to their children – hence the X-Woman nickname.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nine megalithic sites in England linked to death rituals

Nine megalithic sites in a remote part of Dartmoor (England), share features in common with Stonehenge, and may shed light on the meaning behind these prehistoric stone monuments, according to a report in the latest issue of British Archaeology. The Dartmoor megaliths, which were recently carbon-dated to around 3500 BCE, could predate Stonehenge, but both sites feature large standing stones that are aligned to mark the rising of the midsummer sun and the setting of the midwinter sun. Yet another Dartmoor stone monument, called Drizzlecombe, shares the same orientation. The ancient Brits were not necessarily sun worshippers, however.

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Social Networks for Archaeology

The power and importance of social networks are growing all the time, not least in the field of archaeology.

I thought that it would be useful to compile a list of these sites for archaeology. The list as it stands at the moment can be found here….

Obviously, this list is very incomplete at the moment, so if you know of any archaeological social network site that should be added, please give details on the form here…

Row of ancient stones found in Dartmoor ‘are older than Stonehenge’

A row of ancient stones that mirrors the path of the sun like Stonehenge but is up to 1,000 years older has been unearthed on Dartmoor.

The discovery of the megaliths has thrilled archaeologists and once again raised debate about the purpose of Stonehenge, which is 120 miles away on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.

The nine stones at Cut Hill, one of the highest points on Dartmoor in Devon, have been carbon-dated to around 3,500BC.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

'Java Man' takes age to extremes

New dating of Indonesian strata produces unexpected results

New age estimates for Homo erectus fossils on the Indonesian island of Java have physical anthropologists scratching their crania.

After convincing most of their colleagues that H. erectus may have persisted on the Indonesian island of Java as recently as 30,000 years ago — late enough to have coexisted in Asia with modern humans for more than 100,000 years — anthropologists presented new analyses April 14 suggesting the fossils in question may actually predate Homo sapiens by hundreds of thousands of years.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Supervolcano: How humanity survived its darkest hour

THE first sign that something had gone terribly wrong was a deep rumbling roar. Hours later the choking ash arrived, falling like snow in a relentless storm that raged for over two weeks. Despite being more than 2000 kilometres from the eruption, hominins living as far away as eastern India would have felt Toba's fury.

Toba is a supervolcano on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It has blown its top many times but this eruption, 74,000 years ago, was exceptional. Releasing 2500 cubic kilometres of magma - nearly twice the volume of mount Everest - the eruption was more than 5000 times as large as the 1980 eruption of mount St Helens in the US, making it the largest eruption on Earth in the last 2 million years (see "Blown away").

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Fury as Gormley pushes Tara for heritage honour

CONSERVATIONISTS have hit out at Green Party leader John Gormley after his department included the Hill of Tara on a shortlist of seven sites put forward for world heritage status.

Campaigners from Save Newgrange and Tara Watch accused the Government of failing to protect Newgrange – which already has the coveted Unesco title – and Tara, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.

The controversial M3 is passing just under a mile from the ancient hill, while other plans have been drawn up for the N2 Slane bypass only 1,600ft from the Newgrange-Brú na Bóinne complex.

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Do Dartmoor's ancient stones have link to Stonehenge?

LITTERED across the hills of Dartmoor in Devon, southern England, around 80 rows and circles of stones stand sentinel in the wild landscape. Now, striking similarities between one of these monuments and Stonehenge, 180 kilometres to the east, suggest they may be the work of the same people.

The row of nine stones on Cut Hill was discovered in 2004 on one of the highest, most remote hills of Dartmoor national park. "It is on easily the most spectacular hill on north Dartmoor," says Andrew Fleming, president of the Devon Archaeological Society. "If you were looking for a distant shrine in the centre of the north moor, that's where you would put it."

Ralph Fyfe of the University of Plymouth and independent archaeologist Tom Greeves have now carbon-dated the peat surrounding the stones. This suggests that at least one of the stones had fallen - or been placed flat on the ground - by between 3600 and 3440 BC, and another by 3350 to 3100 BC (Antiquity, vol 84, p 55).

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Brain Parts Found in Ancient Human Ancestor

Electromagnetic radiation revealed parts of the 1.9-million-year-old brain, as well as eggs of insects that fed on it.


A remnant of brain may be present in the remains of a new human ancestor.
Fossilized insect eggs whose larvae may have fed on the ancestor could also be present.
The 1.9-million-year-old hominid's species is thought to have given rise to modern humans.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Ancient Pre-Human Skeleton May Contain Shrunken Brain

A shrunken brain may potentially lie inside the fossil skull of a newfound candidate for the immediate ancestor to the human lineage, researchers now reveal.

This new species, dubbed Australopithecus sediba, was accidentally discovered in South Africa by the 9-year-old son of a scientist. Two members of this hominid were introduced to the world last week - a juvenile male and an adult female, who might have known each other in life and who could have met their demise by falling into the remains of the cave where they were discovered.

Preliminary results from scans of the extraordinarily preserved male skull now show the presence of what could be fossilized insect eggs and a brain remnant.

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New human species: Australopithecus sediba

A boy and his father were out walking around north of Johannesburg, South Africa. Luckily, the father was a paleoanthropologist and he knew the remains found by his son could be a major archeological discovery. It was! A new hominid species called Australopithecus sediba.

The bones of a four-foot, two-inch hominid boy were initially found by U.S. paleoanthropologist Lee R. Berger and his son Matthew.

Dr. Berger commented on his first reaction to his son’s discovery within the April 8, 2010 The New York Times article “New Hominid Species Discovered in South Africa.”

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Competition finds over a thousand prehistoric sites on Google Street View

Following the recent expansion of Google Street View to most of the UK's roads, the Megalithic Portal has created a comprehensive map of prehistoric and ancient sites, all found on the Street View service.

"I realised we could use our web resource to pinpoint ancient stones, barrows and other sites on Google Street View.", explains Andy Burnham, the founder of the Megalithic Portal. "I was soon hooked 'driving' up and down on the computer looking for ancient sites, so I launched a competition to see who could find the most sites."

Andy's challenge has been taken up enthusiastically by amateur archaeologists up and down the UK. In just four weeks they have found over 1000 ancient sites visible from the roadside, including 550 sites in England, and over 300 in Wales and Scotland put together. Amanda Gough from Cardiff is one of the volunteers: "This really gives you an idea of just how many ancient sites are still around and visible. Many people probably don't realise that they are driving or walking past ancient monuments on a regular basis. It's amazing to think that out there beside our busy roads is thousands of years of history just waiting to be discovered."

The Megalithic Portal has created a map of the Street View discoveries at

(You can view the full press release with examples here...)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Partial skeletons may represent new hominid

Nearly 2 million years ago, an adult and a child walking through the South African landscape somehow fell through openings in a partly eroded, underground cave and died. Today, that fatal plunge has led to their identification as representatives of a new hominid species — and a contentious debate among paleoanthropologists over the pair’s evolutionary relationship to modern humans.

In the April 9 Science, anthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and his colleagues assign newly discovered fossils from these ancient individuals to the species Australopithecus sediba. They propose that the species served as an evolutionary bridge from apelike members of Australopithecus to the Homo genus, which includes living people. In a local African tongue, sediba means fountain or wellspring, a reference to this species as a candidate ancestor of the Homo line.

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English megaliths linked to death rites

Dartmoor’s stones predate Stonehenge but share traits

Nine megaliths in a remote part of Dartmoor, England, share features in common with Stonehenge, and may shed light on the meaning behind these prehistoric stone monuments, according to a report in the latest issue of British Archaeology.

The Dartmoor megaliths, which were recently carbon-dated to around 3500 B.C., could predate Stonehenge, but both sites feature large standing stones that are aligned to mark the rising of the midsummer sun and the setting of the midwinter sun. Yet another Dartmoor stone monument, called Drizzlecombe, shares the same orientation.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Fossil skeletons may belong to an unknown human ancestor

The fossil remains found in a cave in South Africa could represent an evolutionary link between tree-dwelling apes and our earliest human ancestors to walk upright

Fossilised skeletons recovered from a deep underground cave in South Africa belong to a previously unknown species of human ancestor, scientists claim.

The partial skeletons of an adult female and a young male, aged 11 or 12, were found lying side by side in sediments that first covered their remains an estimated 1.9m years ago.

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IU's Carlson among international team of six scientists announcing new species of prehistoric human

Indiana University anthropologist Kristian J. Carlson today (April 8) joined an international team of six other scientists announcing discovery of the fossil remains of a new species of early human that could help rewrite the path of human evolution.

The two partial skeletons, dating from between 1.78 and 1.95 million years old, were discovered in South Africa and appear to represent features and attributes closer to humans -- the genus Homo -- than those from any other of our closest ancestors, the australopithecines. The new species, Australopithecus sediba, was announced today in the magazine Science by principal investigator Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and a team of six other researchers that included IU Bloomington's Carlson.

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New hominid shares traits with Homo species

Two partial skeletons unearthed from a cave in South Africa belong to a previously unclassified species of hominid that is now shedding new light on the evolution of our own species, Homo sapiens, researchers say. The newly documented species, called Australopithecus sediba, was an upright walker that shared many physical traits with the earliest known Homo species—and its introduction into the fossil record might answer some key questions about what it means to be human.

The fossils are between 1.95 and 1.78 million years old, and in this week's issue of Science, the peer-reviewed journal published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society, two reports describe both the physical characteristics of this new Australopithecus species as well as the ancient environment in which it lived and died. The emerging picture is one of a hominid with a bone structure similar to the earliest Homo species, but who employed it more as an Australopithecus, like the famed "Lucy," would have.

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Neue Hominidenart in Südafrika entdeckt

Ein internationales Team mit Forschern aus der Schweiz, Südafrika, Australien und den USA schreibt an der Entwicklungsgeschichte der Menschheit. Die Forschenden haben in Südafrika eine neue Hominidenart entdeckt.

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Ötzi-Sonderausstellung im Jahr 2011 geplant

Am 19.09.2011 wird der Mann aus dem Eis 20 Jahre alt – zumindest in seinem zweiten Leben als natürliche Eismumie und Weltsensation. Das Südtiroler Archäologiemuseum in Bozen widmet seinem "Star" deshalb im kommenden Jahr 2011 eine umfassende Sonderausstellung.

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South African fossils could be new hominid species

The remarkable remains of two ancient human-like creatures (hominids) have been found in South Africa.

The fossils of a female adult and a juvenile male - perhaps mother and son - are just under two million years old.

They were uncovered in cave deposits at Malapa not far from Johannesburg.

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Scientists come face to face with 2 million-year-old 'missing link'

HE WAS less than 13 years old when he met a sudden death, apparently plummeting tens of metres into a deep cave in southern Africa.

There he lay for almost two million years, until a nine-year-old boy searching for fossils with his archaeologist father spotted a piece of human-like collar bone.

The unearthing of the ancient child's skull and skeletal remains, and those nearby of an older female - perhaps his mother - is being hailed as one of the most significant discoveries in human archaeology and one that could rewrite our evolutionary past.

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Fossil finds give clues to ancestors

THE two-million-year-old skeletal remains of a juvenile male and an adult female, discovered in a South African cave, may be those of the direct ancestors of the first humans to walk the earth.

The claim -- from an international team led by James Cook University geologist Paul Dirks and Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University -- is a big one.

The newfound species has been named Australopithecus sediba, a blend of the established Latin term for "southern ape" and the word for "wellspring" in the SeSotho language.

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