Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Get Ready for More Proto-Humans

Today at Discovery News you can read about the earliest recognized species of Homo, the first known member of our genus. This latest addition to the human family, Homo gautengensis, was from South Africa and measured just 3 feet tall. It spent a lot of time in trees and had big teeth suitable for chewing plant material. H. gautengensis emerged over 2 million years ago, but died out at around 600,000 years ago.

The past few years have seen an explosion in the discovery of early human ancestors. Over just the past couple of months alone, we were presented with X-Woman and Australopithecus sediba. One reason for the explosion is improved analysis methods, often based on prior finds, DNA work, and a better understanding of where such remains might exist.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Derbyshire Iron Age bones were of pregnant woman

Tests carried out on a skeleton discovered at an archaeological dig in Derbyshire have found it was that of a pregnant woman.

Experts said they were surprised by the female find because the site, near Monsal Dale in the Peak District, had been believed to be a military scene.

Now, extra lottery funding means there can be a second dig at the Fin Cop hill fort site to find out more.

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Cyprus: crews stumble on 2-millennia-old coffins

NICOSIA, Cyprus – Work crews in Cyprus have accidentally unearthed four rare clay coffins estimated to be some 2,000 years old, the country's Antiquities Department director said Wednesday.

Maria Hadjicosti said the coffins adorned with floral patterns date from the east Mediterranean island's Hellenistic to early Roman periods, between 300 B.C. and 100 A.D.

She said the coffins were dug up this week from what is believed to be an ancient cemetery in the eastern coastal resort of Protaras.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Welcome to the family, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis

WE HUMANS like to see ourselves as special, at the very pinnacle of all life. That makes us keen to keep a safe distance between ourselves and related species that threaten our sense of uniqueness. Unfortunately, the evidence can sometimes make that difficult.

Decades ago, when the primatologist Jane Goodall told anthropologist Louis Leakey that chimps used sticks to scoop up termites, he wrote: "Now we must redefine tool, redefine man or accept chimpanzees as human." The news this month that humans and Neanderthals interbred (see "Revealed: the cavemen that live on in all of us") presents us with a similar conundrum - only this one lies far closer to home. Must we now consider Neanderthals as one of our own, another twig on the branch called Homo sapiens?

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Neanderthals not the only apes humans bred with

A LONG-awaited rough draft of the Neanderthal genome has revealed that our own DNA contains clear evidence that early humans interbred with Neanderthals.

Such interminglings have been suspected in the past, but there's more: Neanderthals were probably not the only other Homo species early Homo sapiens mixed with.

These findings call into question the familiar story that modern humans left Africa around 100,000 years ago and swept aside all other Homo species as they made their way around the globe. "It was a very simple story," says João Zilhão at the University of Bristol, UK. "Its simplicity suggested it would not be true." A more likely scenario is that as H. sapiens migrated, they met and interbred with other Homo species that have all since died out.

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Ancient DNA set to rewrite human history

Discovery that some humans are part-Neanderthal reveals the promise of comparing genomes old and new.

The worlds of ancient and modern DNA exploration have collided in spectacular fashion in the past few months. Last week saw the publication of a long-awaited draft genome of the Neanderthal, an archaic hominin from about 40,000 years ago1. Just three months earlier, researchers in Denmark reported the genome of a 4,000-year-old Saqqaq Palaeo-Eskimo2 that was plucked from the Greenland permafrost and sequenced in China using the latest technology.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This Is Your Brain On Neanderthal

Last week, geneticists dumped on us the somewhat disturbing fact that most of us have some Neanderthals in our family tree. Not a lot of them, mind you, but a few nonetheless.

Now, courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, you can get some idea of what your inner Neanderthal might look like.

The museum is releasing the MEanderthal iPhone app. It's a mobile version of a facial morphing station in the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

So we're part Neanderthal. What now?

So now we know: Many, if not most, people alive today have some Neanderthal ancestry.

This finding, which comes from analysis of the Neanderthal genome, has taken many experts by surprise.

It tells us there was some mating between modern humans - our own lineage - and the Neanderthals before the latter went extinct some 24,000 years ago.

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To mate, or not to mate: The Neanderthal question

There are moments in science when spectacular new evidence stops us in our tracks and makes us think and rethink.

But it is best to wait and let the dust settle to allow a good process of digestion that will not give us unwanted ulcers in the future.

That process has to sift out the news-grabbing headlines from the reality of the discovery, since the natures of science and journalism are different and need not follow similar agendas.

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Some Neanderthal DNA Passed To Humans Say Genome Researchers

By analyzing DNA they extracted from three Neanderthal bones over 40,000 years old discovered in a cave in Croatia, scientists from Europe and the US have revealed in intricate detail how humans are related to this long-extinct relative of ours.

You can read about the work behind the finding that between 1 and 4 per cent of the DNA of non-African humans came from Neanderthals in the 7 May issue of Science.

Neanderthals are the closest evolutionary relatives of modern day humans. They lived in large parts of Europe and western Asia before they became extinct about 30,000 years ago, although the reason for that is unclear.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Crete fortifications debunk myth of peaceful Minoan society

A team of archaeologists have discovered a fortification system at the Minoan town of Gournia, a discovery which rebukes the popular myth that the Minoans were a peaceful society with no need for defensive structures.

The team's efforts were led by Professor Vance Watrous and Matt Buell of the University at Buffalo. Located on the north coast, Gournia was in use during the neo-palatial period (ca. 1700-1450 BC), when Minoan civilization was at its height. The town sits atop a low ridge with four promontories on its coastline. Two of these promontories end in high vertical cliffs that give the town a defensive advantage, and it is here that the fortification system was discovered.

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Neandertal genome yields evidence of interbreeding with humans

Some people don’t just have a caveman mentality; they may actually carry a little relic of the Stone Age in their DNA.

A new study of the Neandertal genome shows that humans and Neandertals interbred. The discovery comes as a big surprise to researchers who have been searching for genetic evidence of human-Neandertal interbreeding for years and finding none.

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Neanderthal genes 'survive in us'

Many people alive today possess some Neanderthal ancestry, according to a landmark scientific study.

The finding has surprised many experts, as previous genetic evidence suggested the Neanderthals made little or no contribution to our inheritance.

The result comes from analysis of the Neanderthal genome - the "instruction manual" describing how these ancient humans were put together.

Between 1% and 4% of the Eurasian human genome seems to come from Neanderthals.

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Il y a du Neandertal en nous

Il y a du Neandertal en nous. Du moins si nous sommes "non africains". Dans ce cas, 1 % à 4 % de notre matériel génétique a pour origine Homo neanderthalensis. Nous nous croyions simples cousins, issus d'un ancêtre commun. Nous nous découvrons aussi métissés avec cet humain disparu. C'est la conclusion la plus spectaculaire tirée de l'étude de l'ADN prélevé sur trois os de néandertaliens vieux d'environ 40 000 ans, issus d'une grotte croate.

Pour la première fois, le génome nucléaire d'un homme fossile est séquencé, à hauteur de 60%. Son analyse est publiée, au terme de quatre années d'efforts, dans la revue Science, vendredi 7 mai, sous la direction de Svante Pääbo, de l'Institut Max-Planck d'anthropologie évolutionniste de Leipzig. C'est à lui que l'on doit la première analyse génétique d'un néandertalien, en 1997.

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Der Neandertaler in uns

Die Analyse des Neandertaler-Genoms ergibt: Menschen und Neandertaler haben sich doch vermischt

Erstmals liegt eine Version der Genomsequenz einer ausgestorbenen Menschenart vor. Forscher des Max-Planck-Institutes für evolutionäre Anthropologie in Leipzig präsentieren gemeinsam mit einem internationalen Forschungsteam einen ersten Entwurf der Gensequenz des vor rund 30.000 Jahren ausgestorbenen Neandertalers. Erste Analysen von vier Milliarden Basenpaaren weisen darauf hin, dass Neandertaler im Genom einiger moderner Menschen Spuren hinterlassen haben.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

No scientists had to die for this paradigm shift!

In Science Ann Gibbons has a very long reported piece, Close Encounters of the Prehistoric Kind. It’s well worth reading, but behind a pay wall. If you don’t have access though, I want to spotlight one particular section:

The discovery of interbreeding in the nuclear genome surprised the team members. Neandertals did coexist with modern humans in Europe from 30,000 to 45,000 years ago, and perhaps in the Middle East as early as 80,000 years ago (see map, p. 681). But there was no sign of admixture in the complete Neandertal mitochondrial (mtDNA) genome or in earlier studies of other gene lineages…And many researchers had decided that there was no interbreeding that led to viable offspring. “We started with a very strong bias against mixture,” says co-author David Reich of Harvard Medical School in Boston. Indeed, when Pääbo first learned that the Neandertal DNA tended to be more similar to European DNA than to African DNA, he thought, “Ah, it’s probably just a statistical fluke.” When the link persisted, he thought it was a bias in the data. So the researchers used different methods in different labs to confirm the result. “I feel confident now because three different ways of analyzing the data all come to this conclusion of admixture,” says Pääbo.

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Neanderthals live on in DNA of humans

The first comparison of the complete genomes of humans and Neanderthals reveals that up to 4% of our DNA is Neanderthal

There is a little Neanderthal in nearly all of us, according to scientists who compared the genetic makeup of humans with that of our closest ancient relatives.

Most people living outside Africa can trace up to 4% of their DNA to a Neanderthal origin, a consequence of interbreeding between the two groups after the great migration from the contintent.

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Neanderthal gene found in human DNA of people living out of Africa

They have been extinct for 30,000 years, but a small part of the Neanderthals lives on in the DNA of every person with ancestors outside Africa.

The genetic code of Neanderthal Man has revealed that Homo sapiens mated with our closest evolutionary relatives soon after migrating out of Africa, leaving traces that can still be detected in human DNA.

A comparison of the genomes of the two human species has shown that between 1 and 4 per cent of the DNA of modern non-Africans has a Neanderthal origin, while no Neanderthal genes can be detected in Africans today. This indicates that the first modern humans to leave the continent must have interbred with Neanderthals they encountered, probably in the Middle East. Their descendants went on to populate the other continents.

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Humans interbred with Neanderthals: genome analysis

Modern humans most likely interbred with Neanderthals, according to landmark genome analysis that shed light on how we evolved differently from our prehistoric cousins.

"We can now say that, in all probability, there was gene flow from Neanderthals to modern humans," said Richard Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz, one of the leaders of the research.

The research found that as much as four percent of the modern human genome seems to be from Neanderthals.

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Evidence Suggests Early Humans Mated with Neanderthals

Researchers in Leipzig have successfully sequenced the genetic code of a Neanderthal, and found some overlap with modern-day Europeans. The finding provides insight into the evolution of humans -- and could be a blow to racists.

An international team led by scientists based at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have successfully sequenced the Neanderthal genome, the first time the genetic code of an extinct human relative has been decoded.

By comparing the Neanderthal genome to modern human genes, the researchers say, it's possible to isolate the parts of our genetic code that makes humans human -- and tell once and for all whether humans and Neanderthals may once have mated. "Having a first version of the Neanderthal genome fulfils a long-standing dream," Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Director Svante Pääbo said in an announcement. "For the first time now we can identify genetic features that set us apart from all other organisms, including our closest evolutionary relatives."

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Complete Neanderthal genome sequenced

Researchers have produced the first whole genome sequence of the 3 billion letters in the Neanderthal genome, and the initial analysis suggests that up to 2 percent of the DNA in the genome of present-day humans outside of Africa originated in Neanderthals or in Neanderthals' ancestors.

The international research team, which includes researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health, reports its findings in the May 7, 2010, issue of Science.

The current fossil record suggests that Neanderthals, or Homo neanderthalensis, diverged from the primate line that led to present-day humans, or Homo sapiens, some 400,000 years ago in Africa. Neanderthals migrated north into Eurasia, where they became a geographically isolated group that evolved independently from the line that became modern humans in Africa. They lived in Europe and western Asia, as far east as southern Siberia and as far south as the Middle East.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Dig for archaeological victory at new road site

KENT NEWS: Britain’s largest archaeological dig is now under way in Thanet and will last until work begins on a new road in June.

The big dig has already unearthed a multitude of artefacts and is expected to reveal even more secrets about Kent’s past.

And to ensure every step is covered, it is being captured on film for a BBC Two documentary.

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Resurrected: woolly mammoth blood protein

Floating in a test tube in a lab in Winnipeg, Canada, is a tiny speck of woolly mammoth – a blood protein which may explain how the animals coped with the cold of an ice age.

It is one of the first proteins from a long-dead organism to be resurrected in a living cell. Other extinct animals, including Neanderthals, are sure to follow suit. Such techniques will make it possible to explore exactly how extinct animals lived, rather than making educated guesses based on reconstructed gene sequences.

Woolly mammoths died out about 3500 years ago. They shared an African ancestor with elephants around 7 million years ago, before moving north between 1 and 2 million years ago.

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Respect Your Elders, Human!

Neanderthals were using jewelry like ancient Yankees caps before Homo sapiens arrived, and hominids had kitchens and workshops nearly a million years ago.

We Homo sapiens consider ourselves pretty special, with our symbolic art, abstract thinking, and highly organized societies. But evidence is mounting that these hallmarks of modern human behavior may have existed in earlier hominids.

In Spanish caves once occupied by Neanderthals, archaeologist João Zilhão of the University of Bristol unearthed punctured scallop shells crusted with mineral pigments: Neanderthal jewelry. Painted with reds and yellows, the shells may have been worn as pendants, perhaps conveying social information about the wearer to other members of the group. “It’s like putting on your Yankees cap when you go to the stadium so people know who you are,” Zilhão says.

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“Multiregionalism vs. Out of Africa”

John Hawks has a post up, Multiregional evolution lives!, in response to Rex Dalton’s reporting on Neandertal-human admixture. He notes:

These ongoing studies are concluding that present-day genetic variation is inconsistent with a simple model where a random-mating ancestral population gives rise to today’s global population by means of a staged out-of-Africa dispersal. They next look at a model with some substantial (possibly complete) isolation between ancient human populations followed by a subsequent out-of-Africa dispersal. They show that this model fits the data significantly better.
So far, so good.

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