Sunday, October 30, 2011

Scientists digitise our prehistoric past

Researchers in Leipzig are compiling a ground-breaking digital archive of artefacts from around the world. Created to compare Neanderthals with modern man, the archive could revolutionise their field — which is exactly why many oppose it.

Visitors to Tel Aviv University are greeted by three skulls with seashells in their eye sockets and on a table behind them, a student completes a detailed drawing of the teeth in a human jaw.  The bone chamber lies behind a simple steel door on the ground floor, located right next to the delivery entrance of the anatomy institute at Tel Aviv University, what looks like a simple storeroom is actually one of the world’s largest repositories of human history.

Nestled on foam within blue storage drawers are all sorts of fragile bones, from femurs to mandibles, and phalanges to ribs, children’s skulls and a whole range of teeth. These are one-of-a-kind fossils that reveal a key episode in the history of the human species.

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