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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Neolithic madness - the clock keeps on going back 2013

This one will be a very long post, but it's full of exciting news, so I hope you enjoy it. 
  1. Neanderthals had knowledge of plants' healing qualities: study 
  2. Unique Neandertal arm morphology due to scraping, not spearing: study 
  3. Archeologists discover traces of ancient civilization in Chinese desert
  4. The prehistoric trawlermen: Our ancestors mastered deep-sea fishing 42,000 years ago, cave find reveals
  5. Shared Genes With Neanderthal Relatives: Modern East Asians Share Genetic Material With Prehistoric Denisovans 
  6. Neanderthals were ancient mariners 
  7. Oldest obsidian bracelet reveals amazing craftsmen's skills in the eighth millennium BC 
  8. Prehistoric human populations prospered before the agricultural boom 
  9. Archaeologists unearth 4,200-year-old fortification, unique in continental Europe

Neanderthals had knowledge of plants' healing qualities: study

July 18, 2012
An international team of researchers, led by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the University of York, has provided the first molecular evidence that Neanderthals not only ate a range of cooked plant foods, but also understood its nutritional and medicinal qualities.
Their results, published in Naturwissenschaften – The Science of Nature this week, provide another twist to the story - the first molecular evidence for medicinal plants being used by a Neanderthal individual.The researchers say the starch granules and carbohydrate markers in the samples, plus evidence for plant compounds such as azulenes and coumarins, as well as possible evidence for nuts, grasses and even green vegetables, argue for a broader use of ingested plants than is often suggested by stable isotope analysis.
Earlier research by members of this team had shown that the Neanderthals in El Sidrón had the bitter taste perception gene. Now trapped within dental calculus researchers found molecular evidence that one individual had eaten bitter tasting plants.source
My comment: So let's see - they cooked, they used medicinal plants, they produced art and tools. They interbred with Homo Sapiens. So how exactly are they different than us?

Unique Neandertal arm morphology due to scraping, not spearing: study

July 18, 2012
Compared with modern and most prehistoric Homo sapiens, Neanderthal skeletons have significantly overdeveloped right arms. In some cases, their upper arm bones are as much as 50% stronger on their right side than their left.
Biological anthropologists have previously argued that this was the result of right-handed Neanderthals using spears to hunt big game.
The new study suggests that Neanderthal skeletal asymmetry may have been the result of a less glamorous subsistence task. (..) -  that Neanderthals may have spent hours scraping animal hides using stone tools possibly for clothing production. That would have been an arduous and repetitive task, essential in the cold conditions in which they lived.
(..) one-handed scraping tasks that simulated the processing of animal hides to be used as clothing required far more muscular activity on the right side of the body in precisely those areas which would lead to over-development of the upper-right arm. This suggests something other than hunting, and quite possibly the scraping of animal skins, was a task which occupied large amounts of the Neanderthals’ time, and influenced the unique morphology of their upper body.
There is also the possibility that more Neanderthals than we think were left-handed. This seems unlikely, however.  source 
My comment: Sounds plausible. If you live in cold weather, the clothing is essential for the survival. So it makes sense that the while tribe will take their time to prepare that clothing.


Archeologists discover traces of ancient civilization in Chinese desert

2011-10-18 11:24:58
HOHHOT, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- Archeologists have discovered 10 sites of ancient civilization in the Badain Jaran Desert, China's third largest desert located in northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

An archeological team composed of 11 experts from Inner Mongolia, Beijing and Sichuan have unearthed large quantities of stone and pottery handicrafts dating back 5,000 years from the sites, which, the experts believe, indicate civilization once flourished in the desert.

Experts say one of the most distinguished findings was a black-red painted pottery jar, which represents Neolithic art that dates back 4,500 years. The experts said stone wares made of flint and agate were found in all 10 sites. source
My comment: Quite interesting considering the civilisation north of the Danube also was famous for its black-red painted pottery. A coincidence?

The prehistoric trawlermen: Our ancestors mastered deep-sea fishing 42,000 years ago, cave find reveals

Humans mastered the art of catching fast-moving, deep-water fish such as tuna more than 40,000 years ago, archaeologists revealed today.
A team of Australian experts have uncovered evidence of the practice in a small cave at the eastern end of East Timor, north of Australia, which contained the bones of more than 2,800 fish.
Some were caught as long as 42,000 years ago.
They also found the world's earliest recorded fish hook, made of shell and dating from between 23,000 and 16,000 years ago, during excavations at the Jerimalai cave site.
 source
My comment: Ok, this is quite cool. 42 000 years ago is quite a long time ago. I'm now reading a book dating back to the 60s, in which they try to explain how the Thracians from 3000-4000 years ago had already the idea of child-care (??? go figure why they wouldn't). The very idea they didn't have it, is ridiculous, considering humans managed to catch tuna fish(a big, fast and deep-water fish) 40k years ago. This just goes to show how much archaeology changed in the past 50 years.

Shared Genes With Neanderthal Relatives: Modern East Asians Share Genetic Material With Prehistoric Denisovans

ScienceDaily (Nov. 1, 2011) — During human evolution our ancestors mated with Neanderthals, but also with other related hominids. In this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Uppsala University are publishing findings showing that people in East Asia share genetic material with Denisovans, who got the name from the cave in Siberia where they were first found.
Previous studies have found two separate hybridization events between so-called archaic humans (different from modern humans in both genetics and morphology) and the ancestors of modern humans after their emergence from Africa: hybridization between Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans outside of Africa and hybridization between Denisovans and the ancestors of indigenous Oceanians. The Uppsala scientists' study demonstrates that hybridization also occurred on the East Asian mainland.

Because they find Denisova-related gene variants in Southeast Asia and Oceania, but not in Europe and America, the researchers suggest that hybridization with Denisova man took place about 20,000-40,000 years ago, but could also have occurred earlier. This is long after the branch that became modern humans split off from the branch that led to Neandertals and Denisovans some 300,000-500,000 years ago. source
My comment: So basically, the 3 types of humans lived and excelled for minimum 250 000 years separately, until suddenly, they started to interbreed...I find it odd that those "mixing" events are considered as separate acts. It just makes no sense. That there was interbreeding, I agree. But something is missing to the story.  It makes much more sense that the 3 population interbred every time an opportunity presented (which is not that often, considering the low population density at this period and the tendency of ancient societies to remain closed)
A more recent article on this : Skulls of early humans carry telltale signs of inbreeding, study says - " Buried for 100,000 years at Xujiayao in the Nihewan Basin of northern China, the recovered skull pieces of an early human exhibit a now-rare congenital deformation that indicates inbreeding might well have been common among our ancestors, new research from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Washington University in St. Louis suggests. "

Neanderthals were ancient mariners


 29 February 2012 by Michael Marshall

IT LOOKS like Neanderthals may have beaten modern humans to the seas. Growing evidence suggests our extinct cousins criss-crossed the Mediterranean in boats from 100,000 years ago.
Their distinctive "Mousterian" stone tools are found on the Greek mainland and, intriguingly, have also been found on the Greek islands of Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos. That could be explained in two ways: either the islands weren't islands at the time, or our distant cousins crossed the water somehow.

Now, George Ferentinos of the University of Patras in Greece says we can rule out the former. Ferentinos compiled data that showed sea levels were 120 metres lower 100,000 years ago, because water was locked up in Earth's larger ice caps. But the seabed off Greece today drops down to around 300 metres, meaning that when Neanderthals were in the region, the sea would have been at least 180 metres deep (Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2012.01.032).

In 2008 he found similar stone tools on Crete, which he says are at least 130,000 years old. Crete has been an island for some 5 million years and is 40 kilometres from its closest neighbour - suggesting far more ambitious journeys.
Even if Ferentinos is right, the Neanderthals were probably not the first hominin seafarers. One million-year-old stone tools have been found on the Indonesian island of Flores (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature 08844). source
My comment: And they were sea-faring as well... Again, not much different than us, just started much earlier than we did. 

Oldest obsidian bracelet reveals amazing craftsmen's skills in the eighth millennium BC 

December 21, 2011-Researchers from the Institut Français d'Etudes Anatoliennes in Istanbul and the Laboratoire de Tribologie et de Dynamiques des Systèmes have analyzed the oldest obsidian bracelet ever identified, discovered in the 1990s at the site of Aşıklı Höyük, Turkey. Using high-tech methods developed by LTDS to study the bracelet's surface and its micro-topographic features, the researchers have revealed the astounding technical expertise of craftsmen in the eighth millennium BC. Their skills were highly sophisticated for this period in late prehistory, and on a par with today's polishing techniques.  source

My comment: For me, there's no mystery about which civilisation produced the bracelet, since we have evidences of thracian/pelasgian cities dated at the 8th millennium (I think) - if they were able to produce two-floors buildings, they surely knew how to polish the obsidian. 

Prehistoric human populations prospered before the agricultural boom

October 19, 2012
Major prehistoric human population expansions in three continents may have begun before the Neolithic period—around 15–11,000 years ago in Africa, from around 13,000 years ago in Europe and around 12–8,000 years ago in the Americas. Agriculture is thought to have first developed in the Fertile Crescent of West Asia around 12–11,000 years ago, and was then developed independently over the next few thousand years in other regions.
The data imply that major population expansions took place after the Last Glacial Maximum (the peak of the last ice age) but before the Neolithic period. The increase in population size was probably one of the driving forces that led to the introduction of agriculture, turning it from a supplementary food source to the primary one. source

My comment: That one is quite interesting. But it might also imply that agriculture was developed even earlier than thought. If dogs were domesticated 33 000 years ago...

Archaeologists unearth 4,200-year-old fortification, unique in continental Europe

September 27, 2012
The archaeological excavations carried out this year at the site of La Bastida (Totana, Murcia, in Spain) have shed light on an imposing fortification system, unique for its time. The discovery, together with all other discoveries made in recent years, reaffirm that the city was the most advanced settlement in Europe in political and military terms during the Bronze Age (ca. 4,200 years ago), and is comparable only to the Minoan civilisation of Crete. Similar characteristics have not been observed in other constructions of the Bronze Age, with three-metre thick walls, square towers originally measuring up to seven metres, a monumental entrance and an ogival arched postern gate; a fully conserved architectural element unique in Europe in that period.

The arch is in very good conditions and is the first one to be found in Prehistoric Europe. Precedents can be found in the second city of Troy (Turkey) and in the urban world of the Middle East (Palestine, Israel and Jordan), influenced by the civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. This indicates that people from the East participated in the construction of the fortification. These people would have reached La Bastida after the crisis which devastated their region 4,300 years ago. It was not until some 400 to 800 years later that civilisations like the Hittites and Mycenaeans, or city-states such as Ugarit, incorporated these innovative methods into their military architecture.
(..) These large houses and public buildings were alternated with other smaller constructions, all separated by entries, passageways and squares.  source
My comment: As impressed as I am (and I am), I must say that the city is not unique - on the Danube in Bulgaria they discovered a city also dated approx. 4500-4200BC, which was very developed and fortified for its time. Of course, cosidering the lack of good publicity for the Bulgarian city and the excellent publicity for the Spanish one, it's hard to judge which one is more unique. But in any case, if we have 2 such cities on 3000 km distance, we probable have even more. The question for me is, who were they defending from. Because you don't build such fortifications, unless you're very scared

Other news:

Were Some Neandertals Brown-Eyed Girls? -
"The new study, to be published in the American Journal of Human Biology later this spring, looks at the genomes of three female Neandertals from Croatia. 
A particular form of the gene known as TPCN2, for example, bestows brown hair in modern humans; any other form means hair that's another color." - Wouldn't it be cool if they were blue eyed and blond haired. How about this for an irony?

Earliest music instruments found - "Researchers have identified what they say are the oldest-known musical instruments in the world. The flutes, made from bird bone and mammoth ivory, come from a cave in southern Germany which contains early evidence for the occupation of Europe by modern humans - Homo sapiens. Scientists used carbon dating to show that the flutes were between 42,000 and 43,000 years old." 


Ancient language discovered on clay tablets found amid ruins of 2800 year old Middle Eastern palace source

Dog skull dates back 33,000 years - " An ancient dog skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than with a single domestication event."
Research team finds evidence of red ochre use by Neanderthals 200,000 years ago January 24, 2012 by Bob Yirka

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-01-team-evidence-red-ochre-neanderthals.html#jCp
Research team finds evidence of red ochre use by Neanderthals 200,000 years ago - "Until recently, archeologists have thought of Neanderthals, an early relative of humans, as thick, slow thinking and likely uncreative. Now, new evidence dispels part of that image. Archeologists digging in the Netherlands have unearthed flint and bone fragments from 200,000 years ago that have remnants of red ochre on them, indicating that Neanderthals were using the material much earlier than was previously thought. The research team has published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "
Complex Fish Traps Over 7,500 Years Old Found in Russia - "An international team of archeologists, led by Ignacio Clemente, a researcher with the Spanish National Research Council, has discovered and documented an assemblage of fish seines and traps in the Dubna Basin near Moscow that are dated to be more than 7,500 years old. They say that the equipment, among the oldest found in Europe, displays a surprisingly advanced technical complexity."


Lao skull earliest example of modern human fossil in Southeast Asia -
"An ancient skull recovered from a cave in the Annamite Mountains in northern Laos is the oldest modern human fossil found in Southeast Asia, researchers report. The discovery pushes back the clock on modern human migration through the region by as much as 20,000 years and indicates that ancient wanderers out of Africa left the coast and inhabited diverse habitats much earlier than previously appreciated."
My comment: Yet another pusing back of the clock. I don't remember how many times I've read this over the past 5 years. It seems our clocks were quite off.

Archeologists unearth extraordinary human sculpture in Turkey - " The figure's face is bearded, with beautifully preserved inlaid eyes made of white and black stone, and its hair has been coiffed in an elaborate series of curls aligned in linear rows. Both arms are extended forward from the elbow, each with two arm bracelets decorated with lion heads. The figure's right hand holds a spear, and in its left is a shaft of wheat. A crescent-shaped pectoral adorns its chest. A lengthy Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription, carved in raised relief across its back, records the campaigns and accomplishments of Suppiluliuma, likely the same Patinean king who faced a Neo-Assyrian onslaught of Shalmaneser III as part of a Syrian-Hittite coalition in 858 BC."
 

Pottery 20,000 years old found in a Chinese cave - June 28, 2012 -Pottery fragments found in a south China cave have been confirmed to be 20,000 years old, making them the oldest known pottery in the world, archaeologists say.

Skilled hunters 300,000 years ago"Archeologists from the University of Tübingen have found eight extremely well-preserved spears – an astonishing 300,000 years old, making them the oldest known weapons anywhere. The spears and other artifacts as well as animal remains found at the site demonstrate that their users were highly skilled craftsmen and hunters, well adapted to their environment – with a capacity for abstract thought and complex planning comparable to our own. It is likely that they were members of the species homo heidelbergensis, although no human remains have yet been found at the site. 
The bones of large mammals – elephants, rhinoceroses, horses and lions – as well as the remains of amphibians, reptiles, shells and even beetles have been preserved in the brown coal. Pines, firs, and black alder trees are preserved complete with pine cones, as have the leaves, pollen and seeds of surrounding flora."

 Swiss dolmen reveals rituals of the Neolithic - "A sensational archaeological discovery has been made in the region of  Bern, Switzerland, consisting of a communal dolmen grave dating back to over 5,000 years, containing 30 bodies and Neolithic artefacts.
The Swiss Neolithic begins around the middle of the 5th millennium BCE and is coeval with both the Bandkeramik culture in Central Europe and the Vinca culture in the Balkans. During the 4th millennium – when this dolmen is constructed – the culture seemed to develop independently from the rest of Europe."

Origin of an ancient jade tool baffles scientists - "The jade gouge may have been crafted by the Lapita people, who appeared in the western Pacific around 3,300 years ago, then spread across the Pacific to Samoa over a couple hundred years, and from there formed the ancestral population of the people we know as Polynesians, according to the researchers. "
(PhysOrg.com) -- Until recently, archeologists have thought of Neanderthals, an early relative of humans, as thick, slow thinking and likely uncreative. Now, new evidence dispels part of that image. Archeologists digging in the Netherlands have unearthed flint and bone fragments from 200,000 years ago that have remnants of red ochre on them, indicating that Neanderthals were using the material much earlier than was previously thought. The research team has published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-01-team-evidence-red-ochre-neanderthals.html#jCp
Research team finds evidence of red ochre use by Neanderthals 200,000 years ago January 24, 2012 by Bob Yirk

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-01-team-evidence-red-ochre-neanderthals.html#jCp
Research team finds evidence of red ochre use by Neanderthals 200,000 years ago January 24, 2012 by Bob Yirka

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-01-team-evidence-red-ochre-neanderthals.html#jCp