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Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Neandertals-the ever-lasting mistery

The Neanderthals were very odd people. They lived, they evolved, and they disappeared. Why? Nobody knows. The theory was that Homo Sapiens were better than them and out-survived them. But it looks like this isn't true. Check the following articles for more info.

My point? There's something very mysterious in the history of Neanderthals. I don't mean to turn it in another conspiracy-probably it's not. But we lack a great piece of the puzzle of our own history and that's not fun. Those guys roamed in Europe and then they were assimilated. There were people with their features for quite a long period around the Mediterranean sea, but they obviously were so few in numbers, they simply disappeared with time.

I think it's important to know what happened with them, because even if not our direct ancestors, they share enough with us, genetically, to have a reason to worry over such a massive extinction.

'Complexity' of Neanderthal tools

Neanderthal flake or point (SPL)
Neanderthal tools were just as efficient as those made by our ancestors

Early stone tools developed by our species Homo sapiens were no more sophisticated than those used by our extinct relatives the Neanderthals.

That is the conclusion of researchers who recreated and compared tools used by these ancient human groups.

The findings cast doubt on suggestions that more advanced stone technologies gave modern humans a competitive edge over the Neanderthals.

The work by a US-British team appears in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The researchers recreated wide stone tools called "flakes", which were used by both Neanderthals and early modern humans.

They also reconstructed "blades" - a narrower stone tool later adopted by Homo sapiens.

Some archaeologists often use the development of stone blades and their assumed efficiency as evidence for the superior intellect of our species.

The team analysed the data to compare the number of tools produced, how much cutting edge was created, the efficiency in consuming raw material and how long tools lasted.

They found no statistical difference in the efficiency of the two stone technologies.

In some respects, the flakes favoured by Neanderthals were even more efficient than the blades adopted by modern humans.

The result casts doubt on the idea that blades were a significant technological advance, helping our ancestors out-compete, and eventually eradicate, their evolutionary cousins the Neanderthals.

The Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) appear in the fossil record about 400,000 years ago.

At their peak, these squat, physically powerful hunters dominated a wide area spanning Britain and Iberia in the west, Israel in the south and Siberia in the east.

Neanderthal (l) and Cro-Magnon (r) skulls (SPL)
Neanderthals (l) were different from our species (r), but not inferior
Meanwhile, Homo sapiens evolved in Africa, and displaced the Neanderthals after spreading into Europe about 40,000 years ago.

The last known evidence of Neanderthals comes from Gibraltar and is dated to between 28,000 and 24,000 years ago.

Lead author Metin Eren, from the University of Exeter, UK, said: "Technologically speaking, there is no clear advantage of one tool over the other.

"When we think of Neanderthals, we need to stop thinking in terms of 'stupid' or 'less advanced' and more in terms of 'different'."

"It is time for archaeologists to start searching for other reasons why Neanderthals became extinct while our ancestors survived."

Professor Stringer, who was not connected with the study, added: "We know that the Neanderthals were very capable technicians, and that their tools would have been excellent for activities such as butchery, working skins or wood.

"However, the blade tools manufactured by early modern humans in Europe were often modified for specialisation as piercers, chisels or engravers, and as parts of composite tools, such as harpoons.

"With modern humans we not only find a greater variety of tools, but also much greater working of difficult materials like bone, antler and ivory."source

My comment:So, it's obvious Homo Sapiens didn't have an advantage over the Neandertals. Then how come the second became extinct, they didn't even merge-there are very few societies that kept Neandertal features. They disappeared. That's very very odd. Check out the next article...

Earliest Known Human Had Neanderthal Qualities

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Aug. 22, 2008 -- The world's first known modern human was a tall, thin individual -- probably male -- who lived around 200,000 years ago and resembled present-day Ethiopians, save for one important difference: He retained a few primitive characteristics associated with Neanderthals, according to a series of forthcoming studies conducted by multiple international research teams.

The extraordinary findings, which will soon be outlined in a special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution devoted to the first known Homo sapiens, also reveal information about the material culture of the first known people, their surroundings, possible lifestyle and, perhaps most startling, their probable neighbors -- Homo erectus.

"Omo I," as the researchers refer to the find, would probably have been considered healthy-looking and handsome by today's standards, despite the touch of Neanderthal.

"From the size of the preserved bones, we estimated that Omo I was tall and slender, most likely around 5'10" tall and about 155 pounds," University of New Mexico anthropologist Osbjorn Pearson, who co-authored at least two of the new papers, told Discovery News.

"Taken together, the remains show that these early modern humans were...much like the people in southern Ethiopia and the southern Sudan today," Pearson said.

Parts of the Omo I skeleton were first excavated in 1967 by a team from the Kenya National Museums under the direction of Richard Leakey, who wrote a forward that will appear in the upcoming journal.

Leakey and his colleagues unearthed two other skeletons, one of which has received little attention. Two of the three skeletons found at the site have been a literal bone of contention among scientists over the past four decades. Reliable dating techniques for such early periods did not exist in the late 60's, and the researchers could not agree upon the identity of the two skeletons.

From 1999 to the present, at least two other major expeditions to the southern Ethiopian site -- called the Kibish Formation -- have taken place, with the goal of solving the mysteries and learning more about what the area was like 200,000 years ago.

As evidenced by photographs showing the researchers followed by armed guards, work at this location proved challenging.

Several scientists analyzed the bones, including a very detailed, comparative look at the shoulder bone by French paleontologist Jean-Luc Voisin. They concluded that, without a doubt, Omo I represents an anatomically modern human, with bones in the arms, hands and ankles somewhat resembling those of other, earlier human-like species.

"Most of the anatomical features of Omo are like modern humans. Only a few features are similar to more primitive hominids, including Neanderthals and Homo erectus," explained John Fleagle, distinguished professor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York.

"Omo II is more primitive in its cranial anatomy," he added, "and shares more features with Homo erectus and fewer with modern humans."

New dating of the finds determined that Omo II lived at around the same time and location as Omo I, indicating that Homo sapiens may have coexisted with Homo erectus, a.k.a. "Upright Man," who is believed to have been the first hominid to leave Africa.

Fleagle explained the detailed nature of the latest dating techniques that place both skeletons at around the 200,000-year-old period.

He said both skeletons were recovered from rocky geological layers, with "Adam" unearthed just above a layer of volcanic rock. Precise dates can then be calculated because "when volcanic rocks form, they start a radiometric clock that ticks at a regular rate."

Fleagle added, "By looking at the ratio of parent minerals and daughter minerals you can calculate when the rocks were initially formed."

Trapani, who conducted a study on fossil fish at the site, said later-dated barbed bone points recovered from the site look remarkably like catfish spines, which "may be purely coincidental." Or, "alternatively, perhaps the spines impressed early hunters with their potential utility as flesh-piercing hunting implements."

Supporting Trapani's findings that large catfish, as well as Nile perch and other fish, were in abundance, studies on the site's geology indicate that conditions were wetter 200,000 years ago.

Yet another study, on the large mammal fauna at Kibish, found the humans were surrounded by big game.

Smithsonian Institution archaeobiologist Zelalem Assefa identified hippos, giraffes, elephants, zebras, rhinos, numerous other hoofed mammals and more.

"In terms of settlement strategy, the early modern humans at Kibish might have practiced some type of seasonal based settlement strategy -- possibly following the movement of big game," Assefa told Discovery News.

Perhaps his two most unusual finds were that very few remains for non-human primates and carnivores were found, which puzzles the researchers, but may suggest that the first known humans didn't have many, if any, animal predators.

Secondly, Assefa was surprised to find duiker (a small, shy antelope that usually prefers forest cover) and giant forest hog remains. The giant forest hog is the largest wild pig on Earth, weighing as much as 600 pounds. Since other parts of the site were probable grasslands, the presence of these two animals suggests a riparian forest must have also been nearby.

He explained that Ethiopia's geology has deposits suitable to bone preservation and discovery, which is perhaps why so many fossil hominids have been excavated there over the years.source

My comment: I only didn't understand whether the guy was black. Not that it's so important, but I don't believe in the theory that black people evolved into white people. It's either nonsense, or it required much more time that we think. Still, the guys was slender and handsome. Funny that he was a guy. But I don't get it how Neandertals went to Europe and stayed there, while Homo Sapiens circulated all around. And now we see that we weren't that different from the earliest Homo Sapiens. Which is even weirder since we see few groups of Homos that coexisted for a while and then-only one type reigning on the whole Earth.

My guess is that Neandertals were not stupid at all, and that they founded one of the earliest civilisations. Those that went under the water in the great melting after the Ice age. It looks like there are people who agree with me, althouth they don't connect it with Neandertals. But remember those picture of the hero between some beasts-they are very common for the old civilisations. And see the discoveries around that bones. It looks like people and animals coexisted much more peacefully at some time. Which stopped being true afterwards. Hmmm.

More on evolution (articles I couldn't dig from Newscientist in their completeness but I still find very intriguing):

How we can learn from children with half a brain

  • 13 July 2008
  • Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

NICO is a charming and sociable teenager from Argentina who loves fencing, singing in his school choir, and drawing cartoons. He rushes, smiling, to kiss my cheek whenever we meet, chatting animatedly about the drawings he has brought me. A few years older, Brooke is a friendly and witty young man who radiates positivity. He settles comfortably into a chair in my office, leisurely sipping a Coke and ready to try my latest battery of tests. He recently graduated from high school, and enjoys his job bagging groceries at a local supermarket.

They both look like ordinary teenagers, but peer inside their heads and you will find they are anything but. At the age of 3, Nico had his right cerebral hemisphere removed to control severe, intractable seizures. Brooke had his left hemisphere removed at 11 because he was suffering from Rasmussen's encephalitis, an autoimmune condition in which the body ... source

Rewriting Darwin: The new non-genetic inheritance

  • 09 July 2008
  • Emma Young

HALF a century before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck outlined his own theory of evolution. A cornerstone of this was the idea that characteristics acquired during an individual's lifetime can be passed on to their offspring. In its day, Lamarck's theory was generally ignored or lampooned. Then came Darwin, and Gregor Mendel's discovery of genetics. In recent years, ideas along the lines of Richard Dawkins's concept of the "selfish gene" have come to dominate discussions about heritability, and with the exception of a brief surge of interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, "Lamarckism" has long been consigned to the theory junkyard.

Now all that is changing. No one is arguing that Lamarck got everything right, but over the past decade it has become increasingly clear that environmental factors, such as diet or stress, can have biological consequences that are ... source

My comment: There's more on DNA than we know and I think with time this will really be understood. See my comment in the post on DNA.

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