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Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Past becomes even older, july, 2009

Today:

  1. Think your life is bad? Archaeologists show us worse.
  2. Were our earliest hominid ancestors European?
  3. Ivory sculpture in Germany could be world's oldest
  4. Monkeys found to wonder what might have been
Short stories:
  1. Stone Age Superglue Found -- Hints at Unknown Smarts?
  2. Ancient Elite Island With Pyramid Found in Mexico
  3. Bone appears to date human presence in Treasure Coast back 13,000 years
Today's comments are quite short, since the articles are quite self-explaining. The common theme is the new evidences of how old actually humans are. I hope you enjoy!

Think your life is bad? Archaeologists show us worse.


Posted 5/10/2009 10:27 PM

Consider life on the high steppes of Central Asia, the Altai Mountains, around 500 B.C., in modern-day Mongolia. Back then, it was the home of the Pazyryk peoples, horse-riding nomads who lived next door to the not-so-friendly Scythians.

Archaeologists know the Pazyryk from burial mounds, or tumuli, of larch wood covered with stones, "in which the bodies of Pazyryk warriors were buried with their horses and their weapons, such as battle-axes, daggers, swords, and bows and arrows," according to a study in the July Journal of Archaeological Science, which describes seven of these graves.

"These people led violent lives," says Xavier Jordana of Spain's Universitat Auto'noma de Barcelona, who led the two-year study effort. At the burial sites, which he describes as "typical," an international team uncovered the remains of 10 people in all, seven men, one woman and two children. Similar to past Pazyryk burials, a horse was buried with each individual, as well as a ceramic bowl, iron knife and back bone of a sheep or goat. "Small sheets of gold were also always found next to the skull," says the study. Weaponry included "pointed battle-axes with wooden handles, short daggers, both of bronze or iron, and trilobate arrowheads made of bone or bronze."

Also typical, "Seven individuals exhibited a total of 14 traumatic injuries," notes the study. Two of the men showed evidence of healed battle-axe wounds on their skulls. Five of the individuals, including the women and one child, were killed by axes or dagger wounds. One man was shot in the head with an arrow.

Herodotus had described human sacrifice and warfare as common among nomads in his day, so Jordana and his colleagues analyzed the wounds they saw in an attempt to understand exactly how these people died. "Were they fighting battles or sacrificed," he asks. "Herodotus is known as the 'Father of History' but he is also called the 'Father of Liars,' so we wanted to see."

Raids, not warfare, marked the deaths of the people who died violently, concludes the study.

"These were burials of a warrior class of people," Jordana says, but they fit with the pattern of violent lives lived in the past. "They buried women and children with weapons. It's not clear (that) these were Amazons, but they led very hard lives, compared to today." source

My comment: This burial reminds me so much of a burial of Thracians in our lands and also of the burials of Bulgars. All buried with their horses, with their wives and with gold. It's very interesting that I've never heard of the people described in the article, but considering the location-Altai, they are very likely related to both Bulgars and Thracians. It becomes more and more interesting.

Were our earliest hominid ancestors European?

Millions of years before early humans evolved in Africa, their ancestors may have lived in Europe, a 12-million-year-old fossil hominid from Spain suggests.

The fossil, named Anoiapithecus brevirostris by Salvador Moyà-Solà of the Catalan Institute of Palaeontology in Barcelona, Spain, and his colleagues, dates from a period of human evolution for which the record is very thin. While only the animal's face, jaw and teeth survive, their shape places it within the African hominid lineage that gave rise to gorillas, chimps and humans. However, it also has features of a related group called kenyapithecins.

Moyà-Solà says that A. brevirostris and some similar-looking kenyapithecins lived in Europe shortly after the afrohominid and kenyapithecin lineages split, and so that the divergence itself may have happened there. If he is right, our hominid ancestors lived in Europe and only later migrated to Africa, where modern humans evolved.

This "into Africa" scenario is likely to be controversial. Critics argue that discoveries like Moyà-Solà's are more likely to reflect the quality of the fossil records in Africa and Europe than offer clues to the actual origins of hominids. source

My comment: I'm also very suspicious of the idea of Africa. It's not about discriminating the black continent, I love Africa in a very odd way. But as for humans as a specie, I think there are many questions in regard of the Africa-scenario. Obviously, there we can find some of the oldest fossils and we have settlements and so on. Homo Sapience came from Afica. But is this the whole story or are we missing something? What happened to the Neanderthals? Who were they, what were they?

Ivory sculpture in Germany could be world's oldest

May 13th, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) -- The 2008 excavations at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany recovered a female figurine carved from mammoth ivory from the basal Aurignacian deposit. This figurine, which is the earliest depiction of a human, and one of the oldest known examples of figurative art worldwide, was made at least 35,000 years ago. This discovery radically changes our views of the context and meaning of the earliest Paleolithic art.

The figurine lay about 3 meters below the current surface of the cave in an area about 20 meters from the cave’s entrance. The Venus from Hohle Fels is nearly complete with only the left arm and shoulder missing. The excellent preservation and the close stratigraphic association of the pieces of the figurine indicate that the Venus experienced little disturbance after deposition.

Radiocarbon dates from this horizon span the entire range from 31,000 - 40,000 years ago. The fact that the venus is overlain by five Aurignacian horizons that contain a dozen stratigraphically intact anthropogenic features with a total thickness of 70 - 120 cm, suggests that figurine is indeed of an age corresponding to the start of the Aurignacian around 40,000 years ago.

The Venus shows a range of entirely unique features as well as a number of characteristics present in later female figurines. The Venus of Hohle Fels lacks a head. Instead an off-centered, but carefully carved ring is located above the broad shoulders of the figurine. This ring, despite being weathered, preserves polish suggesting that the figurine was worn as a pendant. Beneath the shoulders, which are roughly as thick as they are wide, large breasts project forward. The figurine has two short arms with two carefully carved hands with visible fingers resting on the upper part of the stomach below the breasts.

The Venus has a short and squat form with a waist that is slightly narrower than the broad shoulders and wide hips. Multiple deeply incised horizontal lines cover the abdomen from the area below the breast to the pubic triangle. Several of these horizontal lines extend to the back of the figurine and are suggestive of clothing or a wrap of some sort. Microscopic images show that these incisions were created by repeatedly cutting along the same lines with sharp stone tools.

The legs of the Venus are short and pointy. The buttocks and genitals are depicted in more details. The split between the two halves of the buttocks is deep and continues without interruption to the front of the figurine where the vulva is visible between the open legs. There can be no doubt that the depiction of oversized breast, exentuated buttocks and genetalia result from the deliberate exaggeration of the sexual features of the figurine. In addition to the many carefully depicted anatomical features, the surface of the Venus preserves numerous lines and deliberate markings.

Many of the features, including the emphasis on sexual attributes and lack of emphasis on the head, face and arms and legs, call to mind aspects of the numerous Venus figurines well known from the European Gravettien, which typically date between 22 and 27 ka BP. The careful depiction of the hands is reminiscent of those of Venuses including that of archetypal Venus of Willendorf, which was discovered 100 years earlier in summer of 1908. Despite the far greater age of the Venus of Hohle Fels, many of its attributes occur in various forms throughout the rich tradition of Paleolithic female representations.

The new figurine from Hohle Fels radically changes our view of origins of Paleolithic art. Prior to this discovery, animals and therianthropic imagry dominated the over two dozen figurines from the Swabian Aurignacian. Female imagry was entirely unknown. With this discovery, the notion that three dimensional female imagry developed in the Gravettian can be rejected. source

My comment: Not much to say here, except that this is a wonderful example of how our theories get updated every day now. Because as the article states, this is the first 3d image of a person from that time. From my perspective, it's naive to expect that the great cave paintings are produced in a moment of inspirations and then forgotten. To create such magnificent art you need dedication and patience. It takes years to become so good in what you do and you cannot do it, while you hunt for mammoths or whatever. It takes a developed society. That we haven't found evidences of this society doesn't mean it's not there. Same as Thracian gold treasures. You cannot create something so elaborate and stunningly beautiful just like this. You need time to learn and to pass knowledge. This require a developed society. I'm still waiting for the Cities of Gold. I just hope the gold will hit the news before it hit the unknown collectors.

Monkeys found to wonder what might have been

May 14th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Monkeys playing a game similar to "Let's Make A Deal" have revealed that their brains register missed opportunities and learn from their mistakes.

"This is the first evidence that , like people, have 'would-have, could-have, should-have' thoughts," said Ben Hayden, a researcher at the Duke University Medical Center and lead author of the study published in the journal Science.

The researchers watched individual neurons in a region of the brain called the (ACC) that monitors the consequences of actions and mediates resulting changes in behavior. The monkeys were making choices that resulted in different amounts of juice as a reward.

During each trial, the monkeys chose from one of eight identical white squares arranged in a circle. A color beneath the white square was revealed and the monkey received the corresponding reward.

Over many weeks, the monkeys were trained to associate a high-value reward with the color green and the low-value rewards with other colors. After receiving a reward, the monkey was also shown the prizes he missed.

What the researchers saw was that neurons in the ACC responded in proportion to the reward -- a greater reward caused a higher response. They also found that these same neurons responded when monkeys saw what they missed. Most of these ACC neurons responded the same way to a real or imagined reward.source

My comment: A very small comment here. We tend to underestimate both monkeys, animals and even our fellow Homo. So, I find such article extremely enlightening, because they show us that we're actually wrong. If a monkey understands past, future, possible and impossible, actual and virtual rewards, what happens with Neanderthals who have lived for like 300 000 years?

Stone Age Superglue Found -- Hints at Unknown Smarts?

Ker Than, National Geographic News , May 11, 2009

Stone Age humans were adept chemists who whipped up a sophisticated kind of natural glue, a new study says.

They knowingly tweaked the chemical and physical properties of an iron-containing pigment known as red ochre with the gum of acacia trees to create adhesives for their shafted tools.

Archaeologists had believed the blood-red pigment—used by people in what is now South Africa about 70,000 years ago—served a decorative or symbolic purpose.

But the scientists had also suspected that the pigment may have been purposely added to improve glue that held the peoples' tools together.

So researchers recreated the ancient glue using only Stone Age materials and technologies.

The results showed that glue containing red ochre was less brittle and more shatterproof than glue made from acacia gum alone.

But making the glue wasn't easy for the ancient Africans. It was mentally taxing work that would have required humans to account for differences in the chemistry of gum harvested from different trees and in the iron content of ochre from different sites.

The finding also suggests the intelligence of Stone Age humans was more akin to that of modern humans than previously thought, she added. source

Ancient Elite Island With Pyramid Found in Mexico

Alexis Okeowo in México City, National Geographic News, May 13, 2009

An island for ancient elites has been found in central Mexico, archaeologists say. Among the ruins are a treasury and a small pyramid that may have been used for rituals.

The island, called Apupato, belonged to the powerful Tarascan Empire, which dominated much of western Mexico from A.D. 1400 to 1520, before the European conquest of the region.

The Purépecha people—named Tarascan by the Spanish—were formidable enemies with their neighbors, the Aztec. From their powerful capital city and religious center Tzintzuntzan, the Tarascans successfully thwarted every attack by the Aztec.

Tarascan people valued such products as honey, cotton, feathers, and salt, and they often expanded into neighboring lands in search of these goods.

Fisher and colleagues found a square structure with a formal entrance that is believed to have been an imperial treasury. Adjacent to the treasury is a small pyramid, which has large, open rooms that would have been suitable for ritual activity. Pipe fragments were also found near the treasury.The pipe discoveries may bear out ritual descriptions on a previously found ancient Spanish scroll.

The scroll shows people smoking pipes and drinking pulque—a drink made of agave, a crucial crop used for alcoholic drinks, such as tequila, and syrup, Fisher said. The scroll also describes ritual treasury caches dedicated to specific gods.

Toward the end of the island's Tarascan occupation, the area was a "ritual center" where people of elite status lived and worked, he added.

Evidence of crop cultivation also suggests that humans continuously occupied the site for 2,000 years, Fisher said.source


Bone appears to date human presence in Treasure Coast back 13,000 years

VERO BEACH — Local amateur fossil collector James Kennedy appears to have made an unprecedented archaeological discovery that might help confirm a human presence here up to 13,000 years ago.

A 15-inch-long prehistoric bone fragment found near Vero Beach contains a crude engraving of a mammoth or mastodon on it, said Dr. Barbara Purdy, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Florida.

“It is humbling to realize that we are seeing what the hunter saw more than 13,000 years ago,” Purdy said.

Tests so far have shown it to be genuine.

If so, it appears to be “the oldest, most spectacular and rare work of art in the Americas,” she wrote in a report to other scientists.

The only comparable images are found in European cave paintings, she said in an interview Friday. The bone contains “the unmistakable incising of an ancient proboscidean (elephant),” she said. source

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