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Thursday, 17 September 2009

The past keeps on getting older, august, 2009

Today:

  1. Mobile DNA Elements In Woolly Mammoth Genome Give New Clues To Mammalian Evolution
  2. Engraved pigments point to ancient symbolic tradition
  3. Study shows Maya intensively cultivated manioc 1,400 years ago
  4. Ancient well, and body, found in Cyprus
  5. Prehistoric flute in Germany is oldest known
Links:
New Thracian tomb unearthed close to Bulgaria’s Kazanlak

Mobile DNA Elements In Woolly Mammoth Genome Give New Clues To Mammalian Evolution

ScienceDaily (June 9, 2009) — The woolly mammoth died out several thousand years ago, but the genetic material they left behind is yielding new clues about the evolution of mammals. In a study published online in Genome Research, scientists have analyzed the mammoth genome looking for mobile DNA elements, revealing new insights into how some of these elements arose in mammals and shaped the genome of an animal headed for extinction.

Interspersed repeats, also known as transposable elements, are DNA sequences that can "jump" around the genome, causing mutations in the host and contributing to expansion of the genome. Interspersed repeats account for a significant fraction of mammalian genomes, and some of these elements are still actively mobile. In humans, interspersed repeats account for approximately 44% of the entire genome sequence. Even more extreme is the opossum genome, where more than half of the sequence is composed of repetitive elements.

Scientists recently sequenced the woolly mammoth genome, using DNA samples obtained from preserved specimens. The mammoth genome is an excellent candidate for comparative analysis of interspersed repeats in mammals, as it had a remarkably large genome of approximately 4.7 billion bases, 1.5 times larger than the human genome. Using the mammoth genome sequence and sequences of other mammals for comparison, Schuster's group found that the mammoth genome contained the largest proportion of interspersed repeats of any other mammal studied. In fact, a single class of elements, known as the BovB long interspersed repeat, accounted for nearly 12% of the mammoth genome alone.

Dr. Fangqing Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher in Schuster's group and primary author of the work, emphasized that the BovB family of repeats is particularly interesting, because while this family has been identified in other mammalian genomes its distribution in the mammalian lineage is inconsistent. Zhao explained that this finding in mammoth further supports the hypothesis that BovB may have been acquired "horizontally," meaning that vertebrate genomes attained the element from another organism, rather than inherited from ancestors. source

My comment: Hmm, really, and where did they acquire this group from? This is very interesting... And not only that - how come mammoths have bigger genome than us? And is there any correlation between the percentage of this jumping elements and the intelligence of the specie. It might sounds a little far-fetched, but if you think about it - the more such genes (groups, whatever...) the bigger possibility for mutation and thus for adaptation to new circumstances. Sure, maybe it's all about the balance between mutations and heritage, but still it's very interesting research.


Engraved pigments point to ancient symbolic tradition

Web edition : Friday, June 12th, 2009

Scientists excavating a Stone Age cave on South Africa’s southern coast have followed a trail of engraved pigments to what they suspect are the ancient roots of modern human behavior.

Analyses of 13 chunks of decorated red ochre (an iron oxide pigment) from Blombos Cave indicate that a cultural tradition of creating meaningful geometric designs stretched from around 100,000 to 75,000 years ago in southern Africa, say anthropologist Christopher Henshilwood of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and his colleagues.

Much debate surrounds the issue of when and where language, religion, symbolic decorations and other facets of modern human behavior originated. Researchers such as Henshilwood hypothesize that modern human behavior developed gradually in Africa, beginning more than 100,000 years ago. Others posit that a brain-boosting genetic mutation around 50,000 years ago fostered modern behavior in Africa. Some researchers suspect that behavioral advances first appeared in Europe, Asia and Africa at that later time.

Possible examples of symbolic behavior from around 100,000 years ago — such as proposed human burials in the Middle East and pigment use in Africa — have been controversial.

“What makes the Blombos engravings different is that some of them appear to represent a deliberate will to produce a complex abstract design,” Henshilwood says. “We have not before seen well-dated and unambiguous traces of this kind of behavior at 100,000 years ago.”

Further studies need to confirm that the ancient incisions were not the result of, say, slicing into ochre with stone tools in order to remove powder quickly, cautions anthropologist Curtis Marean of Arizona State University in Tempe, who studies ancient human behavior at another South African cave (SN: 10/20/07, p. 243).

Henshilwood and study coauthor Francesco d’Errico of the University of Bordeaux I in Talence, France, disagree. In their view, the Blombos pigments bear intentionally fashioned designs that held some sort of meaning and were passed down the generations for 25,000 years. Thus, the two researchers say, it’s likely that a 100,000-year-old society already steeped in symbolic behavior originally produced the ochre engravings.

A microscopic analysis indicates that ochre designs were made by holding a piece of pigment with one hand while impressing lines into the pigment with the tip of a stone tool. On several pieces, patterns covered areas that had first been ground down.

Geometric patterns on the ochre pieces include cross-hatched designs, branching lines, parallel lines and right angles.

Pigment powder had also been removed from many of the recovered ochre chunks. Incised patterns may have served as models for pigment designs applied to animal skins or other material, the scientists speculate.source

My comment: Well, we continue to find older and older evidences of human brain activity. I'm not going to comment a lot, it's quite obvious - we really need to reconsider human evolution in view of the new facts. Axes 500 000 years old, abstract art 100 000 years old. It kind of contradicts the idea of human evolution 30 000 years ago. Yeah, maybe that wasn't Homo Sapiens, but certainly it was someone!Връзка

Study shows Maya intensively cultivated manioc 1,400 years ago

June 16th, 2009

A University of Colorado at Boulder team has uncovered an ancient and previously unknown Maya agricultural system -- a large manioc field intensively cultivated as a staple crop that was buried and exquisitely preserved under a blanket of ash by a volcanic eruption in present-day El Salvador 1,400 years ago.

Evidence shows the manioc field -- at least one-third the size of a football field -- was harvested just days before the eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano near San Salvador in roughly A.D. 600, said CU-Boulder anthropology Professor Payson Sheets, who is directing excavations at the ancient village of Ceren. The cultivated field of manioc was discovered adjacent to Ceren, which was buried under 17 feet of ash and is considered the best preserved ancient farming village in all of Latin America.

The ancient planting beds of the carbohydrate-rich tuber are the first and only evidence of an intensive manioc cultivation system at any New World archaeology site, said Sheets.

Sheets said manioc pollen has been found at archaeological sites in Belize, Mexico and Panama, but it is not known whether it was cultivated as a major crop or was just remnants of a few garden plants.

Ash hollows in the manioc planting beds at Ceren left by decomposed plant material were cast in dental plaster by the team to preserve their shape and size, said Sheets. Evidence showed the field was harvested and then replanted with manioc stalk cuttings just a few days before the eruption of the volcano.

A few anthropologists have suspected that manioc tubers -- which can be more than three feet long and as thick as a man's arm -- were a dietary salvation for ancient, indigenous societies living in large cities in tropical Latin America. Corn, beans and squash have long been known to be staples of the ancient Maya, but they are sensitive to drought and require fertile soils, said Sheets.

Calculations by Sheets indicate the Ceren planting fields would have produced roughly 10 metric tons of manioc annually for the 100 to 200 villagers believed to have lived there. "The question now is what these people in the village were doing with all that manioc that was harvested all at once," he said. "Even if they were gorging themselves, they could not have consumed that much."

The CU-Boulder team also found the shapes and sizes of individual manioc planting ridges and walkways varied widely. "This indicates the individual farmers at Ceren had control over their families' fields and cultivated them they way they wanted, without an external higher authority telling them what to do and how to do it," he said.

The team also found that the manioc fields and adjacent cornfields at Ceren were oriented 30 degrees east of magnetic north -- the same orientation as the village buildings and the public town center, said Sheets. "The villagers laid out the agricultural fields and the town structures with the same orientation as the nearby river, showing the importance and reverence the Maya had for water," he said.

Sheets said Maya villagers living in the region today have a long tradition of cutting manioc roots into small chunks, drying them eight days, then grinding the chunks into a fine, flour-like powder known as almidón. Almidón can be stored almost indefinitely, and traditionally was used by indigenous people in the region for making tamales and tortillas and as a thickening agent for stews, he said.

Since indigenous peoples in tropical South America use manioc today to brew alcoholic beverages, including beer, the CU-Boulder team will be testing ceramic vessels recovered from various structures at Ceren for traces of manioc.

Sheets is particularly interested in vessels from a religious building at Ceren excavated in 1991. The structure contained such items as a deer headdress painted red, blue and white; a large, alligator-shaped painted pot; the bones of butchered deer; and evidence that large quantities of food items like meat, corn, beans and squash were prepared on-site and dispensed to villagers from the structure, said Sheets.

Ceren's residents apparently were participating in a spiritual ceremony in the building when the volcano erupted, and did not return to their adobe homes, which excavations showed were void of people and tied shut from the outside. "I think there may have been an emergency evacuation from the ceremonial building when the volcano erupted," he said. To date, no human remains have been found at Ceren. source

My comment: Wow! That is extremely interesting! I mean seriously, what did they do with all those tones of food. Obviously they didn't eat it themselves, but they took care of the plants. That speaks of either trade or that someone badly needed that manioc. Yeah, I would love to say some extraterrestrial tyrant, but it could be also someone on Earth. Now, if they discover many such fields, that would pose the question - who needed so much food and why. And I liked that the almidon can be stored indefinitely. That so cool! It's like a storage for the whole Earth forever. Never again famine. Nice, huh? Also, note the good organisation of labor - those people worked on the fields, somebody brought them food during the day and a nice food it was. Obviously, they weren't exactly starving.

Ancient well, and body, found in Cyprus

June 24th, 2009 By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- Archaeologists have discovered a water well in Cyprus that was built as long as 10,500 years ago, and the skeleton of a young woman at the bottom of it, an official said Wednesday.

Pavlos Flourentzos, the nation's top antiquities official, said the 16-foot (5-meter) deep cylindrical shaft was found last month at a construction site in Kissonerga, a village near the Mediterranean island nation's southwestern coast.

After the well dried up it apparently was used to dispose trash, and the items found in it included the poorly preserved skeleton of the young woman, animal , worked flints, stone beads and pendants from the island's early Neolithic period, Flourentzos said.

The skeleton could be as old as the well itself, but don't know how the girl died or when and why the was left there, he said. Radiocarbon dating found the well is between 9,000 to 10,500 years old, he said.

That was around the time migrating humans started to build permanent settlements on the island. Before then, temporary settlements were inhabited by sea-borne migrants using Cyprus as a way station to other destinations.

Thomas Davis, director of the Nicosia-based Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, said the well - which he called "among the earliest in the world" - offers proof of the "high level of sophistication" of the island's early Neolithic farmers. source

My comment: I wonder if Cyprus was populated by this time, then why Malta considers itself inhabited so much later. It's odd. And yeah, I always wondered when and from where the Hellenic people came from. Wikipedia claim Hellenic people came around 3000 b.c.. There were Thracians on the Balkans during this time. Obviously, those tribes inhabited the southern parts of the peninsula first. Remember how Plato in his famous dialogues that mention Atlantis says that the Greek people are young people. I wonder who are the old people. Note the years mentioned in the article - we're talking about people from 10 000 years ago. Who were they? Seriously....

Prehistoric flute in Germany is oldest known

June 24th, 200

Excavations in the summer of 2008 at the sites of Hohle Fels and Vogelherd produced new evidence for Paleolithic music in the form of the remains of one nearly complete bone flute and isolated small fragments of three ivory flutes.

The most significant of these finds, a nearly complete bone flute, was recovered in the basal Aurignacian deposits at Hohle Fels Cave in the Ach Valley, 20 km west of Ulm. The flute was found in 12 pieces. The fragments were distributed over a vertical distance of 3 cm over a horizontal area of about 10 x 20 cm. This flute is by far the most complete of all of the musical instruments thus far recovered from the caves of Swabia.

The preserved portion of the bone flute from Hohle Fels has a length of 21.8 cm and a diameter of about 8 mm. The flute preserves five finger holes. The surfaces of the flute and the structure of the bone are in excellent condition and reveal many details about the manufacture of the flute. The maker carved two deep, V-shaped notches into one end of the instrument, presumably to form the proximal end of the flute into which the musician blew. The find density in this stratum is moderately high with much flint knapping debris, worked bone and ivory, bones of horse, reindeer, mammoth, cave bear, ibex, as well as burnt bone. No diagnostic human bones have been found in deposits of the Swabian Aurignacian, but we assume that modern humans produced the artifacts from the basal Aurignacian deposits shortly after their arrival in the region following a migration up the Danube Corridor.

The maker of the flute carved the instrument from the radius of a griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). This species has a wingspan between 230 and 265 cm and provides bones ideal for large flutes. Griffon vultures and other vultures are documented in the Upper Paleolithic sediments of the Swabian caves.

The 2008 excavations at Hohle Fels also recovered two small fragments of what are almost certainly two ivory flutes from the basal Aurignacian. The different dimensions of the fragments indicate that the two finds are not from the same instrument. Excavators at Vogelherd in the Lone Valley 25 km northwest of Ulm recovered another isolated fragment of another ivory flute.

The technology for making an ivory flute is much more complicated than making a flute from a bird bone. This process requires forming the rough shape along the long axis of a naturally curved piece of ivory, splitting it open along one of the bedding plains in the ivory, carefully hollowing out the halves, carving the holes, and then rejoining the halves of the flute with an air-tight seal. Given the tendency of delicate ivory artifacts to break into many pieces, it is not unusual to find isolated pieces of such artifacts.

The 10 radiocarbon dates from the basal Aurignacian fall between 31 and 40 ka BP. Available calibrations and independent controls using other methods indicate that the flutes from Hohle Fels predate 35,000 calendar years ago. Apart from the caves of the Swabian Jura there is no convincing evidence for musical instruments predating 30 ka BP.

These finds demonstrate that music played an important role in Aurignacian life in the Ach and Lone valleys of southwestern Germany. Most of these flutes are from archaeological contexts containing an abundance of organic and lithic artifacts, hunted fauna, and burnt bone. This evidence suggests that the inhabitants of the sites played musical instruments in diverse social and cultural contexts and that flutes were discarded with many other forms of occupational debris. In the case of Hohle Fels, the location of the bone flute in a thin archaeological horizon only 70 cm away from a female figurine of similar age suggests that a possible contextual link exists between these two finds.source

My comment: Ok, I edited one absurd sentence how the music contributed to human expansion versus the more culturally conservative Neanderthals. That's absurd. We just found out that the Neanderthals were intelligent, we have no idea whether they liked music or not. I can't believe people write this and believe themselves. Whatever. Note - the date is 35 000 years ago. That also is closer to the 100 000 years mentioned in the second article. Because the production of this type of flute is more complicated, they maybe had flutes 40 000 years ago. And that is way longer ago than anyone guessed 20 years ago.

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