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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Ancient life and ancient death, 2009

Appalachian geologist investigates Homo sapiens’ oldest known trackways
Bulgaria Archaeologist Finds Unique Golden Chariot from Ancient Thrace

Today:

  1. Ancient objects found on remote Mokumanamana 'an archaeological mystery'
  2. "Unexpected" Man Found Amid Ancient Priestesses' Tombs
  3. Bulgaria Archaeologists Find Unique Cult Complex at Perperikon
  4. ‘Early man used crude version of sat-nav system’
  5. Ancient Pacific islanders brought to light
I must admit these are a lot of article, but they are all so interesting! I hope you read them and enjoy them!

Ancient objects found on remote Mokumanamana 'an archaeological mystery'

Researchers on a rare expedition to a now uninhabited rocky outpost north of the main Hawaiian islands found a partially finished human stone carving and the remnants of what may be a craftsman's workshop.

The inhospitable island lacks fresh water, trees that would provide cover, and is continually buffeted by wind. It's frequented by seabirds, but is otherwise desolate save for the ruins of ancient heiau, or shrines, that line the top of a ridge running along the spine of the island.

"It's somewhat of an archaeological mystery as to how people survived on this island in the past and constructed these huge monuments," Kikiloi said yesterday.

The newly discovered carving resembles other stone figures found on Mokumanamana.

Kikiloi said it's not clear what the images were used for, but they're unlike any other objects in the Hawaiian islands.

In general in Hawaiian tradition, he said, images are often used as a focal point during prayer and worship of gods. The partially unfinished figure found on this trip has a blank face, as though the artist didn't gotten around to carving facial features. It also appears that its left arm has broken off.

Kikiloi believes Hawaiians built the shrines there because Mokumanamana was considered the gateway to the afterlife.

Mokumanamana lies on the Tropic of Cancer. This means the sun — which represents life and death in Hawaiian tradition — goes directly over the island on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

source

My comment: Another very interesting article, mostly because of the question how the people did survive on the island. The answer might be that during that time, the island was different? Or maybe even it wasn't an island? Just speculating here, but why not...

"Unexpected" Man Found Amid Ancient Priestesses' Tombs

John Roach, National Geographic News, September 18, 2009

In an "unexpected" discovery, a rattle-wielding elite male has been found buried among powerful priestesses of the pre-Inca Moche society in Peru, archaeologists announced Monday. (pictures)

Surrounded by early "smoke machines" as well as human and llama bones, the body was among several buried inside a unique double-chambered tomb that dates back to A.D. 850, said archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, of the Catholic University of Peru in Lima.

The tomb contained a wooden coffin decorated with a copper lattice and a gilded mask, sitting on a raised platform.

The Moche people were a fragmented society of farmers who occupied the arid coasts of Peru from about A.D. 100 to 1000. (See a Peru map.)

The site has so far yielded seven royal priestess burials, an indication of the powerful role of women in Moche society, Castillo said.

The funerals in Moche, Castillo noted, were cause for celebration and allowed for the seamless transition of power from one ruler to the next. Living priestesses probably performed such burials at annual festivals held at San José de Moro.

At the newly explored tomb, the team found a ramp that led into the first chamber, which contained the bones of a young human male on one side and those of a llama in a corner. The human and the llamas "could have been sacrificed for the purpose of the burial," Castillo said.

A sealed door closed off the entrance to the second chamber. Inside that second room, painted red and yellow, the archaeologists found the remains of two females and a male in simple burials.

The trio may have been sacrifices, but for now the team is unsure of their exact roles.

Another unidentified young male sat cross-legged in the room, and a lone mask lay out in the open.

The mask is similar to the one found on the elite male's coffin, making Castillo suspect the mask might have been left behind from another coffin that had been mysteriously removed.

Inside the elite male's coffin, his bones, a mask, a long stick with hanging bells, and other metal objects were in disarray. The jumble suggests the coffin had endured a long, bumpy journey before arriving at the tomb complex, Castillo added.

For starters, the long stick with bells looked remarkably similar to a rattle held by a well-known archetype in Moche art.

The archetype is known as Aia Paec, or "Wrinkle Face," a central figure in burial scenes. He's often depicted lowering a coffin into a tomb alongside another human-like character named Iguana.

Alongside Iguana and a female, probably one of the priestesses, Aia Paec is also depicted in some scenes presenting a decorative shell to a leader. According to Castillo, Aia Paec and Iguana were roles that living people would have inherited. When the person who had played a role died, he or she would be buried and a new person in the living world would take on the part.

So many of the known Moche elite burials are female that some archaeologists believe women dominated the Moche power structure.

But because both men and women rulers are represented in Moche artwork, it's hard to believe that the civilization was "strictly ruled by women," Castillo said.

"I think it would be more possible to have societies where women power is allowed alongside male power," he added.

The idea of the newfound male as a supporting figure in an important female's burial would better fit Bourget's notion that late Moche society was transitioning to a power structure ruled by kings surrounded by influential women.

The tomb complex's layout, he said, suggests a king's, or kings', tomb surrounded by satellite tombs for priestesses.

Such a power structure was prevalent in coastal Peru's succeeding cultures, the Chimú and later the Lambayeque, he noted.

Excavation leader Castillo, however, said that the newfound male could instead be part of a more complex burial layout that would put the Moche man on equal footing with the priestesses.

source

My comment: That's right, girl-power! I really cannot comment since I'm not familiar with the Moche, but I find it very interesting how they celebrated at funerals. This is similar to Thracian funerals I think and also to the tribe in the last article. It's very interesting how tribes with such behaviour have other similarity in their social structure.

Bulgaria Archaeologists Find Unique Cult Complex at Perperikon

Archaeology | September 16, 2009, Wednesday

A team led by Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov has uncovered an enormous cult complex at the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon in the Rhodoppe Mountains.

The complex consists of at least 9 altars each 2 meters in diameter located on an area of 12 square km. They are dated back to about 1 500 BC thanks to objects discovered around them, which is about the time of Ancient Egypt and the civilization of Mycenae and Minoan Crete. This is the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age.

On those altars, the ancient Thracians practiced fire rituals; similar rituals were practiced at about the same time in Ancient Egypt, on the island of Crete, and in the Hittites state in Asia Minor.

Professor Ovcharov, who gave a special press conference in the southern city of Kardzhali Wednesday, said the discovery of the cult complex may lead to the discovery of a connection between Ancient Thrace and the Minoan Crete civilization.

One of the altars Ovcharov's team found is built of stone plates with thickness of 1,5-2 meters; this is believed to be the largest altar in Southeast Europe. source

My comment: Eh, I so want to visit Perperikon. Like, really! Shame on me that it's close and I still have not seen it. Anyway, the similarities between Minoan and Egyption civilizations are no coincidences - I think it becomes more and more clear that those were very similar if not same people - the old inhabitants of Europe, the pelasgians. Interestingly enough, greek historians say that Thracians were the most numerous people on world after Indian, which implies that they considered all the non-greek people to be Thracians. As for Egypt, there are so many unbelievable evidences of language links between Thrakia (Thracia ) and Egypt!

‘Early man used crude version of sat-nav system’


In a new research, a scientist has found that prehistoric man navigated his way across England using a crude version of a satellite navigation system, which was based on stone circle markers.

He found that the prehistoric man was able to travel between settlements in England with pinpoint accuracy, thanks to a complex network of hilltop monuments.

These covered much of southern England and Wales and included now famous landmarks such as Stonehenge and The Mount. New research suggests that they were built on a connecting grid of isosceles triangles that “point” to the next site. Many are 100 miles or more away, but GPS co-ordinates show all are accurate to within 100 metres.

This provided a simple way for ancient Britons to navigate successfully from point A to B without the need for maps. “To create these triangles with such accuracy would have required a complex understanding of geometry,” said Brooks.

Brooks analyzed 1,500 sites stretching from Norfolk to north Wales. These included standing stones, hilltop forts, stone circles and hill camps.

Brooks found that they all lie on a vast geometric grid made up of isosceles triangles. Each triangle has two sides of the same length and point to the next settlement. source
My comment: Awesome, right?

Ancient Pacific islanders brought to light

December 21, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) -- A find of 60 headless skeletons summer 2009 may reveal the identity of the people who first inhabited the Pacific Ocean archipelago Vanuatu 3000 years ago.

When a team of archaeologists began excavating an old coral reef in Vanuatu in 2008 and 2009, they soon discovered it had served as a cemetery in ancient times. So far, 71 buried individuals have been recorded, giving new information on the islands’ inhabitants and their funeral rites.

Relatives did not treat their dead gently. Besides being headless, some of them had had their arms and legs broken, in order to fit into the coral reef cavities. Ravn suggests they may have been left to rot first, and buried later as skeletons.

Vanuatu is a nation of 83 islands, located 1,750 kilometres east of Australia. The soil contains remnants from a violent volcano eruption, believed to have taken place exactly 3000 years ago. Scientists have found no sign of human activity predating this event.

“The way these people are buried, bears witness of a body concept which is different from the whole-body concept in Europe the last 5000 years,” says Mads Ravn.

“There was no sharp divide between life and death, and the dead were participating in the present. A few decades ago in Bali and other Pacific islands, people were putting their ancestors’ skulls on display in their homes,” he adds.

This may explain why the Vanuatu skeletons are headless. One was found with five skulls on his chest, and Ravn believes the heads may have been used in ancestral rituals.

The islanders usually removed the volcanic ash before burying their dead under ashes and sand. Each grave is marked with a pottery jar decorated with intricate patterns, possibly stamped by small pieces of worked bone. The ceramic also depicts faces and eyes, perhaps images of their ancestors.

The skeletons’ DNA profiles should be ready later this winter, and the scientists hope to uncover kinship links among the dead. But there are already some findings of their health condition.

“People were suffering from gout and caries - both diseases associated with the good life. But we can tell from our samples that the inhabitants were laborious and strong. ” says Ravn.

“They were most probably fair skinned of Asian origin, unlike the present day Melanesians, whose skin is dark. The original settlers probably travelled on, or mixed up with the Melanesians that arrived later,” “But future DNA studies and isotopic analyses may later confirm that”, Ravn says.

source
My comment: That really sounds amazing! I can't wait for those DNA analysis, to check if those guys were really with Asian origin. Anyway, a great discovery! And not the burial rituals - this so interesting. I recently learned that Thracians didn't stigmatize suicide. And now exposing skulls of the ancestors. It looks like ancient societies had very different understanding of what death is.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Dinosaurs and evolution, 2009

Today:

  1. Are humans still evolving? Absolutely, says new analysis of long-term survey of human health
  2. Ancient Flying Pterosaur Also Sailed Seas (Update)
  3. African Origin Of Anthropoid Primates Called Into Question With New Fossil Discovery
  4. Reptiles stood upright after mass extinction
  5. Tiny T. rex fossil discovery startles scientists
Plesiosaur a victim of shark attack
Bizarre new horned tyrannosaur from Asia described.
Dinosaurs had 'earliest feathers'
A Third of Dinosaur Species Never Existed? - Very interesting article suggesting that dinosaurs went trough morphology changes during their lives which caused part of the fossils to be misinterpreted as new species. It makes sense...Again, it only proves how little we know about dinosaurs.

Are humans still evolving? Absolutely, says new analysis of long-term survey of human health

October 19th, 2009

As part of a working group sponsored by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC, the team of researchers decided to find out if natural selection — a major driving force of evolution — is still at work in humans today. The result? hasn't ground to a halt. In fact, we're likely to evolve at roughly the same rates as other living things, findings suggest.

Taking advantage of data collected as part of a 60-year study of more than 2000 North American women in the Framingham Heart Study, the researchers analyzed a handful of traits important to human health. By measuring the effects of these traits on the number of children the women had over their lifetime, the researchers were able to estimate the strength of selection and make short-term predictions about how each trait might evolve in the future.

After adjusting for factors such as education and smoking, their models predict that the descendents of these women will be slightly shorter and heavier, will have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, will have their first child at a younger age, and will reach menopause later in life.

"Humans are currently evolving," said Stearns. "Natural selection is still operating."

The changes may be slow and gradual, but the predicted rates of change are no different from those observed elsewhere in nature, the researchers say. source

My comment: I like how some people are absolutely convinced that there is no evolution to be seen around us and that is the proof that it never existed at all. This is I think the second study I paste here that proved that there is still evolution in humans even if it's harder to notice it, since it's so slow and we're not looking in the right direction. Take that, creationists :)

Ancient Flying Pterosaur Also Sailed Seas (Update)

October 19th, 2009 by John Davis
(PhysOrg.com) -- Tapejara was an excellent flyer that also had an innate nautical knowledge of sailing.

At first glance, the 115-million-year-old pterosaur looks like a Cretaceous design disaster. With a tail rudder on its head and a spindly, bat-like body, Tapejara wellnhoferi may appear fit for nothing but extinction.

However, researchers at Texas Tech University, the University of Kansas and University of Florida have found that the animal’s strange body actually made it a masterpiece of nature’s drawing boards. Not only could it walk and fly, but also it could sail across the sea.

Much like a Transformer, it could manipulate its body to match the same configuration as the world’s fastest modern windsurfers and sail across the surface of the ocean in search of prey. Then, it could take off quickly if the toothy underwater predators of its time got too close for comfort.

Chatterjee and his research team determined Tapejara’s sailing ability by studying the aero-hydrodynamics of pterosaur wings through physics and computer simulation. He will present his findings Oct. 21 at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Portland, Ore.

“Most likely, Tapejara would orient the wings in a fore-and-aft position like that of a sailing boat to exploit upwind sailing. The tilted cranial sail would create a slot effect like a sailboat, which produces a greater lift by improving airflow over the main sails. With the wind coming from ahead and to the side at about a 45-degree angle to the body, Tapejara could achieve speeds exceeding the wind speed. The fastest way to sail is with the wind coming from the side.”

were highly successful flying reptiles that lived 228 to 65 million years ago from the late Triassic Period to the end of the Cretaceous Period. They dominated the sky, swooping over the heads of other dinosaurs. Their sizes ranged from a sparrow to a Cessna plane with a wingspan of 35 feet, he said.

source

My comment: Awesome, huh? I think people are barely starting to understand what life was like when dinosaurs reined on the Earth!

African Origin Of Anthropoid Primates Called Into Question With New Fossil Discovery

ScienceDaily (Sep. 17, 2009)Well-preserved craniodental fossil remains from two primate species have been discovered during excavations at an Algerian site. They reveal that the small primate Algeripithecus, which is 50 million years old and until now was considered as the most ancient African anthropoid, in fact belonged to another group, that of the crown strepsirhines.

This research was carried out by a team of French researchers from the Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution (Université de Montpellier/CNRS), working with Algerian paleontologists from the universities of Tlemcen, Oran and Jijel. The resulting publication reopens the debate on the African origin of anthropoids, the group to which humans and apes belong.

In Egypt, the presence of more than a dozen fossilized anthropoid primates dating from 30 to 38 million years ago had long been known. This recent Franco-Algerian discovery thus advances the first true appearance of anthropoid primates on the African continent by more than 15 million years. With its major consequences on the evolutionary history of African anthropoid primates, this observation further strengthens the alternative hypothesis of an Asiatic origin for anthropoids. Furthermore, this paleontologic research reveals a hitherto unsuspected diversity and great antiquity of the first crown strepsirhines in Africa. source

Reptiles stood upright after mass extinction

September 15th, 2009 (PhysOrg.com) -- Reptiles changed their walking posture from sprawling to upright immediately after the end-Permian mass extinction, the biggest crisis in the history of life that occurred some 250 million years ago and wiped out 90% of all species.

In a detailed study of 460 fossil tracks of reptiles from below and above the boundary, Tai Kubo and Professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol have found that before the Permian extinction all the reptiles moved with their arms and legs held sideways in a sprawling posture, just like and do today.

After the mass extinction, the medium-sized and large reptiles of the subsequent Triassic period, walked with their legs tucked underneath their bodies, just like modern mammals.

Professor Benton said “Dinosaurs - and later the mammals - owe their success to being upright. An upright animal, like an elephant or a Diplodocus, can also be very large because its weight passes directly through the pillar-like legs to the ground. In addition, other upright animals, such as monkeys, could use their arms for climbing or gathering food.”

Walking upright can have great advantages - it means the stride can be longer and the animal can move with much less stress on the knee and elbow joints. Upright walking was the key to the success of the dinosaurs, which originated 25 million years after the great end-Permian crisis. The first dinosaurs were all bipeds and they also became very large. Sprawlers cannot become too big or their legs collapse.

Up to now, the transition from a sprawling to an upright was seen as long-term, possibly lasting some 20-30 million years, but the new evidence suggests that the event was much more rapid, and was perhaps initiated by the crisis. This new understanding shifts the evolutionary assumptions as well. source
My comment: I don't really understand why this transition was so quick, it doesn't really make sense, but precisely because of that, it is so interesting. And it is the obvious truth that bad things can ultimately lead to good things.

Tiny T. rex fossil discovery startles scientists

September 17, 2009

(CNN) -- A pint-sized version of the Tyrannosaurus rex, with similarly powerful legs, razor-sharp teeth and tiny arms, roamed China some 125 million years ago, said scientists who remain startled by the discovery.

An adult Raptorex was about 9 feet tall and weighed about 150 pounds, scientists say.

The predator, nicknamed Raptorex, lived about 60 million years before the T. rex and was slightly larger than the human male, scientists said.

The findings, to be released Friday in the journal Science, are based on fossilized remains discovered in lake beds in northeastern China. They show a dinosaur with many of the specialized physical features of Tyrannosaurus rex at a fraction of its size.

"The most interesting and important thing about this new fossil is that It is completely unexpected," said Stephen Brusatte, co-author of the article, in a conference call with reporters.

Scientists who have studied the fossilized animal, which was 5 to 6 years old when it died, believe it was an ancestor of the fearsome T. Rex.

Based on estimates of other similar-sized theropods, or "beast-footed" dinosaurs, Sereno and his colleagues estimate an adult Raptorex was about 9 feet tall and weighed about 143 pounds.

By contrast, the Tyrannosaurus rex, which topped the prehistoric food chain until dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago, was believed to weigh at least five tons.

Scientists hypothesize that Raptorex ran its prey down, using its enlarged skull, powerful jaws and sharp teeth to dispatch animals much larger than itself. Like the T. rex, the Raptorex also had tiny forelimbs, they said. source

Friday, 18 December 2009

The time speaks to us - humans get younger and younger, 2009

The Phoenicians were a trading people with settlements or colonies in many parts of the Mediterranean. Their origins have been traced to about 2300 BC and had declined by the early part of the 1st century AD.(source)
Few interesting links:
-link to Thracian mask-
-Aramaean sculptures(6000BC) -
-Lost cities of the world-
-Bactrian gold treasures- in Afganistan
-Cave Complex Allegedly Found Under Giza Pyramids -a giant complex of cave found underneath the pyramids.
Today:

  1. Mammals’ family tree predates the dinosaurs
  2. Human Population Expanded During Late Stone Age, Genetic Evidence Shows
  3. Was T. rex a chicken and baby killer?
  4. Early modern humans use fire to engineer tools from stone
  5. Evidence for Use of Fire Found at Peking Man Site
  6. Fossil find in Georgia challenges theories on early humans
  7. Chinese challenge to 'out of Africa' theory
Ok, many articles, but then I edited them very carefully, so they became quite short. I hope you enjoy them, but if you're too lazy to read them all - please know that they all push further and further back in time the dawn of human civilization. And this is VERY exciting.

Human Population Expanded During Late Stone Age, Genetic Evidence Shows

ScienceDaily (Aug. 4, 2009)Genetic evidence is revealing that human populations began to expand in size in Africa during the Late Stone Age approximately 40,000 years ago. A research team led by Michael F. Hammer found that sub-Saharan populations increased in size well before the development of agriculture. This research supports the hypothesis that population growth played a significant role in the evolution of human cultures in the Late Pleistocene.

There has been a longstanding disagreement whether humans began to increase in number as a result of innovative technologies and/or behaviors formulated by hunter-gatherer groups in the Late Pleistocene, or with the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic. Hammer's research integrates empirical genetics with discoveries in paleontology and archeology to help provide answers to interdisciplinary questions about which kinds of innovations led to the evolutionary success of humankind.

The researchers found that both hunter-gathers and food-producing groups best fit models with approximately ten-fold population growth beginning well before the origin of agriculture.

The team's finely executed experimental design and use of supercomputing power enabled them to determine that this expansion in population size likely began at the start of the Late Stone Age—a period in prehistory that shows an intensification of archeological sites, an increased abundance of blade-based lithic technologies, and enhanced long-distance exchange. source

My comment: Recently I had a major quarrel with an archaeologist, about the possible existence of an unknown ancient civilization. I don't get why those people are so convinced in their theories, when every day we witness discoveries that push the timing of Homo Sapiens development earlier and earlier in time. And how much a civilization needs to rise (and to fall)? It's hard to tell, but our own civillisation ha memories from say 7000 years ago. If that's all it takes, then every 10 000 years extra we get can hide a civilization. And note, I'm not even talking about civillisations as ours (although why not in 10 000 year, you have 7000 years to get to our level and 3 000 to fall and forget everything) . All I talk about is a civilization from say Roman style. I think it's fail enough to keep our minds open for such possibilities.

Was T. rex a chicken and baby killer?


By Charles Q. Choi
Aug. 7, 2009

Although past research has suggested Tyrannosaurus rex was related to chickens, now findings hint this giant predator might have acted chicken too.

Instead of picking on dinosaurs its own size, researchers now suggest T. rex was a baby killer that liked to swallow defenseless prey whole.

Fossil evidence of attacks of tyrannosaurs or similar gargantuan "theropods" on triceratops and duck-billed dinosaurs has been uncovered before, conjuring images of titanic clashes.

However, although there were a great many such giant carnivores over the course of the age of the dinosaurs, there are surprisingly few bite marks in the fossil record when compared to the age of mammals. Indeed, details of the scratches and punctures from most examples of dinosaur attacks seem to suggest these collisions between teeth and bone were accidents.

"The very few fossils that reflect the hunt of predatory dinosaurs on large herbivores tell a tale of failure — the prey either got away, or both prey and predator were killed," Rauhut noted.

This all hints that while conflicts between T. rexes and prey likely occurred, these were probably the exception and not the rule.

Instead, Rauhut and Hone suggest large theropods stuck mostly to devouring youngsters, including their bones, thus explaining why fossils bearing toothmarks are rare.

The fact that large theropods ate bones is certain. Fossilized dung, or coprolites, from large theropods often contain scraps of bone, suggesting these carnivores gulped down fragments of ribs, vertebrae, and other relatively small bones while feeding.

As further evidence for their idea, the researchers point out past finds of dinosaur nests "indicate that they contained large numbers of eggs which should have resulted in a high number of offspring," Rauhut said. "But little of this is reflected in the fossil record. Juvenile dinosaurs are surprisingly rare, maybe because many of them have been eaten by predators."

It makes sense that even a mighty carnivore like T. rex would aim young. The very rare finds of stomach contents of predatory dinosaurs suggest that small prey was swallowed whole.

Actually confirming or refuting this idea will be hard, since most of the possible evidence that large theropods preferred youngsters might have been destroyed "by theropods digesting it completely," Rauhut explained.

A number of alternative explanations for the lack of juvenile dinosaur bones exist as well. "Maybe juvenile bones naturally did not preserve as well, lived in environments where they wouldn't preserve as well," Hone said.

My comment: Here is one more article(Velociraptor's 'killing' claws were for climbing) suggesting that the claws weren't made for killing. I find it difficult to accept the mere lack of baby bones for a proof that the big guys ate them. Maybe they simply had extremely little juvenile mortality, right? It becomes harder and harder for me to imagine how the dinosaurs actually lived, because, well, it all points to a much more complicated "society" (or whatever the word is) than what movies like Jurassic park make us believe. And note - in most fairy tales, dragons were actually symbol of majesty and wisdom, even of danger too.

Early modern humans use fire to engineer tools from stone

TEMPE, Ariz. – Evidence that early modern humans living on the coast of the far southern tip of Africa 72,000 years ago employed pyrotechnology – the controlled use of fire – to increase the quality and efficiency of their stone tool manufacturing process, is being reported in the Aug. 14 issue of the journal Science. An international team of researchers deduce that "this technology required a novel association between fire, its heat, and a structural change in stone with consequent flaking benefits." Further, their findings ignite the notion of complex cognition in these early engineers.

"We show that early modern humans at 72,000 years ago, and perhaps as early as 164,000 years ago in coastal South Africa, were using carefully controlled hearths in a complex process to heat stone and change its properties, the process known as heat treatment," explains Brown.

This creates a long-chain technological process that the researchers explain requires a complex cognition, and probably language, to learn and teach.

The heating transformed a stone called silcrete, which was rather poor for tool making, into an outstanding raw material that allowed the modern humans to make highly advanced tools.

"In numerous field surveys with co-author David Roberts, who is a leading expert on silcrete formation, we were unable to locate stone outcrops with material that matched the fine-grained texture and often reddish color of the silcrete artifacts we excavated at Pinnacle Point," Brown says. "The silcrete we had collected was just not suitable for tool production."

Most of the silcrete they found was intensively flaked. It was unusual to find a piece larger than a few centimeters. However, one day in 2007, while Brown and Marean were at the Pinnacle Point Site 5-6 (PP5-6) they found a huge flake of silcrete embedded in ash – the largest piece of silcrete they had ever seen on an archaeological site, nearly 10 centimeters in diameter.

"It looked like it had been accidentally lost in a fire pit," Brown notes. He recalls how many of the silcrete tools from the site had a sheen or gloss that reminded him of tools he had examined in North American collections that were heat-treated.

To test their theory, Brown placed some of the silcrete stone beneath their fire pit one evening, building a hot fire over the top.

"When I returned to dig the stone out the following day, the results were amazing. After heating, the silcrete became a deep red color and was easily flaked. Most importantly, it looked exactly like silcrete from site PP5-6. Using heated silcrete we were then able to produce realistic copies of the actual silcrete tools," Brown says.

"Here are the beginnings of fire and engineering, the origins of pyrotechnology, and the bridge to more recent ceramic and metal technology," Brown says.

According to Marean, the silcrete bifaces are re-usable tools with many potential functions: effective hunting weapons, excellent knives and items of value for exchange.

"Prior to our work, heat treatment was widely regarded as first occurring in Europe at about 25,000 years ago," Marean says. "We push this back at least 45,000 years, and, perhaps, 139,000 years, and place it on the southern tip of Africa at Pinnacle Point."

source
My comment: Awesome, right! Continuing my comment from before - this new result push a specific epoch in our evolution as a specie with at least 45 000 years. This isn't little. True, on the scales of evolutions, it's not too much too. But this isn't so long ago from our point of view! And adoption of fire is one of the first myths in the Greek mythology, right? So this is obviously a turning point for mankind. So setting this time to 45 000 years earlier is quite interesting.

Evidence for Use of Fire Found at Peking Man Site

2009-08-11 12:26:22 CRIENGLISH.com Web Editor: Xu Leiying

Archaeologists have discovered several vertebrate fossils, ashes, burned bones and charcoal remnants at the Zhoukoudian caves, also known as the "Peking Man" site, China News Service reported on Monday.

The discovery proves that Peking man was able to use fire roughly 200-000 to 500,000 years ago, the article said. Many foreign experts once cast doubt on whether Peking Man could use fire at that time, because in past decades they found no direct evidence for its use. The recent archaeological discoveries directly refute their doubts, the article said.

Nearly 1,000 vertebrate fossils and a collection of stone tools were found at the excavation site about 45 km southwest of Beijing, according to Gao Xing, vice-director of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP). source

My comment: A little sidetrack: earliest flax fibers that are more than 34,000 years old. Ok, I take this with a pinch of salt, because Chinese archaeology is like unleashed. I'm not saying they are lying, they probably are not. But until it gets very confirmed, I'd go with the previous article. Not because I prefer Africa as an origin, not at all. Simply because it's more conventional. But if this discovery is true, just extrapolate my previous comment!

Fossil find in Georgia challenges theories on early humans

8 September 2009 19.29 BST

Early humans may have taken a detour into Eurasia before embarking on their epic journey out of Africa, according to new fossil evidence.

Palaeontologists in Georgia have unearthed remains of five primitive humans that date back to 1.8m years ago, suggesting some of our oldest ancestors lived in the region at the time.

The partial skeletons, which represent the earliest humans discovered outside Africa, challenge the theory that our ancestors evolved entirely on the continent and left the cradle of humanity only 60,000 years ago.

David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum, said the primitive humans were short, with small brains and strongly developed legs. Other remains suggest they lived alongside predators including sabre-toothed cats.

The fossils are thought to be early Homo erectus, a forerunner of modern humans, which lived in Africa 2m years ago. Lordkipanidze said some Homo erectus may have left Africa for Eurasia before returning much later.

The fossils were uncovered at the Dmanisi archaeological site south-west of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Remains thought to belong to two males and three females were found next to stone tools and animal bones bearing cut marks, suggesting the species prepared meat for food.

source

My comment: Hm, isn't this the description of Neanderthal? I know we're talking of different species, but I hope they did a very good DNA study. And anyway, the interesting part is that those guys used tools, so their brains wasn't that small. Though even monkeys (or most of the other animals) can learn to use tools.

Chinese challenge to 'out of Africa' theory

Jin Changzhu and colleagues of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing, announced to Chinese media last week that they have uncovered a 110,000-year-old putative Homo sapiens jawbone from a cave in southern China's Guangxi province.

The mandible has a protruding chin like that of Homo sapiens, but the thickness of the jaw is indicative of more primitive hominins, suggesting that the fossil could derive from interbreeding.

If confirmed, the finding would lend support to the "multiregional hypothesis". This says that modern humans descend from Homo sapiens coming out of Africa who then interbred with more primitive humans on other continents. In contrast, the prevailing "out of Africa" hypothesis holds that modern humans are the direct descendants of people who spread out of Africa to other continents around 100,000 years ago.

source

My comment: The same a before. I find this news for extremely exciting, but I'd really like to see confirmation and analysis of the new results. Because, ok, Homo Sapiens came out of Africa and interbred with other species. But what are those speices and why Homo Sapiens, who at that time probably used fire and traded interbred with lower species? It's not like we like to have sex with monkeys (I hope we don't!). And I don't get it, why all those species are considered interbredable. And where did the other species come from?

Mammals’ family tree predates the dinosaurs

By Jennifer Viegas
July 29, 2009

The world's first known tree-dwelling vertebrate has just been identified, according to a new study. The tiny, agile animal lived 30 million years before the first dinosaurs and was a distant relative of mammals, including humans.

More than 15 near-complete skeletons of the 260-million-year-old animal, named Suminia getmanovi, reveal that it was built for an arboreal lifestyle.

"As the first tree-climbing vertebrate, Suminia had very long fore and hind limbs, with especially long hands and feet," lead author Jorg Frobisch told Discovery News.

"In particular, its long fingers, or digits, contributed to these large hands and feet," added Frobisch, a Field Museum paleontologist. "It further had long, strongly-curved claws — terminal phalanges — that helped with clinging onto tree trunks and branches."

He and co-author Robert Reisz of the University of Toronto made these determinations after studying multiple skeletons, which were encased in a big, Late Paleozoic mudstone block excavated from central Russia.

The recent analysis, outlined in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows the vertebrate was about 20 inches long from its nose to the tip of its grasping tail. It had an opposable thumb and belonged to a class of animals known as the Synapsida.

The word "synapsid" comes from the name of an opening behind the eye socket. Only one other group, mammals, possesses this opening, thought to have provided space for jaw muscles needed for chewing, according to information provided by the American Museum of Natural History, which supports the human-Synapsida connection.

Other Paleozoic synapsids included Edaphosaurus and Dimetrodon, which both looked somewhat like a cross between an iguana and a dinosaur with a boat sail tacked on its back. source

My comment: Nice, huh :)

Exploring the Stone Age pantry

December 17, 2009
The consumption of wild cereals among prehistoric hunters and gatherers appears to be far more ancient than previously thought, according to a University of Calgary archaeologist who has found the oldest example of extensive reliance on cereal and root staples in the diet of early Homo sapiens more than 100,000 years ago. source

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Technology of the future, 02, 2010 - vibrations and energy

Today:

  1. Pickin' Up Good Vibrations to Produce Green Electricity
  2. Scientists: Man controlled robotic hand with thoughts
  3. Balancing protein intake, not cutting calories, may be key to long life
  4. Researchers show brain waves can 'write' on a computer in early tests
  5. Nerve-cell transplants help brain-damaged rats fully recover lost ability to learn
  6. At Stanford, nanotubes + ink + paper = equal instant battery (w/ Video)
I haven't posted for a while, since I'm busy with other hm, projects recently. But still, I think this post will be quite interesting for you, because of the amazing technologies described in the articles. Enjoy!

Pickin' Up Good Vibrations to Produce Green Electricity

November 30, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) -- Known as 'energy harvesting', the concept has been around for over a decade, but researchers from the University of Bristol aim to make it possible to make use of a much wider range of vibrations than is currently possible.

The team are exploring how vibrations caused by machines such as helicopters and trains could be used to produce power. Vibrations from household appliances and the movement of the human body could also be harnessed in this way.

"Vibration energy-harvesting devices use a spring with a mass on the end", says Dr Stephen Burrow, who is leading the project. "The mass and spring exploit a phenomenon called resonance to amplify small vibrations, enabling useful energy to be extracted. Even just a few milliwatts can power small electronic devices like a heart rate monitor or an engine temperature sensor, but it
can also be used to recharge power-hungry devices like or mobile phones."

The Bristol team are developing a new type of device where the mass and spring resonate over a much wider range of frequencies. This would enable a much wider range of vibrations to be exploited and so increase the overall contribution that energy harvesting could make to energy supplies. The team believes it can achieve this by exploiting the properties of non-linear springs which allow the energy harvester to respond to a wider range of frequencies than conventional springs.

If the research at Bristol succeeds in achieving its objectives, wider-frequency energy harvesting devices could be available for real-world use within five years. source

Scientists: Man controlled robotic hand with thoughts

December 2, 2009 By ARIEL DAVID , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- A group of European scientists said Wednesday they have successfully connected a robotic hand to an amputee, allowing him to feel sensations in the artificial limb and control it with his thoughts.

The experiment lasted a month, and scientists say it was the first time a patient has been able to make complex movements using his mind to control a biomechanic hand connected to his nervous system.

The Italian-led team said at a news conference Wednesday in Rome that last year it implanted electrodes into the arm of the patient who had lost his left hand and forearm in a car accident.

The prosthetic was not implanted on the patient, only connected through the electrodes. During the news conference, video was shown of 26-year-old Pierpaolo Petruzziello as he concentrated to give orders to the hand placed next to him.

"It's a matter of mind, of concentration," Petruzziello said. "When you think of it as your hand and forearm, it all becomes easier."

During the month he had the electrodes connected, Petruzziello learned to wiggle the robotic fingers independently, make a fist, grab objects and make other movements.

The euro2 million ($3 million) project, funded by the European Union, took five years to complete and produced several scientific papers that have been published or are being submitted to top journals, including Science Translational Medicine and , Rossini said.

After Petruzziello recovered from the microsurgery he underwent to implant the electrodes in his arm, it only took him a few days to master use of the , Rossini said. By the time the experiment was over, the hand obeyed the commands it received from the man's brain in 95 percent of cases.

Petruzziello, an Italian who lives in Brazil, said the feedback he got from the hand was amazingly accurate.

"It felt almost the same as a real hand. They stimulated me a lot, even with needles ... you can't imagine what they did to me," he joked with reporters.

While the "LifeHand" experiment lasted only a month, this was the longest time electrodes had remained connected to a human in such an experiment, said Silvestro Micera, one of the engineers on the team. Similar, shorter-term experiments in 2004-2005 had hooked up amputees to a less-advanced robotic arm, and patients were only able to make basic movements, he said.

It will take at least two or three years before scientists try to replicate the experiment with a more long-term prosthesis, the experts said. First they need to study if the hair-thin electrodes can be kept in longer.

Results from the experiment are encouraging, as the electrodes removed from Petruzziello showed no damage and could well stay in longer, said Klaus-Peter Hoffmann, a biomedical expert at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the German research institute that developed the electrodes.

More must also be done to miniaturize the technology on the arm and the bulky machines that translate neural and digital signals between the robot and the patient. source

My comment: Simply amazing! However, I can't even imagine how sad "the patient" was when they disconnected the arm and left him without it. It's too cruel thing to do to a person, like cutting his hand for a second time. I think they should have left it with him and simply replaced it when it broke down.


Balancing protein intake, not cutting calories, may be key to long life

December 2, 2009

Getting the correct balance of proteins in our diet may be more important for healthy ageing than reducing calories, new research funded by the Wellcome Trust and Research into Ageing suggests.

The research may help explain why 'dietary restriction' (also known as ) - reducing whilst maintaining sufficient quantities of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients - appears to have health benefits. In many organisms, such as the fruit fly (drosophila), mice, rats and the , these benefits include living longer. Evidence suggests that dietary restriction can have health benefits for humans, too, though it is unclear whether it can increase longevity.

Dietary restriction can have a potentially negative side effect, however: diminished fertility. For example, the female fruit fly reproduces less frequently on a low calorie diet and its litter size is reduced, though its reproductive span lasts longer. This is believed to be an evolutionary trait: in times of famine, essential nutrients are diverted away from reproduction and towards survival.

To understand whether the health benefits of dietary restriction stem from a reduction in specific nutrients or in calorie intake in general, researchers at the Institute of Healthy Ageing, UCL (University College London), measured the effects of manipulating the diet of female . The results of the study are published today in the journal Nature.

The fruit flies were fed a diet of yeast, sugar and water, but with differing amounts of key nutrients, such as vitamins, lipids and . The researchers found that varying the amount of amino acids in the mixture affected and fertility; varying the amount of the other nutrients had little or no effect.

In fact, when the researchers studied the effect further, they found that levels of a particular amino acid known as methionine were crucial to maximising lifespan without decreasing fertility. Adding methionine to a low calorie diet boosted fertility without reducing lifespan; likewise, reducing methionine content in a high calorie diet prolonged lifespan. Previous studies have also shown that reducing the intake of methionine in rodents can help extend lifespan.

Amino acids are the building blocks of life as they form the basis of proteins. Methionine is one of the most important amino acids at it is essential to the formation of all proteins. Whilst proteins are formed naturally in the body, we also consume proteins from many different food types, including meat and dairy products, soy-derived food such as tofu, and pulses. The relative abundance of methionine differs depending on the food type in question; it occurs in naturally high levels in foods such as sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, wheat germ, fish and meats.

source

My comment: That's a hell of a study. So, if you're on low calorie diet and you eat a lot of meat, fish or nuts, you'll get to live longer and be fertile. If you eat a lot of the same in the high calorie diet, you live less. Or to say it in another way - if you take a lot of calories, in the form of sugars and so on, you better consume less meat and so on. That sounds strange and sure, it is about the balance, but for me, they missed a point. This amino acid regulate in some way our metabolism, telling our body what to do with the calories it takes and this is the key moment. I don't know why they didn't look deeper but I think they really should.


Researchers show brain waves can 'write' on a computer in early tests

December 7, 2009

Neuroscientists at the Mayo Clinic campus in Jacksonville, Fla., have demonstrated how brain waves can be used to type alphanumerical characters on a computer screen. By merely focusing on the "q" in a matrix of letters, for example, that "q" appears on the monitor.

Researchers say these findings, presented at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, represent concrete progress toward a mind-machine interface that may, one day, help people with a variety of disorders control devices, such as prosthetic arms and legs. These disorders include Lou Gehrig's disease and , among many others.

Dr. Shih and other Mayo Clinic researchers worked with Dean Krusienski, Ph.D., from the University of North Florida on this study, which was conducted in two patients with epilepsy. These patients were already being monitored for using electrocorticography (ECoG), in which electrodes are placed directly on the surface of the brain to record electrical activity produced by the firing of . This kind of procedure requires a craniotomy, a surgical incision into the skull.

Dr. Shih wanted to study a mind-machine interface in these patients because he hypothesized that feedback from electrodes placed directly on the brain would be much more specific than data collected from (EEG), in which electrodes are placed on the scalp. Most studies of mind-machine interaction have occurred with EEG, Dr. Shih says.

Because these patients already had ECoG electrodes implanted in their brains to find the area where seizures originated, the researchers could test their fledgling brain-computer interface.

In the study, the two patients sat in front of a monitor that was hooked to a computer running the researchers' software, which was designed to interpret electrical signals coming from the electrodes.

The patients were asked to look at the screen, which contained a 6-by-6 matrix with a single alphanumeric character inside each square. Every time the square with a certain letter flashed, and the patient focused on it, the computer recorded the brain's response to the flashing letter. The patients were then asked to focus on specific letters, and the computer software recorded the information. The computer then calibrated the system with the individual patient's specific brain wave, and when the patient then focused on a letter, the letter appeared on the screen.

"We were able to consistently predict the desired letters for our patients at or near 100 percent accuracy," Dr. Shih says. source

My comment: Cool, but they should focus on words and ideas, because communication can be very hard if you try to spell each word letter by letter. And working with words shouldn't be too hard, once you have observed your patient and calibrated the software while s/he reads a book or watches tv. Sure, it requires a much better software and hardware, but once you get the meanings, it will be just pattern recognition. And the patient will have to focus on the world, so it won't be exactly mind reading. But just like you give a command to type or say a word, it should be the same with computers. Or maybe this is the key - how the brain gives the command to say/write something. Hm.

Nerve-cell transplants help brain-damaged rats fully recover lost ability to learn

December 9, 2009

Nerve cells transplanted into brain-damaged rats helped them to fully recover their ability to learn and remember, probably by promoting nurturing, protective growth factors, according to a new study.

Building on previous investigation of transplants in the , this critical study confirms that cell transplants can help the brain to heal itself. Ultimately, it may lead to new therapies to help dementia patients. More generally, scientists can now develop and test new ways to help repair an injured nervous system -- whether through new drugs, genetically modified cells, transplanted neural (nerve) and non-neural , or other means.

The discovery was announced in the December issue of Behavioral Neuroscience, published by the American Psychological Association. The findings, according to the authors, confirm the potential of cell grafts to stimulate the release of growth factors for neurons, regenerate or reorganize a part of the brain, and restore cognitive function, in a process called neural plasticity.

This study focused on the hippocampus, considered to be the seat of learning and memory, whose shrinkage in Alzheimer's disease causes steadily worsening symptoms. The study's authors targeted a key player in the hippocampal "learning system," which includes the hippocampus itself, the subiculum (the major output structure connected to the cortex, the self-aware "thinking" part of the brain), and the adjacent entorhinal cortex.

Previously, these scientists had demonstrated that damage to the subiculum in led to deterioration of the hippocampus, and problems with learning. The next question was obvious: Could researchers do the opposite, repair the hippocampus and restore the functions?

First, the scientists injected a neuron-destroying chemical into the subiculum area of 48 adult rats.

Next, again using precise micro-injections, the scientists transplanted hippocampal cells that had been taken from newborn transgenic mice and cultured in an incubator into the hippocampi of about half the rats. These special cells had a green fluorescent protein used to "label" and track them after transplantation.

Two months later, the scientists measured how well both the transplant and non-transplant rats learned and remembered, using two well-established maze tests of spatial learning. The rats given cell transplants had recovered completely: On both mazes, they performed as well as those rats which had not had their subiculums damaged. The rats without transplants did not recover: They had many problems learning their way through the mazes.

After studying behavior, the scientists examined what happened in the brain. Under the microscope, it appeared that the transplanted cells had settled mainly in a sub-area of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus. There, the transplants appeared to promote the secretion of two types of growth factors, namely brain-derived neurotrophic factor and fibroblast growth factor, which boost the growth and survival of the cells that give rise to neurons. In the hippocampi of rats with cell transplants, the expression of brain-derived growth factor went up threefold.

It is significant that transplants can provide more neural growth factors in the , because the formation of new neurons there may be critical for cognitive function.

source

My comment: Another amazing study, the only problem I see ahead of it, is how to produce the same substances for injections in humans. But I looks very promising and I hope they won't stall its application in humans forever. There is a well documented dementia crisis across Europe and since the retirement age increases, such treatments are essential for both good economy and good life.


At Stanford, nanotubes + ink + paper = equal instant battery (w/ Video)

December 7, 2009 By Janelle Weaver (PhysOrg.com) -- Stanford scientists are harnessing nanotechnology to quickly produce ultra-lightweight, bendable batteries and supercapacitors in the form of everyday paper.

Simply coating a sheet of with ink made of carbon nanotubes and silver makes a highly conductive storage device, said Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

Like batteries, capacitors hold an electric charge, but for a shorter period of time. However, capacitors can store and discharge electricity much more rapidly than a .

Cui's work is reported in the paper "Highly Conductive Paper for Energy Storage Devices," published online this week in the .

"These nanomaterials are special," Cui said. "They're a one-dimensional structure with very small diameters." The small diameter helps the nanomaterial ink stick strongly to the fibrous paper, making the battery and supercapacitor very durable. The paper supercapacitor may last through 40,000 charge-discharge cycles - at least an order of magnitude more than lithium batteries. The nanomaterials also make ideal conductors because they move electricity along much more efficiently than ordinary conductors, Cui said.

A paper supercapacitor may be especially useful for applications like electric or hybrid cars, which depend on the quick transfer of electricity. The paper supercapacitor's high surface-to-volume ratio gives it an advantage.

Cui predicts the biggest impact may be in large-scale storage of electricity on the distribution grid. Excess electricity generated at night, for example, could be saved for peak-use periods during the day. Wind farms and solar energy systems also may require storage. source

My comment: Awesome, huh! I hope they filed for a patent (I'm sure they did), because just imagine what this new technology can be used. It would be perfect for smart grids. You paint your wallpaper with this solution and then you really can store your energy on your walls. Or this can happen in the walls, in packages of paper, so that you can store even more and they will be a good insulation. Awesome!


The power of Nature, 2009

-a wonderful gallery of stuff inside your body-

Today:

  1. Girl with half a brain retains full vision
  2. Ants more rational than humans Parasite causes zombie ants to die in an ideal spot
  3. Brain cells have natural resistance to HIV
  4. Parasite causes zombie ants to die in an ideal spot
  5. Scientists find that individuals in vegetative states can learn

This will be again a post without a lot of comments. Just enjoy the power of Nature. It is really amazing.

Girl with half a brain retains full vision

A 10-year old girl born with half of her cerebral cortex missing sees perfectly because of a massive reorganisation of the brain circuits involved in vision, a new study finds.

Doctors discovered that she was missing the right half at the age of three, after she began suffering from seizures.

However, the seizures proved treatable and the girl – known as AH – lives an otherwise normal life. The left side of her body is slightly weaker than the right, but this hasn't stopped her from bicycling or roller-skating.

But what's most amazing, Muckli says, is her ability to see out of the left and right visual fields. Patients who have half of their cortex removed to treat epilepsy invariably lose half of their visual field.

AH, on the other hand, has no right hemisphere to receive any signal from her left visual field. What's more, her right eye never developed, so she should get visual information only from one half of her left eye – that is, from just one nerve bundle.

Brain scans performed by Muckli's team explain why that's not the case. Her retinal nerves that should normally connect to the right half of her brain instead set up shop in two parts of the left brain: the thalamus and the visual cortex.

In some cases, the diverted nerves seemed to have followed the molecular cues that would have guided nerves from the right eye, were they not missing. But for the most part, the left visual field neurons carved out their own islands in the right brain, Muckli says.

This kind of organisation allows AH's brain to process the left and right fields of vision distinctly from one another, ensuring that she sees both halves of her world. source

Ants more rational than humans

July 24th, 2009
This is not the case of humans being "stupider" than . Humans and animals simply often make irrational choices when faced with very challenging decisions, note the study's architects Stephen Pratt and Susan Edwards.

"This paradoxical outcome is based on apparent constraint: most individual ants know of only a single option, and the colony's collective choice self-organizes from interactions among many poorly-informed ants," says Pratt, an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The authors' insights arose from an examination of the process of nest selection in the ant, Temnothorax curvispinosus. These ant colonies live in small cavities, as small as an acorn, and are skillful in finding new places to roost. The challenge before the colony was to "choose" a nest, when offered two options with very similar advantages.

What the authors found is that in collective decision-making in ants, the lack of individual options translated into more accurate outcomes by minimizing the chances for individuals to make mistakes. A "wisdom of crowds" approach emerges, Pratt believes.

"Rationality in this case should be thought of as meaning that a decision-maker, who is trying to maximize something, should simply be consistent in its preferences." Pratt says.

"Typically we think having many individual options, strategies and approaches are beneficial," Pratt adds, "but irrational errors are more likely to arise when individuals make direct comparisons among options."

"It is hard to say. But it's at least worth entertaining the possibility that some strategic limitation on individual knowledge could improve the performance of a large and complex group that is trying to accomplish something collectively," Pratt says. source

My comment: Collective intelligence, everyone :) I'm quite a fan of this, even leaving Star Trek aside. It's amazing how well the ant society functions. Of course, we don't know if the ants are happy or sad about their situation or even if they have feelings at all, but still, I'm awed by the amplification that cooperative effects provide. I mean compare the feeling of listening to music on your own with going to a concert. It's a qualitatively different state of mind. And the only difference (apart from the noise level and the smelling bodies around) is in the number of people that share your experience. Ok, long subject, really, but there is so much to meditate upon in it.

Brain cells have natural resistance to HIV

Neurons can protect themselves against infection with HIV, new research has demonstrated. They owe their hardiness to a protein called FEZ-1, made uniquely by neurons, and which appears to lock out the virus.

The finding raises the possibility of new treatments to thwart HIV by using gene therapy or drugs to activate production of the same protein in cells other than neurons – especially the white blood cells most vulnerable to infection.

Mojgan Naghavi of University College Dublin, Ireland, along with her colleagues Juliane Haedicke and Craig Brown, established the protective effects of FEZ-1 by blocking production of the protein in human neurons.

When they did this, the neurons became vulnerable to infection. Likewise, they successfully blocked the usual infections in other types of brain cells, such as microglia, by engineering them to manufacture FEZ-1.

Next, the researchers hope to see if they can block HIV infection in white blood cells by genetically engineering them to produce FEZ-1. They also hope to find out more about how The only other established source of natural protection against infection is in people who can't make CCR5, a surface protein that HIV uses to gain entry to cells.

Drugs already exist to block CCR5, and other teams are testing gene therapies to restock patients' blood with cells engineered to not produce CCR5. source

Parasite causes zombie ants to die in an ideal spot

August 11th, 2009

A study in the September issue of The American Naturalist describes new details about a fungal parasite that coerces ants into dying in just the right spot -- one that is ideal for the fungus to grow and reproduce.

When a carpenter ant is infected by a fungus known as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the victim remains alive for a short time. The fungus, however, is firmly in the driver's seat. It compels the ant to climb from its nest high in the forest canopy down into small plants and saplings in the understory vegetation. The ant then climbs out onto the underside of a low-hanging leaf where it clamps down with its mandibles just before it dies. There it remains, stuck fast for weeks.

After the ant dies, the fungus continues to grow inside the body. After a few days, a stroma—the fungus's fruiting body—sprouts from the back of the ant's head. After a week or two, the stroma starts raining down spores to the forest floor below. Each spore has the potential to infect another unfortunate passerby.

At a field site in a Thai forest, Hughes's team found that the infected carpenter ants are almost invariably found clamped onto the undersides of leaves that are 25 centimeters (about 10 inches) from the ground below. What's more, most of the dead ants were found on leaves sprouting from the northwest side of the plant. Interestingly, the researchers found that temperature, humidity and sunlight in these spots are apparently optimal for the fungus to grow and reproduce. When the researchers placed leaves with infected ants at higher locations, or on the forest floor, the parasite failed to develop properly.

"The fungus accurately manipulates the infected ants into dying where the parasite prefers to be, by making the ants travel a long way during the last hours of their lives," Hughes said.

As the fungus spreads within a dead ant's body, it converts the ant's innards into sugars which are used to help the fungus grow. But it leaves the muscles controlling the mandibles intact to make sure the ant keeps its death grip on the leaf. The fungus also preserves the ant's outer shell, growing into cracks and crevices to reinforce weak spots. In doing this, the fungus fashions a protective coating that keeps microbes and other fungi out. At that point, it can safely get down to the business of claiming new victims.

Carpenter ants apparently have few defenses against the fungus. The most important way they avoid infection seems to be staying as far away from victims as possible. That may be part of the reason why these ants make their nests in the forest canopy, high above fungal breeding zones. Carpenter ants also seem to avoid blazing their foraging trails under infected areas.

The mechanisms and cues the uses to control an ant's behavior remain unknown. source

My comment: Oh, that is so awesome! I mean seriously - a fungus that knows precisely what it's doing! It's even somewhat scary! They make the ant go precisely where they want it, they eat only specific tissues ...Come on. This sounds so intelligent. If we have then on our Planet, just imagine what we can find on other planets.

Scientists find that individuals in vegetative states can learn

September 20th, 2009

Scientists have found that some individuals in the vegetative and minimally conscious states, despite lacking the means of reporting awareness themselves, can learn and thereby demonstrate at least a partial consciousness.

It is the first time that scientists have tested whether patients in vegetative and minimally conscious states can learn. By establishing that they can, it is believed that this simple test will enable practitioners to assess the patient's consciousness without the need of imaging.

By using classical Pavlonian conditioning, the researchers played a tone immediately prior to blowing air into a patient's eye. After some time training, the patients would start to blink when the tone played but before the air puff to the eye.

This learning requires conscious awareness of the relation between stimuli - the tone precedes and predicts the puff of air to the eye. This type of learning was not seen in the control subjects, volunteers who had been under .

The researchers believe that the fact that these patients can learn associations shows that they can form memories and that they may benefit from rehabilitation.

Additionally, this research suggests that if the patient shows learning, then they are likely to recover to some degree."

In 2006, the Cambridge Impaired Group at the Wolfson Brain Imaging Unit showed, using functional imaging, showed that patients in vegetative states (as defined by behavioural assessment in the clinic) can in fact be conscious despite being unable to show consistent voluntary movements. source

My comment: (read the comments for more). As for me, it really proves just a capability of stimuli connections but still, it's very interesting.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Ancient history as seen today, 2009

First, here's a link to an article discussing the Nok culture-interesting African culture from 2500 years ago, that could smelt iron.

  1. Hand axes in Europe nearly a million years old: study
  2. Europe's first farmers replaced their Stone Age hunter-gatherer forerunners
  3. Milk drinking started around 7,500 years ago in central Europe
  4. 2,000-year-old skeleton found in Mongolia
  5. Heating System Confirms Ancient Kingdom Was Korean
  6. Greeks uncorked French passion for wine
I'm not sure  how useful you'll find this post, because it's mostly articles I find useful for my historical search for the Truth, but I hope at least some things will be interesting for you. As for me, I find it very interesting article number 2,3,4 and 5, because they concern tribes I'm personally interested in. If you get annoyed by my obsession with Thracian (or Trakians which is the original name- "t-ra-ki-a" - land of Ra), I appologise. A friend asked me yesterday why I'm so interested in them. Well, it is very simple - they were great. They were gorgeous. This is the first European civilisation (or at least that I am aware of!) who had the belief in the immortal soul, who understood the power of music and vibration, who made amazing gold treasures, who were well real people. And what is even more interesting is that we know so little of them, it's almost like someone doesn't want that we know. For example, yesterday I checked some new Bulgarian books on ancient history. There was NOTHING on Thracia. Only in books  explicitly dedicated to Thracia, but not in general history. Nothing! It is amazing, because these people gave so much to our civilisation and our own historians don't care. I bought myself 2 very exciting books (that makes 3 now) on the subject, so you can expect very interesting and not so general posts. For now, have fun with general history. 

Hand axes in Europe nearly a million years old: study

September 2nd, 2009

Early humans used two-sided stone axes in Europe up to 900,000 years ago, far earlier than previously thought, according to a study released Wednesday.

The transition from primitive chopper-like tools to more finely crafted double-faced axes marked a milestone in the history of technology, and gave those whose wielded them an edge in the struggle to survive.

The revised dating of tools discovered in the 1970s at two sites in Spain largely erases a time gap that had long perplexed scientists.

Before the new study, the earliest double axes found in Europe were thought to date from only 500,000 years ago -- fully a million years after they had come into use in Africa.

Gary Scott and Luis Gibert of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in Berkeley, California applied a technique called magnetostratigraphy to determine that the hatchets were in fact crafted between 760,000 and 900,000 years ago.

Magnetostratigraphy is based on the periodic reversal of Earth's magnetic field.

Acting like tiny compasses, fine-grained magnetic minerals in the tools contain a record of the polarity at the time they were used. Once buried in sediment, the polarity is preserved.

"The age (of the axes) must be Early Pleistocene, the most recent period dominated by reverse polarity, 1.78-to-0.78 million years ago," the researchers concluded. source

Europe's first farmers replaced their Stone Age hunter-gatherer forerunners

September 3rd, 2009 (PhysOrg.com) -- DNA study suggests that further waves of prehistoric immigration are waiting to be discovered. Central and northern Europe's first farmers were immigrants with barely any ancestral ties to the modern population, a study has found.

Researchers used DNA taken from the remains of farmers who worked the land more than 7,000 years ago to discover that they were not related to the hunter-gatherers who inhabited Europe previously. Instead, they probably belonged to an immigrant population, possibly from south-eastern Europe.

The study also found that the ancient hunter-gatherers do share their predominant DNA type with some modern Europeans, unlike the agriculturalists who arrived in Europe at a later stage. Neither group, however, explains the genetic make-up of much of Europe's current population, which indicates that there were other waves of prehistoric migration that still remain uncharted.

Generations of scholars have puzzled over whether the change in lifestyle from hunter-gatherer to farmer was brought to Europe by new people, or whether only the idea of farming spread. The new report provides persuasive evidence that it arrived in central Europe with a wave of immigrants approximately 7,500 years ago.

Researchers compared new mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences from late European hunter-gatherers (up to 13,000 years old) with sequences from early farmers (7,500 years old), as well as with sequences from modern Europeans.

They found significant genetic differences between all three groups which cannot be explained by population continuity. Most (82%) of the hunter-gatherers share a genetic lineage known as "U", which is still found today in a minority of Europeans - about 5% of Mediterranean people, increasing northwards to 20-40% of traditional tribes in north-eastern Russia and Finland, such as the Saami.

The major DNA type among the farmers, however, was type N1a, which is exceptionally rare, found in less than 0.2% of the European population. The fact that this lineage was not shared with the hunter-gatherers means that the farmers were immigrants who, at least initially, did not mix with the existing population of Europe at the time.

"A new puzzle emerges, however. Neither the hunter-gatherers nor the early farmer DNA can account for all European genetic variants today. It seems we need to look for more major, unidentified migrations into, or within, prehistoric Europe. These additional waves might have consisted of secondary farming movements or of later metalworkers."

Humans first arrived in Europe 45,000 years ago, replacing a Neanderthal population. A series of major climactic changes then ensued, including the last Ice Age. Hunter-gathering helped humans to survive through that period and was still in evidence 11,000 years ago, as the Ice Age ended. Within a few thousand years, however, it had largely disappeared, as the new wave of immigrants settled and domesticated plants and animals.

The study suggests that these farmers settled first in the Carpathian Basin.

Farming itself is believed to have begun in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East, between 12,000 and 7,000 years ago. Early communities there began to produce the so-called "founder crops", such as wheat and barley. More recently, it has become clear that early Chinese communities domesticated their own grains, such as rice and millet, independently of western influence and a growing body of research suggests that these methods may also have spread to the West. source

My comment: This is very interesting article. Clearly, it's hard to find out the history of Europe by merely comparing DNA, but the good thing about DNA is that it doen't lie (unlike historical sources). I find it interesting that the proto-tribes inhabited Europe like Thracians and Pelasgians were so different from the hunters before and that they made so little contact with them. And that of course, they genes later simply disappeared, melted by unknown source of new people like the Slavs, the Greeks and so on. 


Milk drinking started around 7,500 years ago in central Europe

The ability to digest the milk sugar lactose first evolved in dairy farming communities in central Europe, not in more northern groups as was previously thought, finds a new study led by UCL (University College London) scientists published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology. The genetic change that enabled early Europeans to drink milk without getting sick has been mapped to dairying farmers who lived around 7,500 years ago in a region between the central Balkans and central Europe. Previously, it was thought that natural selection favoured milk drinkers only in more northern regions because of their greater need for vitamin D in their diet. People living in most parts of the world make vitamin D when sunlight hits the skin, but in northern latitudes there isn't enough sunlight to do this for most of the year.

In the collaborative study, the team used a computer simulation model to explore the spread of lactase persistence, dairy farming, other food gathering practices and genes in Europe. The model integrated genetic and archaeological data using newly developed statistical approaches.

Professor Mark Thomas, UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment, says: "Most adults worldwide do not produce the enzyme lactase and so are unable to digest the milk sugar lactose. However, most Europeans continue to produce lactase throughout their life, a characteristic known as lactase persistence. In Europe, a single genetic change (13,910*T) is strongly associated with lactase persistence and appears to have given people with it a big survival advantage. Since adult consumption of fresh milk was only possible after the domestication of animals, it is likely that lactase persistence co-evolved with the cultural practice of dairying, although it was not known when it first arose in Europe or what factors drove its rapid spread.

"Our study simulated the spread of lactase persistence and farming in Europe, and found that lactase persistence appears to have begun around 7,500 years ago between the central Balkans and central Europe, probably among people of the Linearbandkeramik culture. But contrary to popular belief, we also found that a need for dietary vitamin D was not necessary to explain why lactase persistence is common in northern Europe today."

The spread of fresh milk drinking from the Balkans across Europe also explains why most European lactase-persistent people carry the same version of the gene; it surfed on a wave of population expansion that followed the rapid co-evolution of milk tolerance and dairy farming. In Africa, there are four known lactase persistence gene variants and probably many more yet to be discovered. Most are likely to be of African origin but the European version is also found there, especially among the Falani people.  source

My comment: Central Balkans are generalised as Central Europe? Am, Hello?! Anyway, this comes as no surpise to me, for the obvious reasons. I think many more beautiful things originated from the "central Balkans" (which is what, todays Bulgaria and Serbia?), we just have yet to find them out. And by the way, for those of you who don't know me yet, this is not nationalism,  in my case, I'm just awed by a great civilisation that disappeared from world history for unknown reason, but which cannot disappear from our hearts and mostly blood. 

2,000-year-old skeleton found in Mongolia


 The National Museum of Korea said yesterday it has unearthed a 2,000-year-old skeleton of a Mongolian nomad at the Xiongnu Tombs (198 tombs) of Duurlignars, about 500 kilometers northeast of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. 

 The skeleton of a man was identified as mortal remains of the Xiongnu, a confederation of nomadic tribes in Central Asia, a finding that archeologists and historians could use to advance the studies about the ancient tribe. The Xiongnu tribe is often linked with the Huns, a tribe which is better known in Europe, but identification of the two tribes has yet to be confirmed.

This year, the archeologists discovered a number of artifacts such as bowls and a mirror at four different tombs at the excavation site. The skeleton, whose structure remains largely intact, was found in one of the tombs.

 The Xiongnu Tombs of Duurlignars is widely regarded as one of the three key sites that might help unlock the mystery about the ancient tribe. The other two sites are Noyon-Uul in northern Mongolia and Gol-Mod in the central region of the country. 

The Xiongnu tribe defeated and displaced the then-dominant Yuezhi and secured control on the steppes north of China around 2nd century B.C. Their influence reached southern Siberia, western Manchuria and the modern Chinese provinces of Inner Mongolia, Gansu, and Xinjiang. Since the tribe was considered hostile and aggressive, the Qin Dynasty built the Great Wall to protect itself from Xiongnu attacks. source


My comment:Have you ever heard of this tribe? I haven't. But the very idea that the Great Wall was built because of them is very interesting and that's why this article is here, for future referencing. And note, they are often related with the huns and well, we all love huns. You probably remember the article on Huns by a hungarian researcher I published recently. 


Heating System Confirms Ancient Kingdom Was Korean

The largest "ondol" heating system dating from the Balhae Kingdom has been unearthed in a nearly intact state in Russia's Maritime Province, confirming the kingdom to have been a Korean settlement.

Ondol, literally "warm stone", is an under-floor heating system where flues carry hot gases below the living space. They were a distinct feature of Korean dwellings and are not found in the remains of Chinese, Khitan or Jurchen homes.

The discovery proves not only that Balhae was a successor state to the ancient Korean kingdom of Koguryo, but also defeats the logic of China's recent "Northeast Project", which says Koguryo and Balhae were simply autonomous Chinese frontier districts.

The trace of the U-shaped ondol pipe (14.8m long) which points toward the southwest, is 3.7 m. wide to the west, 6.4 meters to the north and 4.7 meters to the east, and is 1-1.3 m wide. Prof. Evgenia Gelman of Far-Eastern State Technical University, who unearthed the remains, said the discovery clearly showed Balhae to have been a successor state to Koguryo.

 Aug. 25, 2005 19:05 KST source
My comment:Well, I find this kind of questionable. The fact that they used heating pipes, may point to Korea or it may simply say that these people liked the idea of heating pipes and used it on their own. I think this conclusion is kind of preliminary. 

Greeks uncorked French passion for wine

October 23, 2009
(PhysOrg.com) --

Rewind 2,500 years, however, and the original makers of Côtes-du-Rhône are more likely to have prided themselves on rather different qualities, such as Athenian sophistication, and perhaps just a soupçon of Spartan grit.

Writing in a new study, Cambridge University Professor Paul Cartledge suggests that the French, not to mention the rest of the West, might never have become the passionate wine lovers we are without the assistance of a band of pioneering Greek explorers who settled in southern France around 600 BC.

Finding a sheltered port at the mouth of a major river system with natural hilly defences, the Greeks founded the city of Massalia, or modern-day Marseilles, and soon began to mingle and trade with friendly local tribes of Ligurian Celts, turning the settlement into a bustling entrepôt.

Within a matter of generations, Professor Cartledge says, the nearby Rhône became a major thoroughfare for vessels loaded with terracotta amphorae containing a new, exotic Greek drink made from fermented grape juice that would soon be taking the uncivilised tribes of western Europe by storm. Travelling up the river might even have constituted the original booze cruise.

Although some academics agree that the Greeks were central to the foundation of Europe's wine trade, others argue that the Etruscans (of modern Tuscany), or even the later Romans, were the ones responsible for bringing viticulture to France.

Rather than covering the geographical area occupied by the modern Greek state, he argues that we should understand Ancient Greece as having covered a far greater area, from Georgia in the east to Spain in the west.

Modern scholars accept that Ancient Greece was a conglomeration of cities such as Athens, Sparta and Thebes, but further-flung offshoots like Marseilles, Nice, Syracuse and Byzantium have typically been regarded as colonial outposts.

In fact, Professor Cartledge says, they were an extension of the Greek model, which had no sense of a wider state beyond that of the self-governing city and its hinterland, rather like Italian city states centuries later.

From 750 BC onwards, hundreds of these settlements and trading posts started to pop up around the shores of the Mediterranean - "like frogs around a pond", as Plato later put it - and in many cases they were as independent as Athens, Sparta, or any of their more famous sister sites.

The study argues that it is this idea of a Greater Greece which really explains why the achievements of the Greeks in fields such as art, architecture, politics, literature and philosophy continue to affect the western world so profoundly thousands of years on. Greek influence can be found everywhere, Professor Cartledge argues, because Greece itself was all over the place.

source

My comment: Ok, this one is complicated. I don't know where Greek people migrated to, but let's not get overwhelmed by their culture and so on. In fact, Greeks philosopher were just the lucky few who were able to travel to most of the cradles of philosophy. Wine on itself according to Wikipedia has originated from at around 6000 BC in areas now within the borders of Georgia and Iran and "appeared in Europe at about 4500 BC in what is now Bulgaria and Greece, and was very common in ancient Greece, Thrace and Rome".  So let's not call it Greek discovery, it is not! The Greek god Dionysos was just an adoption of Thracian god and its rituals are also with thracian origin. I don't know who went to Marseilles, some comments in the source article suggest that there are people still speaking Greek in France(which is kind of weird after all those years), so maybe they were Greek after all. But note that there were a Celtic kingdom on the Balkans for a while(60 years), thus the Celts were well able to study how to make wine and to bring the new knowledge across Europe. As for the Greek dominions - I think you should speak in terms of cities and not regions. Because if you see a map of the Balkans from those times - only a small part of its bottom angle is Greek - the other provinces are Thracians.