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Monday, 24 May 2010

News from the past, 05.2010

What's new with Neanderthals?
In praise of… Neanderthal man - finally people realise how wrong they were about Neanderthals.
65,000-Year-Old Language Goes Extinct - look at the picture on the site. There's something amazing in this woman!

Boa SrBoa Senior died last week, ending ancient Andaman culture
Alok Das/ Survival International

Today:
  1. Modern Behavior of Early Humans Found Half-Million Years Earlier Than Thought
  2. Genetic studies show modern humans on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau 21,000 years ago
  3. Mummy mystery GMC geology professor to dig into Chilean burial methods
  4. Iranians celebrate ancient Persian fire fest
  5. Ancient hominids may have been seafarers

Modern Behavior of Early Humans Found Half-Million Years Earlier Than Thought

ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2009)Evidence of sophisticated, human behavior has been discovered by Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers as early as 750,000 years ago -- some half a million years earlier than has previously been estimated by archaeologists.
The discovery was made in the course of excavations at the prehistoric Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site, located along the Dead Sea rift in the southern Hula Valley of northern Israel, by a team from the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. Analysis of the spatial distribution of the findings there reveals a pattern of specific areas in which various activities were carried out. This kind of designation indicates a formalized conceptualization of living space, requiring social organization and communication between group members. Such organizational skills are thought to be unique to modern humans.
Analyses of the spatial distribution of all these finds revealed two activity areas in the layer: the first area is characterized by abundant evidence of flint tool manufacturing.
In the second area, identified evidence indicates a greater variation of activities -- all of which took place in the vicinity of a hearth. The many wood pieces found in this area were used as fuel for the fire... source

My comment: I don't know if people realise how much 500 000 years difference are! This is very very serious number. If we thought that humans needed 250 000 years to develop a civilisation, that makes 2 civilisations! On the other side, I think this is maybe more a negative news - it means that we needed more than 750 000 years to develop to our stage. But then, maybe this were different kind of "we". After all, nothing stops other species or tribes to be more advanced. Even now, there are humans that don't know what civilisation is and we're talking only about 2-3000 years!

Genetic studies show modern humans on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau 21,000 years ago


KUNMING, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- Chinese scientists have found through genetic studies that modern humans had successfully colonized the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in the Late Paleolithic Age, at least 21,000 years ago.
The plateau, with an average altitude above 4,000 meters and known as "the Roof of the World" in southwestern China, is one of the most challenging areas in the world for human settlement due to its environmental extremes, such as extreme cold and low oxygen levels.
"Based on studies of their mitochondrial DNA genome variation, our results confirm the vast majority of Tibetan matrilineal components can trace their ancestry to Epipaleolithic and Neolithic immigrants from what is now northern China, or about 10,000 years ago, which accords with previous studies," Zhao said. "Unlike Tibetan matrilineal components inherited from north China immigrants, M16 branched off directly from the genetic components of the ancestors of modern Eurasians," Zhao said.
"M16 has an ancient age of at least 21,000 years, based on calculations through various dating methods in genetics," she said.
"Its nearly exclusive distribution in Tibetan populations and ancient age suggest that M16 may represent the genetic relics of the Late Paleolithic inhabitants on the plateau," she said.
Archaeologists have discovered Paleolithic human hand and footprints near Lhasa, the heart of the plateau, and reckoned they dated back about 20,600 years to 21,700 years, she said. sourceMy comment: Very interesting. I had no idea Tibetans live there for so long. And luckily for the geneticists, they probably didn't mess with other populations thus preserving their genes clean for examination. Very very nice. It's cool how their haplogroup is so unique. Unfortunately, I have no idea what this might mean for the bigger picture.

Mummy mystery GMC geology professor to dig into Chilean burial methods


By Gordon Dritschilo Staff Writer - Published: January 31, 2010
POULTNEY — Geologist John Van Hoesen will leave for Chile in early 2011 to join in studies of mummies left behind by the Chinchorro people. He will work with a Chilean colleague.Van Hoesen said the Chinchorro mummies, which predate the Egyptians at 5,000 to 7,000 years old, are some of the best preserved ever found.

The Chinchorro would skin their dead, disassemble the bodies, make a frame for them from reeds and then sew the skin back on. Then they would cover them with clay. The clay they used contained manganese, which is where Van Hoesen comes in.

"There's absolutely no manganese anywhere near the sites where they buried these bodies," he said.

The nearest known manganese deposits are 60 to 80 kilometers away from the site. Van Hoesen said most archeologists believe the Chinchorro would not have traveled more than 40 kilometers. In the arid landscape, they would have had to carry water with them.

Van Hoesen will do chemical comparisons between the manganese on the mummies and at the remote sites. If they match, Van Hoesen said, it will lend credibility to the theory that the Chinchorro were highland people who moved to the coast.

 sourceMy comment: It really is weird that those people would go so far just to mummify their dead. In that case, the whole ritual should be very "expensive", because it would take their best men, to go all the way to get the resources, then to get back, consuming food and not working or fighting for the tribe. I think it's more likely that they were involved in some trade. 

Iranians celebrate ancient Persian fire fest


By Ali Akbar Dareini
updated 5:41 p.m. ET Jan. 31, 2010
CHAM, Iran - Thousands of Iranians gathered at dusk against a snowy mountain backdrop to light giant bonfires in an ancient mid-winter festival dating back to Iran's pre-Islamic past that is drawing new interest from Muslims.
Saturday's celebration was the first in which the dwindling remnants of Iran's once plentiful Zoroastrian religious minority were joined by thousands of Muslims, reflecting a growing interest in the strict Islamic society for the country's ancient traditions.
The festival, known as Sadeh, celebrates the discovery of fire and its ability to banish the cold and dark, and it is held in the frigid depths of winter.
Sadeh was the national festival of ancient Persia when Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion, before the conquest of Islam in the 7th century. Now it is mostly celebrated just in the homes and temples of Iran's 60,000 remaining Zoroastrians.
Recently, however, there has been an upsurge of interest among Iranian Muslims — more than 90 percent of the population — in their ancient heritage, when vast Persian empires held sway over much of central Asia and fought Greek warriors and Roman legions.

Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion predating Christianity and Islam and is believed to have influenced those faiths — and Judaism as well — being one of the first religions with a strong notion of good and evil.
Zoroastrians believe they must fight evil through good deeds, words and thoughts, including charity and service. Fire plays a central role in worship as a symbol of truth and the spirit of God. Prayer is often performed in front of a fire, and consecrated fires are kept perpetually burning in major temples.
The religion was founded in ancient Persia about 3,000 years ago, according to some scholarly estimates, by Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, whom the faith considers a prophet.
Zoroastrians once numbered in the millions but were persecuted and forced to convert after Muslims rose to power in Iran. A small number fled to India and their descendants became known as Parsis, or people from Persia.
According to some estimates, there are only about 150,000 Zoroastrians in the world today.

On Saturday, in the small mountain village of Cham in central Iran, an estimated 5,000 people — more than half of them Iranian Muslims — gathered for the festival, as white-robed priests recited hymns in ancient Persian from their holy book and children danced to lively music.
The ceremony climaxed with men and women dressed in traditional dress carrying torches and lighting the massive bonfire.

Although Islam has been dominant for centuries in Iran, its Zoroastrian past has left its mark on the people through festivals and traditions still celebrated to this day.
The most well known is the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, celebrated in March, when people light bonfires, set off firecrackers and dance in the streets to put their failures behind them and start the new year with prosperity.
At the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, Iranians buy fruit, nuts and other goodies to mark the feast of Chelleh, also known as Yalda, an ancient tradition when families get together and stay up late, swapping stories and munching on snacks. Sizdeh Bedar, or public picnic day, on April 4 is another legacy from the pre-Islamic era.
My comment: Because our country also have rich pre-Christian past I can only be happy reading this article. And the most interesting thing is that we, in Bulgaria, have similar bonfire festival in approximately the same time. Cool, huh?

Ancient hominids may have been seafarers

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Human ancestors that left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago to see the rest of the world were no landlubbers. Stone hand axes unearthed on the Mediterranean island of Crete indicate that an ancient Homo species — perhaps Homo erectus — had used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between, says archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island.
Several hundred double-edged cutting implements discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete date to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier, Strasser reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology. Many of these finds closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus, he says. H. erectus had spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe by at least that time.
Until now, the oldest known human settlements on Crete dated to around 9,000 years ago. Traditional theories hold that early farming groups in southern Europe and the Middle East first navigated vessels to Crete and other Mediterranean islands at that time.
Other researchers have controversially suggested that H. erectus navigated rafts across short stretches of sea in Indonesia around 800,000 years ago and that Neandertals crossed the Strait of Gibraltar perhaps 60,000 years ago.
 sourceMy comment: Now this is news. I think it's amazing how theories that lasted for decades can change for a year. But that's real science. Everything else is fanaticism. And I never thought that H.erectus was that developed intellectually. But hey, that makes science exciting!

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