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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The geomantic sight of humans and other bio miracles, 2012

  1. Crows are capable of distinguishing symbols, study finds
  2. Mega beats Mimi for world's biggest virus
  3. New research proves parrot chicks learn their names from parents
  4. Humans Could Have Geomagnetic Sight
  5. Scientists find microbes in lava tube living in conditions like those on Mars
  6. Experiments explain why almost all multicellular organisms begin life as a single cell
  7. Amazon fungi found that eat polyurethane, even without oxygen
  8. Study first to show transgenerational effect of antibiotics

Crows are capable of distinguishing symbols, study finds

October 10, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier
( -- A new study published in Animal Behavior shows that crows are capable of recognizing symbols designed to represent different quantities and is one of many different studies currently looking at the behavior and intelligence of crows.
The new study, conducted by a team of Japanese scientists led by Shoei Sugita from Utsunomiya University, looked at eight jungle crows. These birds are a larger, bigger-beaked relative to the American crow. The idea behind the first experiment was to determine if crows were able to determine which container When the birds were presented with the containers they had a 70 percent success rate in choosing the container with food.
Other experiments changed up the symbols and used things like shapes and other numbers and the overall results found were that the crows were able to choose the symbol representing food anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the time. Altogether, the researchers performed 20 different experiments.
The study confirms, according to the researchers, that crows are able to distinguish between quantities of items. Other studies on crows conducted at the Utsunomiya University over the last few years have also determined that crows are capable of distinguishing between the human faces of men and women. source
My comment: Above 70% of success is a quite significant number! It makes crow-horror movies even creepier.  

Mega beats Mimi for world's biggest virus

October 10, 2011
A virus found in the sea off Chile is the biggest in the world, harbouring more than 1,000 genes, surprised scientists reported on Monday. The genome of Megavirus chilensis is 6.5 percent bigger than the DNA code of the previous virus record-holder, Mimivirus, isolated in 2003.
Viruses differ from bacteria in that they are usually far smaller and cannot reproduce on their own, needing to penetrate a host cell in which to replicate. But M. chilensis is such a giant that it surpasses many bacteria in size and is genetically the most complex DNA virus ever described. It was taken from sea water sample closed to the shore of Las Cruces, Chile. Its host organism is unknown. source
My comment: I would love to know what the host organism to this giant virus is. I mean, it's huge! A quick check in google shows that more than 1 year after the discovery, scientists still don't know what the host is. Could it be alien? ;)

New research proves parrot chicks learn their names from parents

July 14, 2011 by Bob Y
In a bit of interesting research whose missions was to find out if green-rumped parrots learn the calls that are used by themselves and others to identify them in their flock, or if such calls are innate, and others learn the name from the chicks, researchers from Cornel University swapped eggs between nests in a wild group of the birds, then set about filming and recording the action as it unfolded. The results of their efforts have been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and it turns out it’s the parents of the chicks, generally called parrotlets, that give their young their identifiers, rather than simply listening to what originates from the little chicks beaks when they begin chirping.
While this research is interesting for its own sake, it’s also interesting because very few animals are known to use identifiers to distinguish members from one another. Up till it was found in , only humans and dolphins have been known to do so. Giving group members names, in addition to demonstrating some degree of intelligence, also helps groups maintain social order. With the parrots, it’s needed because the flocks change members frequently, so everyone having names makes it easier for everyone to keep up with who’s who.  source
My comment: It sounds quite crazy if you think that a bird has the same naming mechanism like humans. A development of this research I would like to see is to check whether the names are unique and if yes, what differs them. Because humans tend to have limited number of names and yet, we find a way to differ, by our family names. 

Humans Could Have Geomagnetic Sight

By Brandon Keim June 21, 2011
The ability to see Earth’s magnetic field, thought to be restricted to sea turtles and swallows and other long-distance animal navigators, may also reside in human eyes. Tests of cryptochrome 2, a key protein component of geomagnetic perception, found that its human version restored geomagnetic orientation in cryptochrome-deficient fruit flies.
Flies are a long, long way from people, but that the protein worked at all is impressive. There’s also a whole lot of it in our eyes.
“Could humans have this cryptochrome heavily expressed in the retina as a light-sensitive magnetoreceptor?” said University of Massachusetts neuroscientist Steven Reppert, lead author of a June 21 Nature Communications cryptochrome study. “We don’t know if the molecule will do this in the human retina, but this suggests the possibility.”
(..)Since then, researchers have described how cryptochrome seems to be a quantum compass that detects infinitesimally subtle, geomagnetically-induced variations in the spin of electrons struck by photons. From those variations, animals seem able to determine their orientation in relation to Earth’s magnetic field.
Many gaps still remain in cryptochrome theory, but it’s generally thought that the cryptochrome system may be active across the animal kingdom, from fish to reptiles to birds. Humans, however, were thought to be an exception. Our own cryptochrome is considered a piece of circadian machinery, part of our molecular clock rather than any optical compass.
The new study, however, suggests that cryptochrome may be more than a clock. Seeking to test how a vertebrate cryptochrome would work in fruit flies, Reppert decided to use the human version. His team engineered flies to be cryptochrome-deficient: They struggled to orient within a magnetically-charged maze. When the researchers spliced human cryptochrome into the flies, they again found their bearings.
(..)His own research suggests that the cryptochrome compass needs superoxide, a type of free radical oxygen molecule, to work. Free radicals tend to destroy DNA. That’s fine for a relatively short-lived animal, but not for one that intends to live for decades.
Reppert himself is now concentrating on how brains read their cryptochrome compass. “At the most fundamental level, we’re interested in how cryptochrome information is transferred to the nervous system,” he said. “Nobody knows how that occurs.” source
My comment: What an exiting study! It means, humans have functional compass in their eyes. Amazing, huh? Interesting also is the connection with the superoxide. Free radicals are considered dangerous, but they have so many uses in our organism, one would think maybe we don't understand very well what's going on. And I'd like to point out that the more we learn about ourselves, the more we found out we have a lot of hidden super-powers. We just have no idea how to use it, because we didn't need those skill in the last 5000 years. But they are still there, waiting for us to tap into them. Maybe that's what happens to advanced yogis when they demonstrate all kind of super-powers. They just remember what was once forgotten. 

Scientists find microbes in lava tube living in conditions like those on Mars

December 15, 2011( -- A team of scientists from Oregon has collected microbes from ice within a lava tube in the Cascade Mountains and found that they thrive in cold, Mars-like conditions.
The microbes tolerate temperatures near freezing and low levels of oxygen, and they can grow in the absence of organic food. Under these conditions their metabolism is driven by the oxidation of iron from olivine, a common volcanic mineral found in the rocks of the lava tube. These factors make the microbes capable of living in the subsurface of and other , the scientists say. source
My comment: Which only goes to confirm that life is much more durable than we have supposed. We tend to think life is unique and fragile but we find more and more examples of microbes living in all kind of hostile conditions. So not only life on Mars is possible, but maybe also on Venus, Jupiter and so on and so on. We are so convinced we know life, but the reality is crazier than any one of us could imagine!

Experiments explain why almost all multicellular organisms begin life as a single cell

December 15, 2011 
Any multicellular animal, from a blue whale to a human being, poses a special difficulty for the theory of evolution. Most of the cells in its body will die without reproducing, and only a privileged few will pass their genes to the next generation.
Experiments with that usually live as individuals but must also join with others to form multicellular bodies to complete their life cycles showed that cooperation depends on kinship. If amoebae occur in well-mixed cosmopolitan groups, then cheaters will always be able to thrive by freeloading on their cooperative neighbors. But if groups derive from a single cell, cheaters will usually occur in all-cheater groups and will have no cooperators to exploit.
The only exceptions are brand new cheater mutants in all-cooperator groups, and these could pose a problem if the mutation rate is high enough and there are many cells in the group to mutate. In fact, the scientists calculated just how many times amoebae that arose from a single cell can safely divide before cooperation degenerates into a free-for-all. The answer turns out to be 100 generations or more. 
So population bottlenecks that kill off diversity and restart the population from a single cell are powerful stabilizers of cellular cooperation, the scientists conclude. source
My comment: I'm very fascinated by the studies of cooperators and cheaters. And this one shows once again that everything is in the balance.

Amazon fungi found that eat polyurethane, even without oxygen

February 3, 2012 by Lin Edwards ( --
Until now polyurethane has been considered non-biodegradable, but a group of students from Yale University in the US has found fungi that will not only eat and digest it, they will do so even in the absence of oxygen. 
Polyurethane is a synthetic polymer (..) which is found in a wide variety of modern appliances, furnishings, etc., and has the advantages of strength, durability and elasticity.
The environmental problem is that once it enters the landfill it could remain there almost indefinitely because nothing we know is able to metabolize and digest it (..), and the chemical bonds within it are so strong they do not degrade readily. Polyurethane can be burnt, but this releases harmful carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, along with other toxic chemicals.
Last year's group, led by Professor Scott Strobel, a molecular biochemist, discovered P. microspora and found that it will not only eat polyurethane, but can survive on a diet consisting solely of polyurethane. Furthermore, it can survive in anaerobic environments, such as those existing in the oxygen-starved regions deep inside landfills.
The newly-discovered fungus is an endophytic microorganism, which means it lives on or inside the tissues of host plants without causing them harm. Several other microorganisms were found that would degrade both solid and liquid polyurethane, but only P. microspora isolates could survive entirely on the plastic under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. source
My comment: Cool news, of course, I hate those plastic bags flying around when stronger winds arise. But if I may suggest, if we use this bacteria, let it be in an isolated place. We don't want this thingy eating every plastic we have around. And it's not exactly clear whether the bacteria can live outside the host-plant and what is the waste it produces after eating the plastic bags.

Study first to show transgenerational effect of antibiotics

April 27, 2012 In a paper published today in Nature's open access journal Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno report that male pseudoscorpions treated with the antibiotic tetracycline suffer significantly reduced sperm viability and pass this toxic effect on to their untreated sons. They suggest that a similar effect could occur in humans and other species.  
"This is the first research to show a transgenerational effect of antibiotics," David Zeh, chair of the Department of Biology in the College of Science, said. "Tetracycline has a significant detrimental effect on male reproductive function and sperm viability of pseudoscorpions – reducing viability by up to 25 percent – and now we know that effect is passed on to the next generation. We didn't see the effect in subsequent generations."
In the article, lead author and assistant biology professor Jeanne Zeh surmises that tetracycline may induce epigenetic changes in male reproductive tissues that may be passed to sons — changes that do not alter the sequence of DNA but rather alter the way genes are expressed. The broad-spectrum antibiotic tetracycline is commonly used in animal production, antimicrobial therapy, and for curing arthropods infected with bacterial endosymbionts such as Wolbachia. Despite more than six decades of therapeutic and agricultural use that has resulted in the evolution of widespread bacterial resistance, tetracycline is still commonly used as an additive in animal feed and as an accessible antimicrobial therapy in developing countries. source
My comment: A very brave article. Mostly because of the last sentence - antibiotics are fed to animals which we later eat. Thus, if its effects are passed to the progeny, maybe they can pass to us too. And yet all the efforts to reduce antibiotics use in farms is to no avail. The industry just does not want to listen. Sure, people are not pseudoscorpions, but precisely because we are so much more complex, an in depth study of the issue is needed. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Self-healing dolphins and the memories of trees, 2012

  1. Study shows chimps capable of insightful reasoning ability
  2. Whales’ Grandeur and Grace, Up Close
  3. Reindeer gained UV vision after moving to the Arctic
  4. Lessons of miraculous dolphin healing powers
  5. Researchers create the first artificial neural network out of DNA
  6. Cloned trees raised in separate places react differently to drought
  7. Dolphins have ability to sense electrical signals
Today, I'd like to share some articles mostly published last year on the miracles of the animal world. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. This time they come without comments, so that you can make up your mind on them yourself.
I personally find those on dolphins the most intriguing since they show a side of those magnificent creatures we didn't know. And which might be regarded as one of the miracles of evolution, or as one of the miracles of their minds. Who knows.
Also fascinating is the article on AI, which actually seems to me as the first working  DNA computer. Quite cool, huh?

Study shows chimps capable of insightful reasoning ability

June 10, 2011 by Bob Yirka
( -- A new study conducted by researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, with results published in PLoS ONE, shows that some apes are capable of using insightful reasoning to achieve goals. When presented with a peanut floating in a tube a quarter filled with water, some chimpanzees were able to figure out that they could raise the water level, and hence the peanut, by filling their mouths with water from a nearby dispenser, then spitting it into the tube. Doing so enough times, raised the floating peanut to such a level that they were eventually able to retrieve and eat it.
The research team conducted nearly the same experiment three times; the first was at a research center in Germany, and was a complete failure in that none of the figured out how to get the floating peanut. When the experiment was done again in a facility in Africa, however, the results were quite different; five of the 24 chimp volunteers successfully filled the tube and ate the peanut. Also, interestingly, one actually resorted to urinating into the tube, which also worked.
In the third experiment, instead of testing , human children were given nearly the same test; though instead of having to spit water from their mouths, they were allowed a water pitcher which they could use to pour the water into the tube. In this study, three age groups were tested, 4, 6, and eight year olds. Not surprisingly, the youngest group fared quite poorly, while the oldest group outperformed the chimps by a wide margin.

Whales’ Grandeur and Grace, Up Close

Turning around, Mr. Austin found himself looking straight into the eye of the mother whale, her body bigger than a school bus. The tap had come from her pectoral fin, weighing more than a ton. To Mr. Austin, her gesture was an unmistakable warning that he had gotten too close to the calf. And yet, the mother whale had extended her fin with such precision and grace — to touch the photographer without hurting him — that Mr. Austin was in awe of her “delicate restraint.”
Looking into the whale’s eye, lit by sunlight through the water, Austin felt he was getting a glimpse of calmness and intelligence, of the animal’s consciousness. The moment changed Mr. Austin’s life. It struck him that something was missing from four decades of whale photography: the beauty of true scale.  source

Reindeer gained UV vision after moving to the Arctic

Reindeer see their world in glorious ultraviolet, helping them find food and avoid predators.
Most mammals, including humans, see using light from the visible part of the spectrum; ultraviolet light, which has a shorter wavelength, is invisible. But not so reindeer, says Glen Jeffery of University College London.
The frozen wastes of the Arctic reflect around 90 per cent of the UV light that hits them; snow-free land typically reflects only a few per cent. So Jeffery and colleagues wondered whether reindeers had adapted to their UV-rich world.
In dark conditions, they shone LED lights of different wavelengths, including UV, into the eyes of 18 anaesthetised reindeers while recording with an electrode whether nerves in the eye fired, indicating that the light had been seen. The UV light triggered a response in the eyes of all the reindeer.
"Since migrating to the Arctic 10,000 years ago, these animals have adapted incredibly quickly," says Jeffery. source

Lessons of miraculous dolphin healing powers

Michael Zasloff has published a letter in the July 21 issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, in which he recounts several documented incidents of serious injuries to dolphins, presumably inflicted by sharks. These bites, some larger than a basketball, healed in weeks without leaving the dolphins disfigured, without causing them apparent pain and without becoming visibly infected.
Miraculous dolphins Several remarkable abilities work together for the seemingly miraculous healing in dolphins. First, even with a large gaping wound in their side, dolphins don't bleed to death. Zasloff said they may use their diving mechanism, which cuts off the blood flow to unimportant parts of their bodies, to reduce the flow of blood to the injury while it clots.
Second, during the healing process the dolphins' wounds don't show signs of infection. Researchers have discovered that their skin and blubber contain compounds with antibacterial properties, which may help stop infections in the open wounds.
The dolphins also don't show typical reactions to pain while they are recovering from these injuries. Usually, a deep open wound would alter an animal's behavior and eating habits for a few weeks. In his discussions with dolphin handlers, Zasloff discovered that the dolphins eat and behave normally even when they are seriously injured.
The healing ability itself is pretty miraculous, Zasloff said. In a matter of weeks the dolphins can completely replace the missing tissue — even gouges the size of two footballs — without a dent in their body shape. They may get this regenerative ability from special stem cells, like some amphibians that resprout limbs.
The other proteins the dolphins are known to produce during healing, like a pain-relieving or anti-bacterial compound, could also work on humans. Because the dolphins create their own pain-relieving compound, there's a chance it wouldn't be addictive to humans as are many pain relievers on the market today. source

Researchers create the first artificial neural network out of DNA

July 20, 2011 
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have now taken a major step toward creating artificial intelligence -- not in a robot or a silicon chip, but in a test tube. The researchers are the first to have made an artificial neural network out of DNA, creating a circuit of interacting molecules that can recall memories based on incomplete patterns, just as a brain can. 
Consisting of four made from 112 distinct DNA strands, the researchers' plays a mind-reading game in which it tries to identify a mystery scientist. The researchers "trained" the neural network to "know" four scientists, whose identities are each represented by a specific, unique set of answers to four yes-or-no questions, such as whether the scientist was British.
After thinking of a scientist, a human player provides an incomplete subset of answers that partially identifies the scientist. The player then conveys those clues to the network by dropping DNA strands that correspond to those answers into the . Communicating via fluorescent signals, the network then identifies which scientist the player has in mind. Or, the network can "say" that it has insufficient information to pick just one of the scientists in its memory or that the clues contradict what it has remembered. The researchers played this game with the network using 27 different ways of answering the questions (out of 81 total combinations), and it responded correctly each time.
This DNA-based neural network demonstrates the ability to take an incomplete pattern and figure out what it might represent—one of the brain's unique features.The researchers based their biochemical neural network on a simple model of a neuron, called a linear threshold function. The model neuron receives input signals, multiplies each by a positive or negative weight, and only if the weighted sum of inputs surpass a certain threshold does the neuron fire, producing an output.

Cloned trees raised in separate places react differently to drought

July 25, 2011 By Amina Khan
Nurture matters - in plants as well as people. Cloned trees raised in different places and environments react differently to drought conditions even though they're genetically identical, scientists have found.
"Turns out the trees have a memory, and they are adapted to the environment in which they're grown," said Richard Meilan, a Purdue University molecular tree physiologist who was not involved in the study.
To figure out what might be going on, Canadian researchers grew clones from poplar trees that were genetically identical but raised in different parts of Canada. They did this for three types of poplar varieties - Okanese, Walker and DN34. In each case, some variants came from Saskatchewan and the others from regions with different amounts of rainfall and sunlight.
Reporting July 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found that in the case of the Walker and DN34 clones, trees grown in different places reacted very differently when they were deprived of water.
Walker poplars raised in Alberta took two full days longer than their Saskatchewan siblings to respond to the simulated drought by closing up holes in their leaves, called stomata, to minimize water loss. And DN34 poplars raised in Manitoba closed their stomata two days sooner than DN34 poplars from Saskatchewan.
Okanese clones, however, took the same time to close up against the drought, regardless of where they were from.
The scientists also detected differences in gene activity that could be responsible for these differences, they said.  source

Dolphins have ability to sense electrical signals

July 29, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier
In a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers reveal the discovery of how the Guiana dolphin, Sotalia guianensis, is able to sense electric fields of prey in the water using structures found on the animals head.
While electroreception is often seen in fish and amphibians, it is not common in mammals.
The researchers, led by Wolf Hanke from the University of Rostock in Germany studied some rare captive Guiana dolphins at a zoo in Muenster, Germany. When examining the rostrum of the dolphins, or the forward part of the head that contains the jaw, the researchers noticed small depressions. When one of the dolphins died, the researchers examined these depressions and found that they are crypts and hold whiskers when the dolphins are in the womb. These whiskers later drop off after the dolphin is born. It had been assumed these were just the depressions left after the whiskers were gone, but the researchers believed they were somehow still aiding the dolphin’s senses.
Turning to the remaining dolphin in captivity, the researchers trained the dolphin to rest it’s head on a platform fitted with electrodes designed to deliver electrical signals into the water. When the researchers delivered a signal, the dolphin was rewarded if it swam away. If there was no signal, the dolphin was rewarded for staying in place.
To prove that the signal was indeed being sensed through these crypts, the researchers then fitted the dolphins with a plastic shield that covered the crypts. With the shield in place, the dolphin did not move regardless of whether an electrical signal was present or not. source

Monday, 30 January 2012

Archaeological news from the past year

Some archaeological news left over from the past year. My comments are scarce, but this is not because the news are not interesting, but because I wanted to make the post as short as possible.
As always, I'm particularly interested by the way the dating of things accepted as known goes further and further back in time. Reading trough the news, you can also observe how the boundary between modern humans and their ancestors gets fuzzier.

Stone Age Fertility Ritual Object Found

A Stone Age-era artifact carved with multiple zigzags and what is likely a woman with spread legs suggests that fertility rituals may have been important to early Europeans, according to new research.
The object, which will be documented in the March issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, is made out of a large elk antler and has been radiocarbon dated to about 10,900 years ago.
Zigzags are very popular motifs on artifacts from many cultures throughout the world, with many possible meanings, but Płonka said, "I think our zigzag lines are connected with water and life symbolism."
The lines also appear to have been carved by different individuals, suggesting that some group effort was involved in the creation of the object.
Giant elks were the most imposing animals of the European Plain, perhaps symbolizing "the power of life," according to Płonka.
Co-author Krzysztof Kowalski of the National Museum in Szczecin told Discovery News that he and his colleagues are not certain what culture produced the piece, but they've narrowed it down to two probable candidates: the Federmesser or the Ahrensburg cultures.
The researchers aren't yet certain if the images on the carved antler are associated with Venus figurines, statuettes of women with exaggerated sexual features that date to as early as 35,000 years ago. source

Lucy's feet were made for walking

By Bruce Bower , March 12th, 2011;
A tiny 3.2-million-year-old fossil found in East Africa gives Lucy’s kind an unprecedented toehold on humanlike walking.
Australopithecus afarensis, an ancient hominid species best known for a partial female skeleton called Lucy, had stiff foot arches like those of people today, say anthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri in Columbia and her colleagues. A bone from the fourth toe — the first such A. afarensis fossil unearthed — provides crucial evidence that bends in this species’ feet supported and cushioned a two-legged stride, the scientists report in the Feb. 11 Science.
“We now have the evidence we’ve been lacking that A. afarensis had fully developed, permanent arches in its feet,” Ward says. Survival for Lucy and her comrades must have hinged on abandoning trees for a ground-based lifestyle, she proposes.
The new fossil confirms that members of Lucy’s species could have made 3.6-million-year-old footprints previously found in hardened volcanic ash at Laetoli, Tanzania (SN Online: 3/22/10), she says. A. afarensis lived from about 4 million to 3 million years ago. source

Ancient teeth raise new questions about the origins of modern man

BINGHAMTON, NY – Eight small teeth found in a cave near Rosh Haain, central Israel, are raising big questions about the earliest existence of humans and where we may have originated, says Binghamton University anthropologist Rolf Quam. Part of a team of international researchers led by Dr. Israel Hershovitz of Tel Aviv University, Qaum and his colleagues have been examining the dental discovery and recently published their joint findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
Excavated at Qesem cave, a pre-historic site that was uncovered in 2000, the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man, Homo sapiens, which have been found at other sites is Israel, such as Oafzeh and Skhul - but they're a lot older than any previously discovered remains.
"The Qesem teeth come from a time period between 200,000 - 400,000 years ago when human remains from the Middle East are very scarce," Quam said. If the remains from Qesem can be linked directly to the Homo sapiens species, it could mean that modern man either originated in what is now Israel or may have migrated from Africa far earlier that is presently accepted. source

Bronze Age settlement found at NE Hungary construction site

2011-02-17 07:29 Remains of a Bronze Age settlement and a former Sarmatian burial ground have been found at a construction site in the city of Nyiregyhaza in northeast Hungary, daily Magyar Nemzet said on Wednesday.
Several thousand metal objects, Roman bronze, silver and golden coins, and jewellery were excavated by archaeologists in the Oros district of the city, said the head of the excavation. One old pot contained as many as 34 bracelets, project leader archaeologist Eszter Istvanovits told the newspaper. Some sixty dwellings have been excavated in the 56-hectare area and among the curiosities found has been a bone flute, she said. Not far from the Bronze Age site, archaeologists also found some 100 graves from the period of the settlement of Magyars in Hungary. Many of the graves included bracelets and belt buckles. A circular Sarmatian burial ground was also identified in the area but most of these graves have been robbed so archeologists could recover very few items from these.  source My comment: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico at the de Young
Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico at the de Young
Just look at those huge statues! It's amazing what the Ancient people built. Or why they did it at all!

The oldest salt mine known to date located in Azerbaijan

November 29, 2010
French archeologists have recently provided proof that the Duzdagi salt deposits, situated in the Araxes Valley in Azerbaijan, were already being exploited from the second half of the 5th millennium BC. It is therefore the most ancient exploitation of rock salt attested to date. And, to the researchers' surprise, intensive salt production was carried out in this mine at least as early as 3500 BC.  source

Stone cutting tools link early humans to prehistoric India

March 25, 2011  Dating of recently discovered artifacts in South India indicates that early humans lived in the region more than a million years ago, and that they used distinct 'Acheulian' stone cutting tools, a new study reports in journal Science.
Acheulian tools originated in Africa around 1.5 million years ago and are thought to have spread throughout Eurasia.
The artifacts were discovered in one of the richest Paleolithic sites in Tamil Nadu, India, called Attirampakkam. Nestled in the Kortallayar , the site was discovered in 1863 by British geologist Robert Bruce Foote, and has been excavated (off and on) since then.
Shanti Pappu and colleagues determined the ages of these tools, which suggest that Acheulian tool-making humans were present in South Asia around a million years ago or earlier, existing at the same time as other populations in southwest Asia and Africa.
The team discovered more than 3,500 quartzite stone artifacts, including more than 70 Acheulian hand axes, cleavers and flakes (small chipped stones).
By taking paelomagnetic measurements, the researchers were able to directly date the sediments that covered the Acheulian tools. All paleomagnetic measurements from around the site showed a reversed polarity, meaning that the predates the period after the last reversal of Earth’s magnetic field.
The discovery of reverse polarity establishes the fact that the sediments are more than a million years old. source

Neanderthals were nifty at controlling fire: study

March 14, 2011 
A new study involving the University of Colorado Boulder shows clear evidence of the continuous control of fire by Neanderthals in Europe dating back roughly 400,000 years, yet another indication that they weren't dimwitted brutes as often portrayed.
The conclusion comes from the study of scores of ancient sites in Europe that show convincing evidence of long-term control by , said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.
A paper on the subject was published in the March 14 issue of the .
The second major finding in the PNAS study -- perhaps even more surprising than the first -- was that Neanderthal predecessors pushed into Europe's colder northern latitudes more than 800,000 years ago without the habitual control of fire, said Roebroecks.
Recent evidence from an 800,000-year-old site in England known as Happisburgh indicates hominids -- likely Homo heidelbergenis, the forerunner of Neanderthals -- adapted to chilly environments in the region without fire, Roebroeks said.
The simplest explanation is that there was no habitual use of fire by early humans prior to roughly 400,000 years ago, indicating that fire was not an essential component of the behavior of the first occupants of Europe's northern latitudes, said Roebroeks.
According to Villa, one of the most spectacular uses of fire by Neanderthals was in the production of a sticky liquid called pitch from the bark of birch trees that was used by Neanderthals to haft, or fit wooden shafts on, . Since the only way to create pitch from the trees is to burn bark peels in the absence of air, archaeologists surmise Neanderthals dug holes in the ground, inserted birch bark peels, lit them and covered the hole tightly with stones to block incoming air.
Some anthropologists have proposed that Neanderthals became extinct because their cognitive abilities were inferior, including a lack of long-term planning, said Villa. But the archaeological record shows Neanderthals drove herds of big game animals into dead-end ravines and ambushed them, as evidenced by repeatedly used kill sites -- a sign of long-term planning and coordination among hunters, she said.
Recent findings have even indicated Neanderthals were cooking, as evidenced by tiny bits of cooked plant material recovered from their teeth. source
My comment: I like how the deeper scientists go, the less pronounced becomes the difference between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. As you'll see in the next news, obviously the two groups coexisted even longer in Europe. It was also proved that we have parts of Neanderthals genome. For me, this all means that the Neanderthals weren't that different from us and that we still have absolutely no clue why the one group survived and the other - no. Because clearly, they weren't less intelligent than us or less adapted to the environment than us.
More on this: Research team finds evidence of red ochre use by Neanderthals 200,000 years ago -  Archeologists digging in the Netherlands have unearthed flint and bone fragments from 200,000 years ago that have remnants of red ochre on them, indicating that Neanderthals were using the material much earlier than was previously thought. The research team has published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Homo sapiens arrived in Europe earlier than previously believed -Members of our species (Homo sapiens) arrived in Europe several millennia earlier than previously thought. At this conclusion a team of researchers, led by the Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, arrived after re-analyses of two ancient deciduous teeth. These teeth were discovered 1964 in the "Grotta del Cavallo", a prehistoric cave in southern Italy. Since their discovery they have been attributed to Neanderthals, but this new study suggests they belong to anatomically modern humans. Chronometric analysis, carried out by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford, shows that the layers within which the teeth were found date to ~43,000-45,000 cal BP. This means that the human remains are older than any other known European modern humans. The research work was published in the renowned science journal Nature.
Paleo-Indians settled North America earlier than thought: study - New discoveries at a Central Texas archaeological site by a Texas A&M University-led research team prove that people lived in the region far earlier – as much as 2,500 years earlier – than previously believed, rewriting what anthropologists know about when the first inhabitants arrived in North America. That pushes the arrival date back to about 15,500 years ago. -  

Anthropologists clarify link between Asians and early Native-Americans

January 26, 2012

A tiny mountainous region in southern Siberia may have been the genetic source of the earliest Native Americans, according to new research by a University of Pennsylvania-led team of anthropologists.
Lying at the intersection of what is today Russia, Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan, the region known as the Altai "is a key area because it's a place that people have been coming and going for thousands and thousands of years," said Theodore Schurr, an associate professor in Penn's Department of Anthropology.
The team's study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, analyzed the genetics of individuals living in Russia's Altai Republic to identify markers that might link them to Native Americans.
Schurr and colleagues assessed the Altai samples for markers in mitochondrial DNA, which is maternally inherited, and in Y chromosome DNA, which is passed from fathers to sons. They also compared the samples to ones previously collected from individuals in southern Siberia, Central Asia, Mongolia, East Asia and a variety of American indigenous groups. Because of the large number of gene markers examined, the findings have a high degree of precision.
Looking at the Y chromosome DNA, the researchers found a unique mutation shared by Native Americans and southern Altaians in the lineage known as Q.
"This is also true from the mitochondrial side," Schurr said. "We find forms of haplogroups C and D in southern Altaians and D in northern Altaians that look like some of the founder types that arose in North America, although the northern Altaians appeared more distantly related to Native Americans."
Calculating how long the mutations they noted took to arise, Schurr's team estimated that the southern Altaian lineage diverged genetically from the Native American lineage 13,000 to 14,000 years ago, a timing scenario that aligns with the idea of people moving into the Americas from Siberia between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago.
My comment: This news is actually quite interesting since just yesterday, I read in a book on Latin American shamans that some of their rituals and practices can be followed to the Altai region. And I think this book is very old actually, so obviously, there was a suspicion of this link. But the genetic proof is much better!

Ancient seal found in Jerusalem linked to ritual

December 29, 2011
A rare clay seal found under Jerusalem's Old City appears to be linked to religious rituals practiced at the Jewish Temple 2,000 years ago, Israeli archaeologists said Sunday.
Archaeologist Ronny Reich of Haifa University said it dates from between the 1st century B.C. to 70 A.D. — the year Roman forces put down a Jewish revolt and destroyed the second of the two biblical temples in Jerusalem.
The find marks the first discovery of a written seal from that period of Jerusalem's history, and appeared to be a unique physical artifact from ritual practice in the Temple, said Reich, co-director of the excavation. source

My comment: Ok, is it just me, or on this seal, there is a horse and its rider? If this is true, then I very much doubt the Jewish origin of this seal, since the heroic rider is quite known as part of the Thracian pantheon and can be seen all the way from Bulgaria to Afghanistan.  And it has nothing to do with Jewish beliefs and religious practices. 

Anthropologists discover earliest cemetery in Middle East -
Anthropologists at the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge have discovered the oldest cemetery in the Middle East at a site in northern Jordan. The cemetery includes graves containing human remains buried alongside those of a red fox, suggesting that the animal was possibly kept as a pet by humans long before dogs ever were.

Rice's origins point to China, genome researchers conclude

( -- Rice originated in China, a team of genome researchers has concluded in a study tracing back thousands of years of evolutionary history through large-scale gene re-sequencing. Their findings, which appear in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), indicate that domesticated rice may have first appeared as far back as approximately 9,000 years ago in the Yangtze Valley of China. Previous research suggested domesticated rice may have two points of origin -- India as well as China.
In their PNAS study, the investigators also used a "molecular clock" of rice genes to see when rice evolved. Depending on how the researchers calibrated their clock, they pinpointed the origin of rice at possibly 8,200 years ago, while japonica and indica split apart from each other about 3,900 years ago. The study's authors pointed out that these molecular dates were consistent with archaeological studies. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence in the last decade for rice domestication in the Yangtze Valley beginning approximately 8,000 to 9,000 years ago while domestication of rice in the India's Ganges region was around about 4,000 years ago. source

Neolithic humans lived a communal life: study

May 3, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier
( -- A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  finds evidence that the previous assumption that stone and mud-brick buildings built nearly 12,000 years ago were the homes and settlements of the first farmers may not have been homes at all, but community centers.
These three buildings were found within a cluster of other small buildings, though none of these buildings appear to be individual family homes. The researchers suggest that in this time period there may have been little distinction between ritual and household activities and that people lived and worked as a community. source

No nuts for 'Nutcracker Man': Early human relative apparently chewed grass instead

May 2, 2011
( -- For decades, a 2.3 million- to 1.2 million-year-old human relative named Paranthropus boisei has been nicknamed Nutcracker Man because of his big, flat molar teeth and thick, powerful jaw. But a definitive new University of Utah study shows that Nutcracker Man didn’t eat nuts, but instead chewed grasses and possibly sedges – a discovery that upsets conventional wisdom about early humanity’s diet.
The new study of Nutcracker Man may provoke a major change in how we view the diets of other early humans and human relatives.
My comment: OK, you must admit it doesn't sounds good when you hear that your ancestor ate grass. But then, if it is true, then we have to accept it. I wonder how nutritious grass actually is. I mean, we can still chop grass and eat it, even if we don't have the teeth for this. But can our stomachs process it? That's the question. And by the way, this question is not answered for the Nutcracker man either!

Oldest evidence of writing found in Europe

April 4, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier
( -- In a study to be published this month in the Proceedings of the Athens Archaeological Society, archaeologist Michael Cosmopoulos of the University of Missouri-St. Louis shares his discovery of a clay tablet showing the earliest known writing in Europe.
Located in the southwestern corner of Greece, the town where this discovery took place is Iklaina. This town dates back to the Mycenaean period of 1500 BC to 100 BC, and around 1400 BC was conquered by King Nestor.
Cosmopoulos has been actively excavating this site for 11 years and has found evidence of a Mycenaean palace, including colorful murals, Cyclopean walls, and an elaborate drainage system made from clay pipes. However, this tablet has been his most unexpected find.
The estimated 3,500 year-old tablet only measures around one inch by one and a half inches, but shows various symbols of Linear B, an ancient Greek writing consisting of 87 signs, each signifying one syllable. It appears that the Mycenaean’s used this tablet to record economic matters of interest to those in the ruling party.
From what the researchers can distinguish, the front of the tablet shows markings appearing to for a verb relating to manufacturing. The back of this small tablet shows a list with numbers and names.
While this is not the oldest writing ever found, it is the earliest example of writing found in Europe. found in China, Egypt, and Mesopotamia is believed to date back to 3,000 BC. source
My comment: I get utterly mad when I read about those Greek kingdoms and ancient Greek alphabet! There is nothing Greek about this alphabet, because back then, there was no Greece and not Greek people. In fact, the very civilization has little to do with the Hellenistic cities. And so they can shove their Greek egos wherever they see fit. I so hate how everybody on the Balkans loves to distort history and takes whatever they like for themselves. 
Archaeologists Explore Site for Answers About First European Farmers - A team of archaeologists and students will begin renewed excavations at a site in Bulgaria that holds promise for shedding more light on some of the first farmers of Europe. Thanks to the results of a 20-year Bulgarian-French excavation project in Kovachevo there are many evidences showing that the first inhabitants of that settlement were people of Anatolian origin, culture Hacilar VI-I. - I kind of don't understand the idea of "Anatolian origin", but anyway. The important part is that they talk about Bulgarian Neolithic settlements. 

Was drug-smoking prevalent in the Indus Valley Civilization? -
Cannabis is native to South Asia and is mentioned in the Vedas. Its use was reasonably widespread in the ancient world. Herodotus records that the Scythians has special tents in which people inhaled the fumes from cannabis heated on a tripod. Discoveries in the steppe nomad burials at Pazyryk bear this out. Recently a burial of a man with a sack of cannabis leaves, presumed to be a shaman, was found in Xinjiang province of China. Braziers from the 5th millennium Balkans and from various periods elsewhere in Europe may have been used for heating cannabis or poppy heads.
Poppies, the source of opium, were used in Europe from the Neolithic period onward, and opium was in use in Mesopotamia by the late 3rd millennium BC and by at least the mid 2nd millennium in Egypt; thus the Harappans could also have been introduced to its use. Areca nut and betel leaf, chewed together with lime as paan, are native to South Asia. There is a claim that these were used by the Harappans but I have been unable to track down the evidence on which this claim is based. - Interesting, I didn't know that opium was so used so early (and so widely) on the Balkans. They don't mention, however, how it came here.  
Ancient Greek City Uncovered in Russia - What is considered to be a unique discovery has been made in Taman, South Russia, at the Black Sea. The ruins of an ancient Greek city, dated around the 6th century BC, came to light.  Archeologists are stunned both by the number of the findings and the condition they were found in.
The excavations are proceeding with extreme caution, in order to avoid damaging the city’s ancient fortress. According to historians, it is assumed that the ruins are the temple of Dimitra, the ancient goddess of fertility and agriculture, while they  were able to determine the very spot of the altar. But, the number of the findings induce them to believe that a whole city has been found.
Bulgarian Archaeologists Uncover Sanctuary of Greek Goddess Demeter -
A temple of Ancient Greek goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone has been discovered by a team of Bulgarian archaeologists near the town of Sozopol on the Black Sea.
The archaeological team of Prof. Krastina Panayotova found the Ancient Greek temple Tuesday during excavations on the Skamniy Cape where the archaeologists are exploring a fortress wall and a church that were part of a Byzantine imperial monastery.
Panayotova explained that the figurines and ceramics found in a concentrated spot are clear evidence of the cult for Demeter and Persephone.

7000 years old prototype of European towns found in Bulgaria

4 June 2011 | Bulgarian archaeologists discovered what they believe to be the oldest town in Europe, local media reported. Dubbed a 'proto-town', the site is situated near the town of Pazardzhic, in the center of the country.

In 2008 the team of archaeologist Yasen Boyadzhiev found in the area a large ancient graveyard, which became known under the current name of the area, Yunatsite (The Heroes). Later the excavations were extended and yesterday the researchers announced they have found a surprisingly large settlement, which during 4700-4600 BC spread over 100 000 sq m.

The site possessed all the features of an urban center, Yasen Boyadzhiev was quoted to say. His team discovered vast fortified walls – one wall five meters wide and at least five meters tall, a ditch and then another defence wall, all running along each other.

The citadel was surrounding only the highest part of the settlement, and beyond its walls the buildings continued. Within the walls the archaeologist discovered not only houses, but also what was apparently workshops center. Some of the found artefacts speak of advanced production skills.
So far constructions of this scale and planning were found only in settlements of much later periods, such as classical antiquity.  source

A civilisation as old as Indus valley?

Friday, May 27, 2011, 1:28 IST , By DNA Correspondent | Place: Mumbai
In what could turn out to be a major discovery,researchers have found a wall-like structure, which is 24km long, 2.7m in height, and around 2.5m in width. The structure shows uniformity in construction. “The structure is not continuous from Shrivardhan to Raigad, but it is uniform. It has been found 3m below the present sea level. Considering the uniformity of the structure, it is obvious that the structure is man-made,” said Dr Ashok Marathe, department of archaeology, Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, Pune.
However, the age of the structure was decided on the basis of sea level mapping. “There have been exhaustive studies about the sea water coming inside the land. Based on the calculations, experts from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) pegged the age of the wall at around 6,000 BC,” Marathe informed.
The discovery has raised a number of questions, such as how these huge stones were brought to the shore? What was the purpose behind building this wall? If the date of the wall is accurate, then is it the same age as the Indus civilisation? source
My comment: A 24km long wall built 8000 years ago? That's quite fascinating! I also wonder why did they build it. To protect the coast from tsunamis, maybe? The question, them, is who built it and how! More news:
No cheese for Neolithic humans in France  - An excavation of a southern French burial site from about 3,000 B.C. shows that the modern humans who expanded into the area from the Mediterranean lived in patrilocal communities and did not have the genetic mutation that allowed later Europeans to digest fresh milk.
Site hints at Asian roots for human genus -
Most paleoanthropologists have favored an African origin for the potential human ancestor Homo erectus. But new evidence shows the species occupied a West Asian site called Dmanisi from 1.85 million to 1.77 million years ago, at the same time or slightly before the earliest evidence of this humanlike species in Africa, say geologist Reid Ferring of the University of North Texas in Denton and his colleagues.
The new Dmanisi discoveries point to an Asian homeland for H. erectus, the scientists propose online June 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ancient footprints show human-like walking began nearly four million years ago - Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that ancient footprints in Laetoli, Tanzania, show that human-like features of the feet and gait existed almost two million years earlier than previously thought.
Saudi find shows horses used 9,000 years ago - Saudi Arabia has found traces of a civilisation that was domesticating horses about 9,000 years ago, 4,000 years earlier than previously thought, the kingdom said.
Sex with Neanderthals and Denisovans gave healthy boost to human genome: study - Sex with Neanderthals and another close relative — the recently discovered Denisovans — has endowed some human gene pools with beneficial versions of immune system genes, report researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The useful gift was the introduction of new variants of immune system genes called the HLA class I genes, which are critical for our body's ability to recognize and destroy pathogens. HLA genes are some of the most variable and adaptable genes in our genome, in part because the rapid evolution of viruses demands flexibility on the part of our immune system. - Quite surprising discovery and quite cool as well. Because our immune system is what actually keep us alive. That's quite a gift!