Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Evidence Of Craft Specialisation In Bead Production In Upper Palaeolithic France?

The organization of bead production during the Aurignacian has significant implications for understanding the role of these artifacts in Upper Palaeolithic societies, and the evolution of symbolic behavior and social organization more generally.


French Upper Palaeolithic beads [Credit: University College London]

In a special issue of the Quaternary International on The Role of Art in Prehistoric Societies a case study of Early Aurignacian beads in ivory and soapstone are presented, and related production debris, from four sites (Abri Castanet, Abri de la Souquette, Grotte des Hyènes at Brassempouy, Grotte d’Isturitz) in the Aquitaine region of France.

The data from the case study are used to evaluate three hypothetical models of production and exchange in the given regional context, and are evaluated in terms of the current, common criteria for the recognition of craft specialization in the archaeological record.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

400,000-year-old fossil human cranium is oldest ever found in Portugal


 A large international research team, directed by the Portuguese archaeologist João Zilhão and including Binghamton University anthropologist Rolf Quam, has found the oldest fossil human cranium in Portugal, marking an important contribution to knowledge of human evolution during the middle Pleistocene in Europe and to the origin of the Neandertals.
The cranium represents the westernmost human fossil ever found in Europe during the middle Pleistocene epoch and one of the earliest on this continent to be associated with the Acheulean stone tool industry. In contrast to other fossils from this same time period, many of which are poorly dated or lack a clear archaeological context, the cranium discovered in the cave of Aroeira in Portugal is well-dated to 400,000 years ago and appeared in association with abundant faunal remains and stone tools, including numerous bifaces (handaxes).
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How a 400,000-year-old skull fragment hints at ancient 'unified humanity'

The mix of traits on this new specimen found in Portugal has encouraged researchers to rethink their way of describing and classifying ancient human fossils.



At one point, any new human fossil from hundreds of thousands of years ago might have drawn intrigue. If the new bones looked different from others that had been found before, they may have even been hailed as a new archaic human species, and given a taxonomic name in the genus Homo.

But some scientists say evidence is mounting that paleoanthropologists in the past may have been too quick to categorize hominin fossils as distinct species. 

So when a chunk of a 400,000-year-old skull was unearthed at the Gruta da Aroeira archaeological site in Portugal, the scientists who reveal its discovery in a paper published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences didn't try to assign a taxonomic name to the specimen as a reflection of that new thinking.

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Leopards Might Have Walked Alongside Neanderthals


Leopards may have roamed across Italy alongside Neanderthals, a new study finds.
Scientists analyzed an ancient, well-preserved bone discovered by amateur scientist Renato Bandera in the summer of 2014 and donated to the Paleoanthropological Museum of Po in San Daniele Po, Italy. The gray-brown fossil was the slender right shinbone of a leopard, and was found along the right bank of the Po River in northern Italy, near the harbor entrance of the city of Cremona. [In Photos: Rare and Beautiful Amur Leopards]
The region where this bone was discovered is well-known for its fossils. Other bones from this site have suggested that the area was once home to straight-tusked elephants, steppe bison, woolly mammoths, giant deer, rhinos and elk. However, fossils of carnivores such as bears, wolves, hyenas, foxes — and now, leopards — are very rare.
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Geoff Wainwright obituary

Influential archaeologist who helped to change the public experience of Stonehenge

Geoff Wainwright at Stonehenge, the proving ground for many of his ideas about the management of the historic environment. Photograph: Timothy Darvill

The young Geoff Wainwright once nervously approached Dame Kathleen Kenyonto inquire about employment prospects in archaeology. She apparently told him that without an inheritance or private income he had no hope. Luckily, he disregarded her advice and went on to become a big influence on archaeology in Britain and Europe.
Geoff, who has died aged 79, was fascinated by archaeology from an early age and in 1956, while still a student, excavated a Mesolithic settlement at Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire, two miles from his family home. His early excavations were traditional affairs, but led him to a realisation that empirical research required clearly defined questions, and methods that matched the scale of the problem.
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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pollen adds to intrigue over Bronze Age woman 'Ava'

A facial reconstruction of Ava was made last year

Analysis of pollen found on pottery buried with a young woman more than 4,100 years ago has identified plants used for medicinal purposes.

The woman's bones, including a skull and teeth, were discovered at Achavanich in Caithness 30 years ago.

Known as "Ava", an abbreviation of Achavanich, she is the subject of a long-term research project managed by archaeologist Maya Hoole.

Ms Hoole said the presence of the pollen "raises interesting questions".

Last year, forensic artist Hew Morrison created a facial reconstruction of Ava.

Now the results of other research have been published.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Ancient skulls may belong to elusive humans called Denisovans


Fossil fragments (yellow) were put together with their mirror-image pieces (purple) to visualize the skull of an archaic human who lived in eastern China.

Fossil fragments (yellow) were put together with their mirror-image pieces (purple) to visualize the skull of an archaic human who lived in eastern China.
Z. Li et al., Science 355, 6328 (3 March 2017)
Ancient skulls may belong to elusive humans called Denisovans
By Ann GibbonsMar. 2, 2017 , 2:00 PM
Since their discovery in 2010, the ex­tinct ice age humans called Deniso­vans have been known only from bits of DNA, taken from a sliver of bone in the Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia. Now, two partial skulls from eastern China are emerging as prime candidates for showing what these shadowy people may have looked like.

In a paper published this week in Science, a Chinese-U.S. team presents 105,000- to 125,000-year-old fossils they call “archaic Homo.” They note that the bones could be a new type of human or an eastern variant of Neandertals. But although the team avoids the word, “everyone else would wonder whether these might be Denisovans,” which are close cousins to Neandertals, says paleo­anthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Prehistoric Norfolk mine Grime’s Graves to open second pit to public


Tourists will be winched deep underground to see 4,000-year-old site where Neolithic miners used antlers to hack out flint


The remains of the ancient pits created an extraordinary pockmarked landscape. Photograph: English Heritage/PA Wire

A challenging descent by ladder, winch and harness into a prehistoric underworld will open to the public for the first time this year, allowing exploration of shafts and galleries cut deep under Norfolk heathland more than 4,000 years ago.

The extraordinary surface landscape of Grime’s Graves, pockmarked with hundreds of shallow depressions, puzzled people for many centuries until they were identified about 150 years ago as neolithic flint mines. 


The name Grime’s Graves has Anglo-Saxon origins, given long after the mines fell out of use as metal tools replaced flint, and some of the convenient hollows were used as burial grounds in the Iron Age. Under the Normans the site was used to keep rabbits for their meat and skins, as the poor sandy soil was ideal for the animals’ warrens.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

'Patchwork' Early Human Fossils Suggest Intermixing

Two partial skulls (shown here in a digital reconstruction) of an early human were discovered at an archaeological site (shown here) in Xuchang in central China.
Credit: Xiu-Jie Wu

Fossils unearthed in China appeared to be strange patchworks of extinct and modern human lineages, with the large brains of modern humans; the low, broad skulls of earlier humans; and the inner ears of Neanderthals, a new study reported.
These new fossils suggest that far-flung groups of ancient humans were more genetically linked across Eurasia than often previously thought, researchers in the new study said.
"I don't like to think of these fossils as those of hybrids," said study co-author Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis. "Hybridization implies that all of these groups were separate and discrete, only occasionally interacting. What these fossils show is that these groups were basically not separate. The idea that there were separate lineages in different parts of the world is increasingly contradicted by the evidence we are unearthing." [In Photos: New Human Relative Shakes Up Our Family Tree]
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Treasure hunters find Iron Age gold in farmer's field - the earliest ever discovered


Intricate jewellery found buried in a Staffordshire field is the earliest example of Iron Age gold ever found in Britain.

The collection, made up of four twisted metal neckbands, called torcs and a bracelet, was discovered by two metal detectorists just before Christmas. 

Experts say they would have been owned by wealthy powerful women who probably moved from continental Europe to marry rich Iron Age chiefs. 

The pair who discovered the find had swept the field 20 years earlier and uncovered nothing. But after abandoning a fishing trip to go treasure hunting they came across the horde, which could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

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Last of 'too silky' woolly mammoths blighted by bad mutations


Researchers comparing genomes of ancient and more recent Arctic island relatives find latter developed coats too soft for the cold


Scientists analysing genomes of the last woolly mammoths dwelling on island between Russia and Alaska found they were in the grip of mutational meltdown. Photograph: Andrew Nelmerm/Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

Woolly mammoths were in the grip of a mutational meltdown before dying out, scientists have revealed, adding that the last surviving population of the hairy giants might have had silky, soft coats, a poor sense of smell and even heartburn.

Woolly mammoths died out in mainland North America and Siberia about 10,000 years ago owing to a combination of human hunting and a warming climate. However, small populations continued to exist on islands in the Arctic Ocean lying between Russia and Alaska until the creatures finally went extinct about 3,700 years ago.


Now scientists have carried out the most in-depth comparison yet of genomes from ancient mainland woolly mammoths and their more recent island-dwelling relatives, shedding light on their decline.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Neanderthal DNA contributes to human gene expression

The last Neanderthal died 40,000 years ago, but much of their genome lives on, in bits and pieces, through modern humans. The impact of Neanderthals' genetic contribution has been uncertain: Do these snippets affect our genome's function, or are they just silent passengers along for the ride? In Cell on February 23, researchers report evidence that Neanderthal DNA sequences still influence how genes are turned on or off in modern humans. Neanderthal genes' effects on gene expression likely contribute to traits such as height and susceptibility to schizophrenia or lupus, the researchers found.

"Even 50,000 years after the last human-Neanderthal mating, we can still see measurable impacts on gene expression," says geneticist and study co-author Joshua Akey of the University of Washington School of Medicine. "And those variations in gene expression contribute to human phenotypic variation and disease susceptibility."

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