-Petra, Jordan. a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.
Recent years have brought considerable riches for those of us interested in human evolution and 2012 proved no exception. New fossils, archaeological finds and genetic analyses yielded thrilling insights into the shape of the family tree, the diets of our ancient predecessors, the origins of art and advanced weaponry, the interactions between early Homo sapiens and other human species, and other facets of our ancestors’ lives. The list below highlights the discoveries that most captivated me in a year of revelations about the way we were. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments.
- A 3.4 million-year-old fossil foot suggests a second lineage of hominins (creatures more closely related to us than to our closest living relatives, chimpanzees) may have lived alongside Lucy’s kind and spent more time in the trees than on the ground.
- Fossils from Kenyadating to between 1.87 million and 1.95 million years ago rekindle debate over whether our own genus, Homo, split into multiple lineages early on.
- Analysis of tartar, molar wear and tooth chemistry in the nearly two-million-year-old hominin known as Australopithecus sediba shows that it had an unexpected diet, including tree bark.
- A shift in the technology and diet of early Homo around two million years ago may have doomed large carnivores
- Tiny bits of burned plants and bone from a South African cave show that humans had tamed fire by 1 million years ago–some 600,000 year earlier than had previously been documented.
- Our ancestors began making multicomponent tools in the form of deadly stone-tipped spears 500,000 years ago—200,000 years earlier than previously thought.
- Cave paintings in Spain are the oldest in the world and are sufficiently ancient to be the creations of Neandertals.
- Neandertals hunted birds for their fashionable feathersfor thousands of years and may have exploited certain plants for their medicinal properties–compelling evidence that our hominin cousins were cognitively sophisticated.
- Reconstructed genome of the Denisovans–an enigmatic group of archaic hominins—confirms that early Homo sapiens interbred with them and reveals new details of their genetic legacy.
- Whole-genome sequencing of modern hunter-gatherers from Africa turns up loads of previously unknown genetic variants and indicates that early Homo sapiens interbred with another hominin species long ago in Africa.
- Paleoanthropology’s hobbit, a tiny hominin species called Homo floresiensis, gets a new face thanks to forensic reconstruction–and the result is startlingly familiar.
- Stone tools and preserved poop from Oregon add to mounting evidence that the early human colonization of the Americas was more complex than scholars once envisioned.
- Study finds that mom’s metabolism—not the size of the pelvis—limits gestation length to nine months, providing a new explanation for why humans give birth to helpless babies.
These have interesting implications for evidence of fishing in the Palaeolithic given that they are constructed almost solely out of organic material:
“Fishing hooks collected from Rapa Island. In the British Museum (Beasley 1928:Plate LXIII; 037 BM). It is not clear whether these were in the Vancouver Collection. All appear to have wood or candlenut shanks, fully bound, but the example at lower left seems to have a shell or bone tip inserted into the shank” (Cameron 2012:100).
Open Access Article- Cordage from Rapan archaeological sites
Close to the small Mexican village of Onavas, south Sonora, archaeologists have uncovered the first pre-Hispanic cemetery of that area, dating to around 1,000 years ago.
The burial ground consists of 25 individuals; 13 have intentional cranial deformation and five also have dental mutilation, cultural practices which are similar to those of pre-Hispanic groups in southern Sinaloa and northern Nayarit, but until now, have not been seen in Sonora.
Some of the individuals were wearing ornaments such as as bangles, nose rings, earrings, pendants made from shells found in the Gulf of California, and one burial contained a turtle shell, carefully placed over the abdomen. However, the archaeologists noted that the burials were not accompanied by the expected offerings and containers.
For archaeologists, the discovery is exciting new evidence of cranial deformation, something which has not been recorded before in the Sonora cultural groups. Read more.
Neural Correlates of Early Stone Age toolmaking: technology, language and cognition in human evolution
Dietrich Stout, Nicholas Toth, Kathy Schick and Thierry Chaminade
Archaeological and palaeontological evidence from the Early Stone Age (ESA) documents parallel trends of brain expansion and technological elaboration in human evolution over a period of more than 2 Myr. However, the relationship between these defining trends remains controversial and poorly understood. Here, we present results from a positron emission tomography study of functional brain activation during experimental ESA (Oldowan and Acheulean) toolmaking by expert subjects. Together with a previous study of Oldowan toolmaking by novices, these results document increased demands for effective visuomotor coordination and hierarchical action organization in more advanced toolmaking. This includes an increased activation of ventral premotor and inferior parietal elements of the parietofrontal praxis circuits in both the hemispheres and of the right hemisphere homologue of Broca’s area. The observed patterns of activation and of overlap with language circuits suggest that toolmaking and language share a basis in more general human capacities for complex, goal-directed action. The results are consistent with coevolutionary hypotheses linking the emergence of language, toolmaking, population-level functional lateralization and association cortex expansion in human evolution.
Keywords: brain; tool; positron emission tomography; Oldowan; Acheulean; Broca’s area
Preserved by one of Earth’s driest climates, a long-buried corpse in Chile’s Atacama Desert retains centuries-old skin, hair, and clothing.
Naturally dehydrated corpses like this probably inspired the region’s ancient Chinchorro people to actively mummify their dead, scientists speculate in a new study. The practice, researchers suggest, took off during a time of natural plenty and population growth, when the Chinchorro were better able to innovate and develop culturally.
Living in fishing villages along the coasts of Chile and Peru, the Chinchorro had begun mummifying skeletons by 5050 B.C., thousands of years before the Egyptians. Archaeologists have long wondered how the practice—and a related cult of death—arose, with some speculating it had been imported from the notably wetter Amazon Basin .
“Our study is one of the few to document the emergence of social complexity due to environmental change”—in this case, climate shifts that desiccated the Atacama, study leader Pablo Marquet said.
“Until now, most of the emphasis has been on how environmental change triggers the collapse of societies,” said Marquet, an archaeologist at Catholic University in Santiago, Chile.
The engineering abilities of the ancient Pueblo people are truly astounding and evident at Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. Thousands lived in the canyon from 850 AD to 1250 AD. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, it is a place that if you visit New Mexico, you should take a day and explore. (the last part of the drive to the site is on unpaved road about 16 miles - but totally worth it!).
A rare, near-complete mammoth skeleton has been unearthed near Paris
“You know what’s rare? Woolly mammoth skeletons. You know what’s even rarer? Beautifully preserved, near-complete, French woolly mammoth skeletons. Archaeologists just dug up the latter.
Dubbed “Helmut” by the archaeologists who discovered it, the specimen was encountered accidentally during an unrelated excavation at the Changis-sur-Marne riverbank, about 30 miles northeast of Paris. According to the Associated Press, it’s only the third mammoth to be discovered in France in the last 150 years.”
Details of one of the few “vampire” burials in Britain have emerged as a new archaeological report details the long forgotten discovery of a skeleton found buried with metal spikes through shoulders, heart area and ankles.
Dating from 550-700 A.D., the skeleton was unearthed in 1959 in the minster town of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, during excavations in preparation for a new school. The dig also turned up Roman remains.
Archaeologist Charles Daniels immediately recognized the skeletal remains as being out of the ordinary, but no further investigation was carried out at that time.
“Daniels did jokingly comment he had ‘checked the eye teeth,’ clearly associating the skeleton with the vampire being,” Matthew Beresford, of Southwell Archaeology told Discovery News.
“However, the skeleton had largely been forgotten about since then,” Beresford said. Read more.
Bolivia Returns Stolen Mummy to Peru
Bolivia has returned a 700-year-old mummy to Peru, from where it was stolen by antiquities traffickers.
The mummy of a child of about two years of age is only 30cm (12in) tall and sits wrapped in blankets.
Bolivian police seized it two years ago from a woman who was going to ship it to France.
Experts determined it was an original but found that one of its legs had been added later presumably by the smugglers who wanted to raise its value.
Experts have not been able to determine the sex of the mummy but archaeologists think it came from a pre-Inca culture of coastal Peru. Read more
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Residents of New Haven, Conn., got an eerie Halloween surprise when a famed tree uprooted during Hurricane Sandy, unearthing the bones of a woman who died nearly 200 years ago - and maybe from others who died during the same period.
Around 6 p.m. on Monday the famous tree at New Haven’s Upper Green, named the “Lincoln Oak” after President Abraham Lincoln, was uprooted as Sandy swept through. New Haven resident Katie Carbo was passing by when she saw the back of a skull in the 60- to 70-foot-tall tree’s roots, police said.
Carbo quickly contacted the New Haven police, and soon after detectives were on the scene as a crowd of onlookers formed. Officer David Hartman with the New Haven Police Department told ABCNews.com that the timing of the discovery was particularly striking.
“I found myself standing there, among onlookers saying, ‘wow this is really cool, the day before Halloween,’” he said.
Detectives from the NHPD’s Bureau of Identification and the state Medical Examiner’s office came to collect the bones, which Hartman said included a spine and rib cage.
New Haven police also contacted staff from Yale University’s anthropology department, Hartman said.
The NHPD said that they have not launched a criminal investigation into this discovery, and that the remains are being taken to the medical examiner’s office.
“What we haven’t yet determined is what will happen with the remains,” Hartman said. “This archaeological event that is going on will last for probably about a week, they’re estimating.”
New Haven police said that the bones belonged to a probable victim of yellow fever or smallpox, who likely was buried between 1799 and 1821, when the headstones were removed to New Haven’s Grove Street Cemetery, but the bodies were never relocated. Later, the New Haven Independent, citing an initial investigation by an anthropologist and a state investigator, reported bones at the scene actually may be from two or more centuries-old skeletons - not just one.
The Lincoln Oak was planted at the town green by Admiral Andrew Hall Foote’s Grand Army of the Republic post, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday in 1909, according to the New Haven police.
Robert S. Greenberg, a local historian, said that the town green is the burial ground for as many as 5,000 to 10,000 bodies.
Hartman said that he learned today that this is actually not the first time this has happened on the historic Upper Green. According to a local historian, the same situation occurred in 1931, when an uprooted tree brought up skeletal remains, he said.
New Haven is not the only place where the dead were unearthed in Sandy’s wake. The Associated Press reported that at a cemetery in Crisfield, Md., two caskets were forced out of their graves, making their sides visible from the grass, after the cement slabs covering the graves became dislodged.
The corpses remained inside the caskets.
Following a subtle trail of artifacts, a Canadian archaeologist searches for a lost chapter of New World history.
Unearthing what she believes to be a Viking outpost, archaeologist Patricia Sutherland (in orange jacket) and her colleagues work in Baffin Island’s Tanfield Valley, which offered turf for sod shelters and a harbor for ships.
- On Baffin Island, archaeologists discovered cordage made the Viking way, as well as other evidence of European contact.
- Did Vikings use these notched sticks to record trade transactions? Patricia Sutherland thinks so.
- Whetstones discovered on Baffin Island and at other sites in the Canadian Arctic bear clear evidence of Viking technology. Wear grooves harbor traces of bronze, brass, and smelted iron—materials made by Viking metal smiths but unknown among the Arctic’s native inhabitants.Photo by David Coventry
this a super detailed scale replica of the excavated pompeii that I saw in Napoli.
i nearly peed my pants it was so awesome.
Top 10 Endangered Cultural Heritage Sites in Asia
The Global Heritage Fund has released a list of the ten most endangered cultural heritage sites in Asia. “The report highlights 10 of Asia’s most significant archaeological and heritage sites facing irreparable loss and destruction due to five accelerating man-made threats: development pressures, unsustainable tourism, insufficient management, looting, and war and conflict.”
Topping the list is Ayutthaya, Thailand, the former capital of the kingdom of Siam (pictured above). Renovations of the 14th-century city, which was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767, began in 1969 and intensified in 1976 when the site was converted into an historical park. Ayutthaya was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1991.
Unlike UNESCO, which devotes the majority of its funds to the protection of cultural heritage in the world’s wealthiest countries, the Global Heritage Fund focuses its resources on the preservation of archaeological and heritage sites in developing nations. Such countries often face economic, political and martial conditions that make protecting cultural heritage exceedingly difficult.
Perhaps UNESCO should follow the lead of the GHF and concentrate more of its resources on protecting those nations that cannot protect themselves.
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