Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oldest High-Altitude Human Settlement Discovered in Andes

by Tia Ghose

rockshelter excavations
Archaeologists excavate a rockshelter in the Peruvian Andes that was used more than 12,000 years ago by human settlers.
Credit: Kurt Rademaker

The oldest-known evidence of humans living at extremely high altitudes has been unearthed in the Peruvian Andes, archaeologists say.
The sites — a rock shelter with traces of Ice Age campfires and rock art, and an open-air workshop with stone tools and fragments — are located nearly 14,700 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level and were occupied roughly 12,000 years ago.
The discovery, which is detailed today (Oct. 23) in the journal Science, suggests ancient people in South America were living at extremely high altitudes just 2,000 years after humans first reached the continent.

The findings also raise questions about how these early settlers physically adapted to sky-high living.
"Either they genetically adapted really, really fast — within 2,000 years — to be able to settle this area, or genetic adaptation isn't necessary at all," said lead study author Kurt Rademaker, who was a University of Maine visiting assistant professor in anthropology when he conducted the study. [See Images of the High-Altitude Ancient Settlement]
In follow-up work, the team plans to look for more evidence of occupation, such as human remains.
Coastal clue
The recent discovery of these high-altitude artifacts was made possible by work that started in the 1990s. At that time, Rademaker and his colleagues were studying a 13,000-year-old Paleoindian fishing settlement on the coast of Peru called Quebrada Jaguay. There, they found tools made of obsidian, a volcanic rock. There were no rivers or other geologic forces to carry the volcanic rock to the coast, and the closest volcanoes were in the Andes Mountains, roughly 100 miles (160 kilometers) away, said Rademaker, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
"This obsidian told us that early on, Paleoindians must have gone to the highlands," Rademaker told Live Science.
Rademaker and his colleagues analyzed the obsidian and determined that it likely came from around the Pucuncho Basin, an arid, cold plateau ringed by 21,000-foot-tall (6,400 meters) volcanoes, Rademaker said.
High life
After years of searching around the plateau, the researchers found a rock shelter with two alcoves, ceilings blackened with soot and walls decorated with rock art. The site also showed evidence of burnt detritus from ancient people's campsites. The rock shelter was used for thousands of years, starting around 12,400 years ago, and may have been a temporary base camp where herders sheltered from the rain, Rademaker said.
The coastal obsidian point likely came from a nearby outcropping, near what would've been an ancient open-air workshop at the time, the researchers said. The workshop contained hundreds of ancient tools, from spear points to scrapers to bifaces, or hand axes, some of which dated to 12,800 years old. The researchers also found large mammal bones from vicuña, the wild ancestors to alpacas, similar animals called guanacos, and taruca deer.
It's still not clear whether the people living along the coast and in the highlands were the same individuals, or whether they maintained trading networks across large distances, Rademaker said. [In Photos: Human Skeleton Sheds Light on First Americans]
Early settlers
The findings suggest people were living at high altitudes earlier than previously thought.
"People were really settled in and using this environment at the end of the ice age around 12,400 years ago," said Michael Waters, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University in College Station, who was not involved in the study. "They were going back and forth between the coast and this high-altitude site."
People in modern culture, perhaps because of stories of pioneers going west and getting trapped in the mountains (and eating each other), tend to see the highlands as poor living environments, said Bonnie Pitblado, an archaeologist at the University of Oklahoma, who was not involved in the study.
"There was this cultural stereotype that mountains are just impediments, that they get in the way," Pitblado told Live Science. But for prehistoric cultures, "mountains are these places with just the most amazing array of resources."
For instance, the highlands may have had hot springs and ice caves, glacial melt streams and other water sources, and the rock needed for stone tools, such as quartz, chert and obsidian, Pitblado said.
The findings also call into question just what is needed for people to live in high altitudes. At those locations, the air is much cooler and thinner, meaning it holds less oxygen than lower elevations. So, past studies have found that people living at high elevations have genetic adaptations that help them efficiently use oxygen from the thin mountain air, as well as mutations that can shield them from heart disease and strokes caused by chronic mountain sickness.
But the current research suggests that either people evolved these adaptations in just a few thousand years, or that these mutations weren't necessary for the first inhabitants.
After all, lowlanders like Rademaker live at high elevations all the time and do just fine, he said.
Live Science
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New generation of archaeologists takes ancient Egypt into 21st century

The Guardian

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Diane Turner - London Rocks - 21.10.2014

Diane Turner - London Rocks - 21.10.2014

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Book Launch - Frankie: Living A Dream by D.G. Turner - available on Kindle


It's 1950. The landscape of New York City is changing, Perry Como is on the radio and protesters are marching against the Korean war. For the first time the voice of the youth is being heard.

Frankie, an ambitious sixteen year old son of a barber, has a dream. Any dream will do as long as he never follows his father's profession as a barber. As he is the eldest son, it is inevitable the shop will be passed into his hands.

When Artie Santorelli proposes to Frankie to join his burgeoning barbershop quartet because of his singing prowess, Frankie, realising his dream, agrees. Along with his co-worker Carlo and neighbour Tommy, they form a group which attracts the attention of country singer Kentucky Jo, her husband Hank and the local Mafia boss, Petrucci.

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History Trivia - Second Battle of Philippi – Mark Antony and Octavian decisively defeat Brutus' army

October 23

42 BC Roman Republican civil wars: Second Battle of Philippi – Mark Antony and Octavian decisively defeated Brutus' army. Brutus committed suicide.  

1641 Rebellion in Ireland: Catholics, under Phelim O'Neil, rose against the Protestants and massacred men, women and children to the number of 40,000 (also reported at 100,000).

1642 Royalist forces defeated the Parliamentarians at Edgehill, the first major battle of the English Civil War.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ancient Human Skulls Shed Light on Dairy Use

              Charles Choi

A Late Bronze Age burial from the site of Ludas-Varjú-dulo, Hungary dated to about 1200 B.C. This individual marks the onset of lactose tolerance in the region.

The DNA from ancient human bones is shedding new light on the prehistory of Europe, such as when changes in skin color and lactose tolerance occurred, researchers say.
This research unexpectedly revealed that ancient Europeans started dairying thousands of years before they evolved genes to make the most of milk in adulthood, investigators added.
Scientists examined ancient DNA extracted from 13 individuals in archaeological burial sites unearthed during highway construction in the Great Hungarian Plain in Central Europe. This crossroads for Eastern and Western cultures experienced significant transformations in culture and technology known to have shaped European prehistory. The bones at the site span about 5,000 years, from 5,700 B.C. to 800 B.C., ranging across the Stone, Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages. [Image Gallery: Our Closest Human Ancestor Revealed]

PHOTOS: What Our Ancestors Looked Like

After several years of experimentation with a variety of kinds of bones, the researchers discovered the best place to recover ancient DNA for analysis in humans is the petrous bone, a pyramidal bone at the base of the skull. The name petrous comes from the Latin word "petrosus," meaning "stonelike." The petrous bone is the hardest bone in the human body and very dense, forming a protective case for the inner ear.
"The high-percentage DNA yield from the petrous bones exceeded those from other bones by up to 183-fold,"the study's joint senior author Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Dublin in Ireland, said in a statement. "This gave us anywhere between 12 percent and almost 90 percent human DNA in our samples, compared to somewhere between 0 percent and 20 percent obtained from teeth, fingers and rib bones."
The DNA the scientists recovered helped them systematically examine the skeletons. "Our findings show progression towards lighter skin pigmentation as hunter-and-gatherers and nonlocal farmers intermarried," Pinhasi said in the statement.
The scientists also found that great changes in prehistoric technology, such as the adoption of farming, and the first use of hard metals such as bronze and then iron, were each associated with the substantial influx of new people.
In the Neolithic or New Stone Age, ancient central Europeans did not look anything like modern central Europeans, "but were closer to Sardinians," or people from the Italian island of Sardinia, Pinhasi told Live Science. "With the Bronze Age, you get a total shift into populations that look more like Western Europeans, and in the Iron Age you get another shift, with people genetically coming from the East, such as the Caucasus or Asia. These shifts were probably associated with major migrations and population turnovers in Central Europe."
Surprisingly, Pinhasi and his colleagues found that ancient Central Europeans apparently remained intolerant to lactose, the natural sugar in the milk of mammals, until the Bronze Age, about 4,000 years after these people began dairying. Artifacts that archaeologists previously unearthed suggest ancient Europeans started dairying 7,500 years ago in the Neolithic period. Most of the world is lactose intolerant, unable to digest lactose as adults, and the evolution of the ability to break down this sugar in adulthood helped Europeans take advantage of animal milk, a highly nutritious food.

Paleo Diet May Have Included Sweets, Carbs

"These ancient Europeans would have raised domesticated animals such as cows, sheep and goats without having yet developed the genetic tolerance for drinking milk from mammals without problems," Pinhasi said.
Pinhasi suggested ancient Europeans may have practiced dairying "not to drink milk, but to consume milk products such as cheese and yogurt," he said. "The processes that make cheese and yogurt break down lactose. Nowadays, in the Caucasus region, most people eat cheese and yogurt, but milk drinking is not a big thing."
The scientists are now sequencing even more ancient human genomes dating back 13,000 years from the Caucasus and other parts of Europe "to find out about genetic diversity that existed before and after the Ice Age," Pinhasi said. "We are also analyzing ancient farmers to find out who the first farmers truly were."
The scientists detailed their findings online Oct. 21 in the journal Nature Communications.

Discovery News

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Missing Sphinx Head Found in Ancient Greek Tomb

By Megan Gannon

sphinx head
Besides its broken nose, the sphinx head is rather intact.
Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

Archaeologists have discovered the missing head of one of the two marble sphinxes guarding a huge Macedonian tomb under excavation in Amphipolis, Greece.
The statue's head has wavy hair that falls to its left shoulder, and it bears traces of red paint, according to an update yesterday (Oct. 21) from the Greek Ministry of Culture. Excavators also found fragments of the broken wings from the pair of sphinxes that stand at the entrance of the tomb.
Enclosed by a marble wall 1,600 feet (490 m) in perimeter, the monumental burial mound at Amphipolis in northern Greece could be the largest of its kind in the Greek world. The archaeologists leading the ongoing excavation have not yet determined who is buried in the tomb (or if it is even intact), but they have said they believe the complex dates back to the fourth century B.C., during the era of Alexander the Great. [See Photos of the Mysterious Ancient Tomb in Amphipolis]

sphinx body
The head belonged to the eastern sphinx (at right) guarding the entrance to the Amphipolis tomb.
Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture
The excavators don't expect to find Alexander the Great's long-lost grave inside the tomb, as historical records indicate the Macedonian empire-builder died in Babylon and was buried in Alexandria. But dig leader Katerina Peristeri told reporters last week that whoever was buried there must have been "extremely important."
The dig attracted widespread attention after the headless sphinxes at the entrance to the tomb were revealed in August. As the archaeologists have probed deeper into the tomb's soil-filled inner chambers, they've made some remarkable discoveries. Last week they uncovered an elaborate floor mosaic made from colorful pebbles arranged to show the Greek goddess Persephone being whisked away to the underworld by Hades in a chariot drawn by a pair of white horses. The messenger god Hermes is also present in the figurative scene wearing his signature broad-brimmed hat.
The newly revealed sphinx head was missing part of its nose, but was otherwise quite intact. It was found beyond the floor mosaic, in the fourth chamber of the tomb, according to the Greek Ministry of Culture. In Greek art, sphinxes typically have the body of a lion, the wings of a bird and the head of a woman. In the face, the sphinx somewhat resembles the larger-than-life, intricately carved caryatids discovered in the Amphipolis tomb a few weeks ago. The caryatids — female statues that take the place of columns or pillars — flank the doorway of the second entrance to the tomb.

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