Tag: History

Why Our Ancestors Drilled Holes In Each Other’s Skull

The earliest clear evidence of trepanation dates to approximately 7,000 years ago. It was practised in places as diverse as Ancient Greece, North and South America, Africa, Polynesia and the Far East.

People probably developed the practice independently in several locations.

Trepanation had been abandoned by most cultures by the end of the Middle Ages, but the practice was still being carried out in a few isolated parts of Africa and Polynesia until the early 1900s.

Since the very first scientific studies on trepanation were published in the 19th Century, scholars have continued to argue that ancient humans sometimes performed trepanation to allow the passage of spirits into or out of the body, or as part of an initiation rite.

However, convincing evidence is hard to come by. It is almost impossible to completely rule out the possibility that a trepanation was carried out for medical reasons, because some brain conditions leave no trace on the skull.

However, in a small corner of Russia archaeologists have turned up some of the best evidence for ritual trepanation ever discovered.

The story begins in 1997. Archaeologists were excavating a prehistoric burial site close to the city of Rostov-on-Don in the far south of Russia, near the northern reaches of the Black Sea.

The site contained the skeletal remains of 35 humans, distributed among 20 separate graves. Based on the style of the burials, the archaeologists knew that they dated to between approximately 5,000 and 3,000 BC, a period known as the Chalcolithic or “Copper Age“.

One of the graves contained the skeletons of five adults – two women and three men – together with an infant aged between one and two years, and a girl in her mid-teens.

Finding multiple skeletons in the same prehistoric grave is not particularly unusual. But what had been done to their skulls was: the two women, two of the men and the teenage girl had all been trepanned.

Each of their skulls contained a single hole, several centimetres wide and roughly ellipsoidal in shape, with signs of scraping around the edges.

The skull of the third man contained a depression which also showed evidence of having been carved, but not an actual hole. Only the infant’s skull was unblemished.

The job of analysing the contents of the grave fell to Elena Batieva, an anthropologist now at the Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

She immediately recognised the holes as trepanations, and she soon realised that these trepanations were unusual.

They had all been made in almost exactly the same location: a point on the skull called the “obelion“. The obelion is on the top of the skull and towards the rear, roughly where a high ponytail might be gathered.

Less than 1% of all recorded trepanations are located above the obelion point. What’s more, Batieva knew that such trepanations were even less common in ancient Russia.

As far as she was aware at the time, there was just one other recorded case of an obelion trepanation: a skull unearthed in 1974 at an archaeological site remarkably close to the one she was excavating.

Clearly, finding even one obelion trepanation is remarkable. But Batieva was looking at five, all of them buried in the same grave. This was, and is, unprecedented.

There is a good reason why obelion trepanation is uncommon: it is very dangerous.

The obelion point is located directly above the superior sagittal sinus, where blood from the brain collects before flowing into the brain’s main outgoing veins.

Opening the skull in this location would have risked major haemorrhage and death.

This suggests the Copper Age inhabitants of Russia must have had good reason to perform such trepanation procedures.

Yet none of the skulls showed any signs of having suffered any injury or illness, before or after the trepanation had been performed.

In other words, it appeared as if all of these people were trepanned while they were completely healthy. Was their trepanation evidence of some sort of ritual?

It was an intriguing possibility. However, Batieva had to give up the trail. She had many more skeletons to analyse from all over southern Russia, and could not afford to get sidetracked by just a few skulls, however enigmatic.

Before she gave up, Batieva decided to search through Russia’s unpublished archaeological records, in case any more strange obelion trepanations had been discovered but not reported.

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Neanderthals Used Fire To Create Wooden Tools For Hunting And Foraging 170,000 Years Ago

Neanderthals in southern Tuscany used fire to manufacture wooden tools used for foraging and hunting around 171,000 years ago, experts have found.

Experts used radiometric dating, which measures the decay of radioactive particles, to establish the age of a trove of wooden implements and bones they uncovered.

The finds furnish some of the earliest evidence of wood processing and fire use by Neanderthals.

The find was made by a team of researchers, including the Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities in Florence.

In 2012, excavations for building thermal baths at Poggetti Vecchi, nestled at the foot of a hill in Grosseto in southern Tuscany, turned up the collection of ancient artefacts.

This included wooden sticks and the fossilised bones of a straight-tusked elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus. Most of the wooden implements were hewn from boxwood branches and likely used as digging sticks.

Such digging sticks have been known to be used for gathering plants and hunting small game.

The ends of the metre long (40 inch) sticks were fashioned into blunt points and had rounded handles useful for foraging.

Cut marks and striations, a series of linear marks, on the sticks bear witness to the manufacturing process.

Signs of superficial charring and microanalysis of blackened surfaces suggest the use of fire, in addition to stone tools, to scrape and shape the sticks.

Boxwood is among the hardiest and heaviest of European timbers. It choice as a preferred material suggests the technical mastery of toolmaking by early Neanderthals.

The find also provides some of the earliest evidence for the use of fire for fabricating wooden tools.

Writing in the report, its authors said: ‘Wood is a widely available and versatile material, which has admittedly played a fundamental role in all human history.

Wood, however, is most vulnerable to decomposition. Hence, its use is very rarely documented during prehistory.

The present study yields new insights into the cognitive abilities of the early Neanderthals in wooden tool production and pyrotechnology.

The early Neanderthals from the late Middle Pleistocene site of Poggetti Vecchi were able to choose the appropriate timber and to process it with fire to produce tools. 

“The artefacts recall the so-called “digging sticks,” multipurpose tools used by all hunter-gatherer societies.”

The full findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Study Reveals Prehistoric Humans Loved Their Dogs

The longstanding belief about human-canine relationships is that the world’s earliest dogs were mere work animals used to hunt game, but it turns out 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, Early Neolithic Siberian foragers had a soft spot for prehistoric Fido.

By analyzing 17 canine burial sites throughout the region, a team of anthropologists was able to determine quite a bit about the relationship between ancient Siberian foragers and their canine companions, which scientists believe looked a lot like large versions of the Siberian Husky.

University of Alberta anthropologist and lead author of the study Robert Losey says dog owners commonly lived near bodies of water, and the Lake Baikal region in modern day Siberia, as well as the areas near the Angara and Lena Rivers, seemed to fit the bill.

By examining sites in these areas, Losey and his team discovered that these Neolithic foragers and their dogs subsisted on the same diet, which included a lot of fish and seal.

“Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries,” Losey tells Discovery News.

While humans in largely pastoral communities seemed to rarely bury their dogs after death, dogs who lived in hunter-gatherer communities like those in Siberia seemed to share a close and personal connection with their people and were often buried ceremoniously — and not as a celebration of the canine’s hunting skills, evidence suggests.

If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9,000 years ago),” Losey explains.

The level of care with which these dogs were buried — alongside treasured items the dogs likely used everyday, and in some cases alongside their human companions — suggest a special bond must have existed between these ancient peoples and their four-legged friends.

One dog was laid to rest with what looked like a small round stone in his mouth, which the team interpreted to be either some sort of a toy or a special token. Other prehistoric pooches were entombed in death with trinkets like spoons and knives.

Unearthing another site revealed the skeleton of a man who was buried alongside his two dogs, the remains of each dog carefully placed to the left and right of the person.

Maybe the most interesting — and heartwarming, even — burial site contained the ancient remains of a dog whose owner lovingly placed a necklace made of four red deer tooth pendants around the pup’s neck.

A necklace fashioned in the same style as others worn by humans of the time. Perhaps the necklace was the forager’s way of honoring his best friend.

I think the hunter-gatherers here saw some of their dogs as being nearly the same as themselves,” Losey says, “even at a spiritual level.

People came to know them as unique, special individuals,” he adds.

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Meet Cheddar Man: First Modern Britons Had Dark Skin And Blue Eyes

They call him Cheddar Man.

He lived more than 10,000 years ago, had brown hair, blue eyes and “dark to black” skin. To the surprise of many, he is believed to have been the first modern Briton.

A new project from London’s Natural History Museum and University College London has revealed groundbreaking DNA results that give a much clearer image of early British inhabitants.

Cheddar Man’s skeleton was discovered in 1903 in Gough’s Cave, located in Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England. It is thought that the cool temperature in the cave helped to preserve the skeleton’s valuable DNA.

If the body was deposited in a good environment, where there was a cool and constant temperature, then the petrous bone is a good place to find useful ancient DNA,” said the Natural History Museum’s Selina Brace, who specializes in the study of ancient DNA.

Scientists obtained DNA from Cheddar Man by drilling a 2-millimeter hole in his skull and extracting bone powder.

Initially, it was assumed that the man, who died in his 20s, had pale skin, but new analysis and facial reconstruction have revealed quite the opposite.

It is now believed that Cheddar Man’s ancestors arrived in Britain via the Middle East after leaving Africa.

Cheddar Man is special because he represents the population occupying Europe at the time,” said Tom Booth, a bio-archaeologist at the museum.

They had dark skin, and most of them had pigmented eyes, either blue or green.” Data and software used in forensics gave Booth and the team a clearer understanding of Cheddar Man’s skin pigmentation and how dark it was.

The investigation into the skeletal remains revealed that Cheddar Man had “genetic markers of skin pigmentation usually associated with sub-Saharan Africa.”

The skull of Cheddar Man

Cheddar Man’s skeleton revealed damage to the front of the skull, which led us to believe he had a violent death. But when we looked again, it appeared likely that the damage occurred since being dug up,” Booth explained.

“It’s quite hard to figure out from the bones how he died, as most illnesses don’t leave a trace on human remains.”

Using 3-D printing, Adrie and Alfons Kennis were able to bring Cheddar Man to life. The model took several months to build and is described as “truly unique.”

Booth described their work as “amazing” and said the two brothers are skilled “wizards” who were able to bring years of hard work and research to life.

Experts say the ancestor was a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer who would have spent his days carving tools, fishing and hunting animals. Researchers say he was around 166 centimeters (5’4 inches) in height.

It is believed that Cheddar Man is related to 1 in 10 people living across the United Kingdom today.

It didn’t take long for Cheddar Man to trend worldwide on Twitter. Reactions to the extraordinary findings were mixed. Some praised the work of those involved with the reconstruction of Britain’s oldest skeleton.

Others focused on the racial tension in Britain and pointed out that perhaps not all Brits would be happy about their ties to the ancient human.

Cheddar Man’s complete skeleton has been lent to the museum and is currently on display.

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9,000 Year Old Rock Art From Saudi Arabia Is Earliest Depiction Of Domesticated Dogs

Carved into a sandstone cliff on the edge of a bygone river in the Arabian Desert, a hunter draws his bow for the kill.

He is accompanied by 13 dogs, each with its own coat markings; two animals have lines running from their necks to the man’s waist.

The engravings likely date back more than 8000 years, making them the earliest depictions of dogs, a new study reveals.

And those lines are probably leashes, suggesting that humans mastered the art of training and controlling dogs thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

It’s truly astounding stuff,” says Melinda Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

It’s the only real demonstration we have of humans using early dogs to hunt.” But she cautions that more work will be needed to confirm both the age and meaning of the depictions.

The hunting scene comes from Shuwaymis, a hilly region of northwestern Saudi Arabia where seasonal rains once formed rivers and supported pockets of dense vegetation.

For the past 3 years, Maria Guagnin, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany—in partnership with the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage—has helped catalog more than 1400 rock art panels containing nearly 7000 animals and humans at Shuwaymis and Jubbah, a more open vista about 200 kilometers north that was once dotted with lakes.

Starting about 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers entered—or perhaps returned to—the region. What appear to be the oldest images are thought to date to this time and depict curvy women.

Then about 7000 to 8000 years ago, people here became herders, based on livestock bones found at Jubbah; that’s likely when pictures of cattle, sheep, and goats began to dominate the images.

In between—carved on top of the women and under the livestock—are the early hunting dogs: 156 at Shuwaymis and 193 at Jubbah.

All are medium-sized, with pricked up ears, short snouts, and curled tails—hallmarks of domestic canines.

In some scenes, the dogs face off against wild donkeys. In others, they bite the necks and bellies of ibexes and gazelles. And in many, they are tethered to a human armed with a bow and arrow.

The researchers couldn’t directly date the images, but based on the sequence of carving, the weathering of the rock, and the timing of the switch to pastoralism, “The dog art is at least 8000 to 9000 years old,” Guagnin says.

That may edge out depictions of dogs previously labeled the oldest, paintings on Iranian pottery dated to at most 8000 years ago.

The dogs look a lot like today’s Canaan dog, says Perri, a largely feral breed that roams the deserts of the Middle East.

That could indicate that these ancient people bred dogs that had already adapted to hunting in the desert, the team reports this week in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Or people may even have independently domesticated these dogs from the Arabian wolf long after dogs were domesticated elsewhere, which likely happened sometime between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago.

Such a relationship would have been critical to helping people survive a harsh environment. Dogs could take down gazelles and ibexes too fast for humans, Perri says.

Details of the images also suggest that the ancient hunters tailored their strategies to the landscape, Zeder says. At Shuwaymis, where the dogs may have been used to drive prey into the corners of uneven terrain, the art depicts large packs.

At Jubbah, the images show smaller groups of dogs that may have ambushed prey at watering holes.

People were able to venture into these inhospitable areas by strategically marshalling dogs to survive,” Zeder says. “And now we’re seeing a real picture of how it happened.

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5 Ancient Sites Some People Think Were Built By Aliens

These spots might not have been crafted by extraterrestrials, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out of this world.

Planet Earth is home to some spectacular relics from bygone eras, constructions that seem to defy the technological capabilities of their time either because they’re too big, too heavy, or too complex.

As such, some suggest the ancient builders of the Egyptian pyramids, the Nasca lines, and others were following an extraterrestrial instruction manual. Perhaps the hands that crafted these sites weren’t really of this world.

To be sure, it’s fun to think about whether aliens have visited Earth. After all, humans are on the threshold of expanding our reach in space, and places like Mars are in our sight.

But the truth is, there’s no evidence suggesting that aliens have ever been here.

And invoking a supernatural explanation for some of the most monumental of human achievements means skipping over the fascinating ways in which prehistoric civilizations managed to make some of the largest and most enigmatic constructions on Earth.


Outside the old Inca capital of Cusco, a fortress called Sacsayhuamán rests in the Peruvian Andes.

Built from enormous stones that have been chiseled and stacked together like a jigsaw puzzle, some say Sacsayhuamán could be the work of an ancient civilization that had a little help from interstellar friends.

The 1,000-year-old interlocking fortress walls are made of rocks that weigh as much as 360 tons each, and which were carried more than 20 miles before being lifted and fit into place with laser-like precision.

How an ancient culture accomplished such a feat of engineering is a fun little problem to solve; turns out the Inca were as adept at building houses and fortified complexes as they were at watching the sky and keeping calendars.

In fact, Sacsayhuamán isn’t the only example of this intricate masonry: Similar walls exist throughout the Inca Empire, including one in Cusco where a 12-angled stone has been carefully wedged into place.

More recently, archaeologists have uncovered traces of the rope-and-lever system the Inca used to transport stones from their quarries to their cities—a system that relied on strength and ingenuity, rather than alien architects.

Nasca Lines

On a high and dry plateau some 200 miles southeast of Lima, more than 800 long, straight white lines are etched into the Peruvian desert, seemingly at random.

Joining them are 300 geometric shapes and 70 figures of animals, including a spider, monkey, and hummingbird.

The longest of the lines run straight as an arrow for miles. The biggest shapes stretch nearly 1,200 feet across and are best viewed from the air.

Scientists suspect the Nasca drawings are as many as two millennia old, and because of their age, size, visibility from above, and mysterious nature, the lines are often cited as one of the best examples of alien handiwork on Earth.

Otherwise, how would an ancient culture have been able to make such huge designs in the desert without being able to fly? And why?

Turns out, it’s rather easy to understand the how. Called geoglyphs, these enigmatic designs are made by removing the top, rust-colored layer of rocks and exposing the brighter white sand underneath.

The why is a bit tougher to comprehend. First studied in the early 1900s, the designs were initially suspected to be aligned with constellations or solstices, but more recent work suggests the Nasca lines point to ceremonial or ritual sites related to water and fertility.

And in addition to being visible from the air, the shapes can be seen from surrounding foothills.

Egyptian Pyramids

Just outside Cairo, in Giza, the most famous of Egypt’s pyramids rise from the desert. Built more than 4,500 years ago, the Pyramids at Giza are monumental tombs where ancient queens and pharaohs were buried.

But how, exactly, did the Egyptians build these things? The Great Pyramid is made of millions of precisely hewn stones weighing at least two tons each.

Even with today’s cranes and other construction equipment, building a pyramid as big as that of Pharaoh Khufu would be a formidable challenge.

And then there’s the astronomical configuration of the pyramids, which is said to align with the stars in Orion’s belt.

As well, alien theorists often point to the fact that these three pyramids are in way better shape than others built centuries later (never mind the amount of work that has gone into preserving them over the past several centuries).

So are Egypt’s pyramids artifacts of aliens? Not exactly.

It’s true that scientists aren’t quite sure how the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids—and especially how they did it so quickly—but there’s ample evidence that these tombs are the work of thousands of earthly hands.


A huge circle of stones, some weighing as much as 50 tons, sits in the English countryside outside Salisbury.

Known as Stonehenge, the Neolithic monument inspired Swiss author Erich von Däniken to suggest it was a model of the solar system that also functioned as an alien landing pad—after all, how else could those massive stones have ended up hundreds of miles from their home quarry?

No one knows what, exactly, the meaning of Stonehenge is, but, as with all the other sites in this collection, the explanation is not aliens.

Instead, scientists have demonstrated it’s actually possible to build such a thing using technologies that would have been around 5,000 years ago, when the earliest structures at the site were built.

And now, it appears as though the stones are aligned with solstices and eclipses, suggesting the Stonehenge builders were at least keeping an eye on the heavens, even if they didn’t come from above.

Easter Island

The enigmas surrounding the moai, Easter Island’s fleet of large stone figures, pretty much follow the same narrative as the other sites described here: How in the world did the Rapa Nui make these figures more than 1,000 years ago?

And how did the moai end up on Easter Island?

Carved from stone, the nearly 900 human figures are sprinkled along the flanks of the island’s extinct volcanoes.

The figures average 13 feet tall and weigh 14 tons and appear to have been chiseled from the soft volcanic tuff found in the Rano Raraku quarry.

There, more than 400 statues are still in various states of construction, with some completed figures awaiting transportation to their intended resting place.

The reasons for carving the moai are mysterious, though they were likely sculpted for religious or ritual reasons.

It’s also not exactly clear what happened to the stone-crafting Rapa Nui, but a leading theory suggests their civilization succumbed to an environmental disaster of their own making… which is something that probably could have been prevented had ancient aliens bestowed their infinite wisdom upon the culture.

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When A Machine Learning Algorithm Studied Fine Art Paintings, It Saw Things Art Historians Had Never Noticed

Georges Braque’s Man with a Violin (left) and Pablo Picasso’s Spanish Still Life: Sun and Shadow, both painted in 1912

The task of classifying pieces of fine art is hugely complex. When examining a painting, an art expert can usually determine its style, its genre, the artist and the period to which it belongs.

Art historians often go further by looking for the influences and connections between artists, a task that is even trickier.

So the possibility that a computer might be able to classify paintings and find connections between them at first glance seems laughable.

And yet, that is exactly what Babak Saleh and pals have done at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

These guys have used some of the latest image processing and classifying techniques to automate the process of discovering how great artists have influenced each other.

They have even been able to uncover influences between artists that art historians have never recognized until now.

The way art experts approach this problem is by comparing artworks according to a number of high-level concepts such as the artist’s use of space, texture, form, shape, color and so on.

Experts may also consider the way the artist uses movement in the picture, harmony, variety, balance, contrast, proportion and pattern.

Other important elements can include the subject matter, brushstrokes, meaning, historical context and so on. Clearly, this is a complex business.

So it is easy to imagine that the limited ability computers have for analyzing two-dimensional images would make this process more or less impossible to automate. But Salah and co show how it can be done.

At the heart of their method, is a new technique developed at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Microsoft research in Cambridge, UK, for classifying pictures according to the visual concepts that they contain.

These concepts are called classemes and include everything from simple object description such as duck, frisbee, man, wheelbarrow to shades of color to higher-level descriptions such as dead body, body of water, walking and so on.

Comparing images is then a process of comparing the words that describe them, for which there are a number of well-established techniques.

Left: Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) by Diego Velazquez. Right: Study After Vel´azquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953) by Francis

For each painting, they limit the number of concepts and points of interest generated by their method to 3000 in the interests of efficient computation.

This process generates a list of describing words that can be thought of as a kind of vector. The task is then to look for similar vectors using natural language techniques and a machine learning algorithm.

Determining influence is harder though since influence is itself a difficult concept to define. Should one artist be deemed to influence another if one painting has a strong similarity to another?

Or should there be a number of similar paintings and if so how many?

So Saleh and co experiment with a number of different metrics. They end up creating two-dimensional graphs with metrics of different kinds on each axis and then plotting the position of all of the artists in this space to see how they are clustered.

The results are interesting. In many cases, their algorithm clearly identifies influences that art experts have already found.

For example, the graphs show that the Austrian painter Klimt is close to Picasso and Braque and indeed experts are well acquainted with the idea that Klimt was influenced by both these artists.

The algorithm also identifies the influence of the French romantic Delacroix on the French impressionist Bazille, the Norwegian painter Munch’s influence on the German painter Beckmann and Degas’ influence on Caillebotte.

The algorithm is also able to identify individual paintings that have influenced others.

It picked out Georges Braque’s Man with a Violin and Pablo Picasso’s Spanish Still Life: Sun and Shadow, both painted in 1912 with a well-known connection as pictures that helped found the Cubist movement.

And yet a visual inspection shows a clear link. The yellow circles in the images below show similar objects, the red lines show composition and the blue square shows a similar structural element, say Saleh and co.

That is interesting stuff. Of course, Saleh and co do not claim that this kind of algorithm can take the place of an art historian.

After all, the discovery of a link between paintings in this way is just the starting point for further research about an artist’s life and work.

But it is a fascinating insight into the way that machine learning techniques can throw new light on a subject as grand and well studied as the history of art.

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Indian Stone Tools Could Dramatically Push Back Date When Modern Humans First Left Africa

We are all children of Africa. As members of the hominin species Homo sapiens, you and I are the product of millions of years of shared evolutionary history of life on Earth.

But as a species we are relatively recent, emerging between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago in East Africa from indigenous archaic populations.

Currently, some of the biggest questions facing palaeoanthropology involve trying to work out how and when early humans left the continent. Was it a single dispersal? Or multiple?

A recent discovery of a jawbone fossil in Israel suggests that there could have been a migration as early as about 180,000 years ago.

But a new study, published in the journal Nature, suggests early humans may have left Africa much earlier than that.

The new research reports the discovery of tools from the Middle Palaeolithic (200,000 to 40,000 years ago) in Tamil Nadu, India.

Surprisingly, the tools date back to 385,000 years ago – which is around the same time as this technology is thought to have first developed by archaic or possibly modern humans in Africa.

This challenges the view, backed by most researchers, that modern humans brought these technologies to India less than 140,000 years ago.

Attirampakkam site

Attirampakkam is located on the banks of a stream of the Kortallaiyar River in northeast Tamil Nadu.

Excavations by a team of Indian researchers revealed abundant layers of stone tools trapped within sediments deposited by streams which ran through the area in prehistory.

The site appears to have been sporadically occupied by apes and early hominins predating Homo sapiens from as far back as 1.7m years ago.

Using a dating technique called infrared-stimulated luminescence – which pinpoints the last time that sediment grains were exposed to light – the authors determined that the silts and gravels which contain the tools date to between 385,000 and 172,000 years ago.

These tools chart the transition from the Acheulean handaxe culture, created by archaic humans of the Lower Palaeolithic, to smaller tools.

The latter were produced by a more sophisticated technique called Levallois – involving the production of stone points and blades.

The tools push the date back for the origins of Middle Palaeolithic technology in India.

Previous studies have suggested that this occurred between 140,000 years and 46,000 years ago, possibly as Homo sapiens migrated into the subcontinent.

But what is perhaps more important, is what these dates mean for the emergence of Homo sapiens and our species’ migrations into the rest of the Old World.

And to understand those implications we need to consider fossils from North Africa and how they are associated with hominin species and technology.

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Scientists Find Jawbone Fossil From Oldest Modern Human Out Of Africa In A Cave In Israel

Scientists on Thursday announced the discovery of a fossilized human jawbone in a collapsed cave in Israel that they said is between 177,000 and 194,000 years old.

If confirmed, the find may rewrite the early migration story of our species, pushing back by about 50,000 years the time that Homo sapiens first ventured out of Africa.

Previous discoveries in Israel had convinced some anthropologists that modern humans began leaving Africa between 90,000 and 120,000 years ago. But the recently dated jawbone is unraveling that narrative.

This would be the earliest modern human anyone has found outside of Africa, ever,” said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Wisconsin, Madison who was not involved in the study.

The upper jawbone — which includes seven intact teeth and one broken incisor, and was described in a paper in the journal Science — provides fossil evidence that lends support to genetic studies that have suggested modern humans moved from Africa far earlier than had been suspected.

Dr. Hawks and other researchers advised caution in interpreting the discovery.

Although this ancient person may have shared some anatomical characteristics with present-day people, this “modern human” would have probably looked much different from anyone living in the world today.

Early modern humans in many respects were not so modern,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the department of human evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

Dr. Hublin said that by concluding the jawbone came from a “modern human,” the authors were simply saying that the ancient person was morphologically more closely related to us than to Neanderthals.


That does not mean that this person contributed to the DNA of anyone living today, he added. It is possible that the jawbone belonged to a previously unknown population of Homo sapiens that departed Africa and then died off.

That explanation would need to be tested with DNA samples, which are difficult to collect from fossils found in the arid Levant.

The upper jawbone, or maxilla, was found by a team led by Israel Hershkovitz, a paleoanthropologist at Tel Aviv University and lead author of the new paper, while excavating the Misliya Cave on the western slopes of Mount Carmel in Israel.

The jawbone was discovered in 2002 by a freshman on his first archaeological dig with the group.

The team had long known that ancient people lived in the Misliya Cave, which is a rock shelter with an overhanging ceiling carved into a limestone cliff.

By dating burned flint flakes found at the site, archaeologists had determined that it was occupied between 250,000 to 160,000 years ago, during an era known as the Early Middle Paleolithic.

Evidence, including bedding, showed that the people who lived there used it as a base camp. They hunted deer, gazelles and aurochs, and feasted on turtles, hares and ostrich eggs.

Dr. Hershkovitz and Mina Weinstein-Evron, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa, felt that the jawbone looked modern, but they needed to confirm their hunch.

The Misliya finding is just the latest in a series of discoveries that are changing the story of our evolutionary past.

One study, not yet confirmed, suggested that modern humans may have interbred with Neanderthals in Eurasia about as far back as 220,000 years ago.

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DNA Of Man Who Died In 1827 Recreated Without His Remains

Recreating a deceased person or animal’s DNA has required that DNA be extracted from the remains of the individual, but a new study has shown that may not be the only way.

The DNA of a man who died nearly 200 years ago has been recreated from his living descendants rather than his physical remains — something that has never been done before.

deCODE Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company in Iceland, achieved this feat by taking DNA samples from 182 Icelandic descendants of Hans Jonatan, a man who is quite an icon in Iceland, most well known for having freed himself from slavery in a heroic series of seemingly impossible events.

It was the unique circumstances of Hans Jonatan’s life that made it possible for his DNA to be recreated after his death. For one, Jonatan was the first Icelandic inhabitant with African heritage.

Iceland also boasts an extensive and highly detailed collection of genealogical records.

The combination of Jonatan’s unique heritage and the country’s record-keeping for inhabitants’ family trees made this remarkable recreation possible.

deCODE used DNA screened from 182 relatives, first reconstructing 38 percent of Jonatan’s mother Emilia’s DNA (which accounted for 19 percent of Jonatan’s).

Published in Nature Genetics, this elaborate study began with a whopping 788 of Jonatan’s known descendants, but was able to be narrowed down to 182 through DNA screening against known markers.

While this is truly an amazing feat, according to Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom,  it “seems to be the sort of analysis you could only do under particular circumstances when an immigrant genome is of a very rare type.

Despite these limitations, deCODE believes the technique could have extensive applications.

Kári Stefánsson of deCODE said that “It’s all a question of the amount of data you have. In principle, it could be done anywhere with any ancestors, but what made it easy in Iceland was that there were no other Africans.”

Allaby does believe the results of this study could give us additional avenues to explore the DNA of those who have long since passed.

“It’s the sort of study that could, for instance, be used to recover genomes of explorers who had interbred with isolated native communities.”

Theoretically, a technique like this could help researchers create “virtual ancient DNA,” which would allow scientists to recreate the DNA of historical figures.

Agnar Helgason of deCODE stated that “Any historic figure born after 1500 who has known descendants could be reconstructed.”

While it’s exciting, there are still major hurdles to overcome in terms of the potential future applications.

The quantity, scale, and detail of the DNA from living ancestors required to recreate a person’s DNA make it impractical for use within most families.

Additionally, with each new generation identifiable DNA fragments get smaller and more difficult to work with.

To that end, more immediate applications might involve repairing and filling in spaces within family trees.

But if it’s honed, it could become a valuable historical tool, giving us an in-depth look at what life was like for historical figures like Jonatan.

Scientists could genetically resurrect anyone, providing us with a more thorough understanding of our species both from our own personal familial perspectives and through the more macrocosmic lens of human history.

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