Herodotus Returns

Neanderthal bedroom discovered in Spain
August 9, 2010, 7:33 pm
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Neanderthals were crafty homemakers, it turns out. Archaeologists working in a cave Spain have uncovered a bedroom, complete with a fireplace and two beds that were covered in grass. It’s been a big year for Neanderthal public relations. First we found out that 50,000 years ago they were wearing makeup and jewelry. Next, the Neanderthal Genome Project told us that they were mating with Homo sapiens.

Neanderthals inhabited the cozy Late Pleistocene room, located within Esquilleu Cave in Cantabria, Spain, anywhere between 53,000 to 39,000 years ago, according to a Journal of Archaeological Science paper concerning the discovery.

Living the ultimate clean and literally green lifestyle, the Neanderthals appear to have constructed new beds out of grass every so often, using the old bedding material to help fuel the hearth.

“It is possible that the Neanderthals renewed the bedding each time they visited the cave,” lead author Dan Cabanes told Discovery News.

Cabanes, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Kimmel Center for Archaeological Research, added that these hearth-side beds also likely served as sitting areas during waking hours for the Neanderthals.

More on the Neanderthal bedroom.


Neanderthals interbred with humans
April 25, 2010, 12:22 pm
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A recent study shows that Neanderthals and humans did, in fact, interbreed. There’s a little bit of Neanderthal in all of us, apparently. (Unless your family comes from Africa). The study will be put to the test soon, when the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology publishes their genome study. I wonder about the nature of these Neanderthal-human liaisons. Most anthropologists seem to believe that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens had some kind of conflict. Homo sapiens appeared in a part of the world where Neanderthals had reigned alone for a hundred thousand years. The two species eventually would  have been competing for resources; some form of conflict would have been inevitable. And remember Neanderthals were wiped out. Homo sapiens surely helped this process along. So, my unscientific hunch is that any Neanderthal-human interbreeding came in the rape-pillage aftermath ‘war.’

Archaic humans such as Neanderthals may be gone but they’re not forgotten — at least not in the human genome. A genetic analysis of nearly 2,000 people from around the world indicates that such extinct species interbred with the ancestors of modern humans twice, leaving their genes within the DNA of people today.

The discovery, presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on 17 April, adds important new details to the evolutionary history of the human species. And it may help explain the fate of the Neanderthals, who vanished from the fossil record about 30,000 years ago. “It means Neanderthals didn’t completely disappear,” says Jeffrey Long, a genetic anthropologist at the University of New Mexico, whose group conducted the analysis. There is a little bit of Neanderthal leftover in almost all humans, he says.

The researchers arrived at that conclusion by studying genetic data from 1,983 individuals from 99 populations in Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Sarah Joyce, a doctoral student working with Long, analyzed 614 microsatellite positions, which are sections of the genome that can be used like fingerprints. She then created an evolutionary tree to explain the observed genetic variation in microsatellites. The best way to explain that variation was if there were two periods of interbreeding between humans and an archaic species, such as Homo neanderthalensis or H. heidelbergensis.

More on Neanderthal-human liaisons.

Arbil Iraq Discovery Could be Earliest Evidence of Humans in the Region
March 18, 2010, 9:09 pm
Filed under: Hunter-Gatherer, Iraq, Neanderthals | Tags: , , , ,

Czech archaeologists have excavated remains of a prehistoric settlement in Arbil, north Iraq, which could date back as far back 200,000 years, placing it among the earliest evidence of hominid activity in the region.

The expedition, led by Dr. Karel Novacek from the University of West Bohemia in Plzen, unearthed clusters of stone artifacts at the bottom of a 9-meter-deep pit dug just outside the tell, or citadel, in Arbil.

Novacek recently explained to Heritage Key that the excavated stone tools, comprised of flakes, scrapers and cores, can be traced back to the Late Middle Paleolithic Age (200,000-40,000 years before present). These discoveries align with excavations carried out by Americans in the 1950s in the nearby plains between Kirkuk and Suleymaniya.

To describe the find as a ‘settlement’ may be bold: Middle Paleolithic man, after all, was a hunter-gatherer, meaning he made camps, but never permanently settled anywhere. With that said, Novacek pointed out that the team “found two concentrations of the stone artifacts in roughly the same stratigraphic position at approximately 220 m distance,” suggesting a site of some significance. Additionally, Novacek noted that these recently excavated artifacts are unique because they were found ‘in situ,’ meaning untouched, whereas other Middle Paleolithic finds in the area had been shifted.

Read more about the Arbil find at Heritage Key.

Neanderthal teeth discovered in Poland
February 2, 2010, 10:05 am
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Polish archaeologists have unearthed three Neanderthal teeth in a cave in Poland, a find they hope may shed light on how similar to modern humans our ancestors were.

Neanderthal artifacts have been unearthed in Poland before. But the teeth are the first bodily Neanderthal remains found in the country, according to Mikolaj Urbanowski, an archaeologist with Szczecin University and the project’s lead researcher.

Urbanowski said the teeth were unearthed in the Stajnia Cave, north of the Carpathian Mountains, along with flint tools and the bones of the woolly mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros, both extinct Ice Age species.

The researchers also found a hammer made of reindeer antler and bones of cave bears bearing cut marks, indicating they were eaten by the Neanderthals, Urbanowski said.

More on Neanderthal teeth in Poland.

Neanderthals died out 37,000 years ago
January 29, 2010, 11:53 am
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João Zilhão, the archaeologist who two weeks ago found painted sea shells at a Neanderthal site in France has published a paper regarding the end point of the Neanderthal people.

Professor Zilhao and colleagues now report new dating evidence for the Late Aurignacian of Portugal, an archaeological culture unquestionably associated with modern humans, that firmly constrains the age of the last Neanderthals of southern and western Iberia to no younger than some 37,000 years ago.

This new evidence therefore puts at five millennia the duration of the Iberian Neanderthal refugium, and counters speculations that Neanderthal populations could have remained in the Gibraltar area until 28,000 years ago.

These findings have important implications for the understanding of the archaic features found in the anatomy of a 30,000 year old child unearthed at Lagar Velho, Portugal. With the last of the Iberian Neanderthals dating to many millennia before the child was born, ‘freak’ crossbreeding between immediate ancestors drawn from distinct ‘modern’ and ‘Neanderthal’ gene pools cannot be a viable explanation. The skeleton’s archaic features must therefore represent evolutionarily significant admixture at the time of contact, as suggested by the team who excavated and studied the fossil.

More on Joao Zilhao’s paper.

Also, check out these other articles on Neanderthals:

Neanderthal teeth discovered in Poland

DNA analysis of 30,000-year-old hunter-gatherer