A 1.8 million year old skull indicates there may have been just one human species on Earth at that time

A 1.8 million year old skull indicates there may have been just one human species on Earth at that time

A new paper published in Science details a 1.8 million year old skull. The skull find has stirred up debate amongst palaeoanthropologists, as the authors of the new paper have asserted that the hominid skull shows that Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus are all part of a single evolving lineage that led to modern humans. Other scientists disagree however, saying there is still evidence that at least three distinct species of humans co-existed in Africa.

The new cranium, discovered in Dmanisi, (D4500), together with its mandible (D2600), represents the world’s first completely preserved hominid skull from the early Pleistocene. The cranium has a small brain case at 546 cubic centimetres and has a large prognathic face, meaning that its jaws project beyond the upper part of its face. It seems to have close structural similarities (morphological affinities) with the earliest known Homo fossils found in Africa.

The Dmanisi sample is now composed of five crania, and shows direct evidence for wide variation within the early Homo populations – but crucially, within the same species. This variation within the Homo populations is similar to that seen within modern Pan (chimpanzee) groups.

The authors conclude that the diversity seen in the African fossil record around 1.8 million years ago most likely reflects variation between groups of a single evolving lineage rather than species diversity. That single lineage is Homo erectus, with specimens previously attributed to H. ergaster reclassified as a chronosubspecies, H. erectus ergaster. As the Dmanisi population most likely originated from an Early Pleistocene (2.58 – 0.78 million years ago) expansion of the H. erectus lineage from Africa, the authors place it within H. e. ergaster and formally designate it as H. e. e. georgicus, referring to the samples’ geographic location. H. habilis and H. rudolfensis fossils require further testing to determine whether they too belong to a single evolving Homo lineage. Identifying the hominid groups and identifying variation within the populations will aid in understanding the evolution and dispersal of early Homo.

Not all palaeoanthroplogists agree with the authors of this new paper. A previous paper sought to confirm taxonomic diversity in early Homo. The Nature paper showed that three newly discovered fossils, aged between 1.78 and 1.95 million years (Myr) old, showed that there were two contemporary species of early Homo, in addition to Homo erectus, in the early Pleistocene of eastern Africa. This finding added further support to the classification of a skull found in 1972 as a separate species of human, Homo rudolfensis. The skull was the only example of this species which contributes to the contention over its lineage.

A co-author of the Nature study, Fred Spoor, told BBC News that Lordkipanidze et al.’s analysis of the cranium describing the shape of the face and braincase was in broad and sweeping terms, and that those Homo sapiens are not defined using such a broad overview.  Very specific characteristics had been used to define H. erectus, H. habilis and H. rudolfensis, and these were not were not indicated by the landmarks that the team used.

It is clear from this recent finding and previous work that the Dmanisi site still has much more to offer in discoveries of our lineage.

Source: http://www.iflscience.com/
Origins of Mysterious World Trade Center Ship Revealed

Origins of Mysterious World Trade Center Ship Revealed

In July 2010, amid the gargantuan rebuilding effort at the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, construction workers halted the backhoes when they uncovered something unexpected just south of where the Twin Towers once stood.

At 22 feet (6.7 meters) below today’s street level, in a pit that would become an underground security and parking complex, excavators found the mangled skeleton of a long-forgotten wooden ship.

Now, a new report finds that tree rings in those waterlogged ribs show the vessel was likely built in 1773, or soon after, in a small shipyard near Philadelphia. What’s more, the ship was perhaps made from the same kind of white oak trees used to build parts of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed, according to the study published this month in the journal Tree-Ring Research. [See Photos of the Ship and Its Tree Rings]

Archaeologists had been on-site throughout the excavation of the World Trade Center’s Vehicular Security Center. They had found animal bones, ceramic dishes, bottles and dozens of shoes, but the excitement really kicked up when the 32-foot-long (9.75 m) partial hull of the ship emerged from the dirt.

The vessel was quickly excavated, to prevent damage from exposure to the air. Piece by piece, the delicate oak fragments were documented and taken out of the rotten-smelling mud. The timbers were sent to the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, where they would be soaked in water to keep the wood from cracking and warping.

A few timbers were sent back to New York, just 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the World Trade Center, to the Tree Ring Laboratory at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. Researchers at the lab dried the fragments slowly in a cold room and cut thick slices of the wood to get a clear look at the tree rings.

The team established that the trees used to build the ship — some of which had lived to be more than 100 years old — were mostly cut down around 1773. Then, to determine where the wood came from, the researchers had to find a match between the ring pattern in the timbers and a ring pattern in live trees and archaeological samples from a specific region.

“What makes the tree-ring patterns in a certain region look very similar, in general, is climate,” said the leader of the new study, Dario Martin-Benito, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. Regional ring patterns arise from local rain levels and temperatures, with wetter periods producing thicker rings and drier periods producing smaller rings, he said.

Martin-Benito and his colleagues at Columbia’s Tree Ring Lab narrowed their search to trees in the eastern United States, thanks to the keel of the ship, which contained hickory, a tree found only in eastern North America and eastern Asia. Otherwise, the researchers would have had much more difficulty in limiting their search, as oak is found all over the world.

The ship’s signature pattern most closely matched with the rings found in old living trees and historic wood samples from the Philadelphia area, including a sample taken during an earlier study from Independence Hall, which was built between 1732 and 1756.

“We could see that at that time in Philadelphia, there were still a lot of old-growth forests, and [they were] being logged for shipbuilding and building Independence Hall,” Martin-Benito told Live Science. “Philadelphia was one of the most — if not the most — important shipbuilding cities in the U.S. at the time. And they had plenty of wood so it made lots of sense that the wood could come from there.”

Historians still aren’t certain whether the ship sank accidentally or if it was purposely submerged to become part of a landfill used to bulk up Lower Manhattan’s coastline. Oysters found fixed to the ship’s hull suggest it at least languished in the water for some time before being buried by layers of trash and dirt.

Previous investigations found that the vessel’s timbers had been damaged by burrowing holes of Lyrodus pedicellatus, a type of “shipworm” typically found in high-salinity, warm waters — a sign that the ship, at some point in its life, made a trip to the Caribbean, perhaps on a trading voyage. Martin-Benito speculated that the infestation might have been one of the reasons the ship met its demise just 20 or 30 years after it was built.

“I don’t know much about the life expectancy for boats, but that doesn’t seem like too long for something that would take so long to build,” Martin-Benito said.


Clue to Disease’s Spread in a 6,200-Year-Old Grave

Clue to Disease’s Spread in a 6,200-Year-Old Grave

The oldest Schistosoma egg ever found was unearthed recently in an archaeological dig in Syria, and its surroundings suggest that ancient Mesopotamians may have contributed to the spread of schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease.

Also called bilharzia or snail fever, schistosomiasis is caused by Schistosoma flatworms that live in freshwater snails, which they leave to burrow into humans wading or swimming. They migrate to blood vessels in the bladders, bowels or sexual organs of their hosts.

Infestation can cause bloody urine, anemia, kidney failure and bladder cancer. More than 700 million people in the world — mostly the rural poor — live in areas at risk for it.

The egg was discovered in a 6,200-year-old grave in Tell Zeidan, an ancient farming village near the Euphrates River, and was sifted out of dirt from the corpse’s pelvic region. Control samples from the head and foot areas had no eggs, so the soil was presumably not contaminated later, according to the study, which was published June 19 by Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Although the village is too arid for wheat or barley, both were grown there, suggesting that it had irrigation ditches, which were first dug in that part of Mesopotamia 7,500 years ago. That suggests that human intervention helped spread the disease in one of the cradles of civilization, said Dr. Piers D. Mitchell, a Cambridge University paleopathologist and a co-author of the study.

Previously, the oldest egg was found in a 5,200-year-old Egyptian mummy.

Source: New York Times

Elite Canaanite Burial Discovered in the Jezreel Valley

Elite Canaanite Burial Discovered in the Jezreel Valley

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has announced the discovery of a 3,300-year-old Egyptianizing coffin near Tel Shadud in the Jezreel Valley. The excavation was led by IAA archaeologists Dr. Edwin van den Brink, Dan Kirzner and Dr. Ron Be’eri.

The find dates to a time when Egypt ruled Canaan. As explained by Carolyn R. Higginbotham in “The Egyptianizing of Canaan”in the May/June 1998 issue of BAR, from the Late Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, Egypt had a profound influence on the material culture of Canaan:

Since the discovery of the Amarna letters, archaeologists have also unearthed mounds of artifacts in Egypt and Canaan, dating to the late second millennium B.C.E., which make it clear that life in Ramesside Canaan was markedly different from that in the preceding Amarna age. In short, during the Ramesside period, the material culture of the Canaanite lowlands began to show conspicuous Egyptian influence. True, during the Amarna age, Egyptian artifacts were present in the archaeological record of Canaan. But by the 13th century B.C.E. (Late Bronze Age IIB, which corresponds roughly to the XIXth Dynasty of Egypt), the amount of Egyptian-style objects had increased significantly at Canaanite sites. Egyptian-style artifacts are similarly prevalent at Iron Age IA (between about 1200 and 1150 B.C.E.) sites; thereafter, these kinds of objects decline in frequency. 

The third edition of the Biblical Archaeology Society’s widely-acclaimed Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Destruction of the Temple serves as an authoritative history of ancient Israel. Written by the world’s foremost Biblical scholars and archaeologists, each chapter has been updated and expanded to incorporate more than a decade’s worth of outstanding new discoveries and fresh scholarly perspectives.

LBA coffin Jezreel detail

Detail of the Egyptianizing coffin after cleaning. Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The excavation at Tel Shadud revealed a 13th-century B.C.E. cylindrical clay coffin with an anthropoid lid buried alongside a number of storage vessels.

“As was the custom, it seems these [pots] were used as offerings for the gods, and were also meant to provide the dead with sustenance in the afterlife,” said the Tel Shadud archaeologists in an IAA press release.

The excavators believe that the burial belonged to an elite Canaanite individual who served the Egyptian government or imitated Egyptian burial customs. Among the rare finds discovered with the skeleton of an adult in the coffin was a gold signet ring bearing an Egyptian scarab seal. Inscribed on the seal is the name of Pharaoh Seti I, who was the father of Ramesses II. Other grave goods include a bronze dagger, bronze bowl and hammered pieces of bronze.

Discovered near the coffin were the graves of two men and two women who may have been family members.

Read the press release from the IA

1,300-Year-Old Egyptian Mummy Had Biblical Tattoo

1,300-Year-Old Egyptian Mummy Had Biblical Tattoo

A mummy of an Egyptian woman dating back to 700 A.D. has been scanned and stripped to reveal a tattoo on her thigh that displays the name of the biblical archangel Michael.

The discovery, announced by researchers at the British Museum over the weekend, was made during a research project that used advanced medical scans, including Computed Tomography (CT) images, to examine Egyptian mummies at a number of hospitals in the United Kingdom last year.

The woman’s body was wrapped in a woolen and linen cloth before burial, and her remains were mummified in the desert heat. As deciphered by curators, the tattoo on her thigh, written in ancient Greek, reads Μιχαήλ, transliterated as M-I-X-A-H-A, or Michael.

Curators at the museum speculate that the tattoo was a symbol worn for religious and spiritual protection, though they declined to offer additional details.

“Like Greeks and Romans across the Mediterranean, the portion of the population that was literate was fascinated by the shapes of letters and delighted in making designs with letters in names. Hence, we have the odd shape of the tattoo composed of the letters.”

Placing the name of a powerful heavenly protector on one’s body by a tattoo or amulet was very common in antiquity, Tilley told Foxnews.com. “Christian women who were pregnant often placed amulets with divine or angelic names on bands on their abdomens to insure a safe delivery of their child,” she said.

“Placing the name on the inner thigh, as with this mummy, may have had some meaning for the hopes of childbirth or protection against sexual violation, as in ‘This body is claimed and protected.’ Michael is an obvious identity for a tattoo, as this is the most powerful of angels.”

Christian Gnostics, religious cultists in that era, were especially interested in the names and functions of intermediary beings between humans and the divine, Tilley noted.

“The Gospel of Truth and the Book of Enoch were both popular among them and have much about an angel whose story sounds very much like that of Archangel Michael in many Christian stories, the angel who led the heavenly army against Satan and the Fallen Angels.”

She added that Christians were not the only ones to use the names of angelic powers in ancient days. “Jews of antiquity were fascinated by the identity and nature of angels,” she said.

Villanova University biology professor Michael Zimmerman, who also has used advanced technologies to study Egyptian mummies, said this kind of find has been sought for years.

“I did participate in an expedition to the Dakhleh Oasis in Egypt’s western desert several years ago,” he told FoxNews.com. “This was an early Christian site (around 200 AD), and the deceased were still being mummified, by simply being dried in the very hot climate.

“We did not see any tattoos on those mummies, so the British Museum find is remarkable.”

The museum, which is located in London, will reveal what it has learned about this and seven other mummies in “Ancient Lives: New Discoveries,” an exhibition scheduled to run from May 22 to Nov. 30.

John Taylor, lead curator of the ancient Egypt and Sudan department at the museum, told a local newspaper over the weekend that the exhibition will tell the story of the lives of eight people from antiquity, portraying them as full human beings, rather than as archeological objects.

Using sophisticated medical imaging usually reserved to study strokes and heart attacks, the research team discovered that these eight ancient individuals, whose remains have been held in the museum for some time, had many of the same traits that modern man does, including dental problems, high cholesterol levels and tattoos.

The exhibition portrays one mummy that dates back to 3,500 B.C., as well as the tattooed female, aged between 20 and 35, who lived and died about 1,300 years ago. Researchers pointed out that regular Egyptians — not only the royals — were mummified.

The tattooed mummy, the remains of which were found less than a decade ago, was so well preserved that archaeologists could nearly discern the tattoo on the inner thigh of her right leg with the naked eye. But medical infrared technology helped them see it clearly.

The Vatican’s school of science, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, did not return multiple requests for comments made by FoxNews.com.

Source: Gene Koprowski, Foxnews.com
New Skull Reveals A Simpler Family Tree

New Skull Reveals A Simpler Family Tree

It took just one skull, but it allowed anthropologists to drastically simplify our evolutionary family tree. The 1.8-million-year-old specimen was unearthed in the Eurasian country Georgia, and pored over by an international team of scientists led by Georgian paleoanthropologist David Lordkipanidze for eight years. It’s a missing link, of sorts, tying together as a single species other early, diverse fossils that were previously identified as belonging to distinct species. With this new skull, anthropologists think those fossils might, in fact, represent a wide spectrum of traits from a single evolutionary line. (more…)